In their eagerness to defend their faith, many Christians refuse to look honestly at the crises American Christendom faces and the corruption within its ranks. They prefer to present to the world a spiritual Potemkin village, projecting an image of righteousness that hides some disturbing realities. There’s a desire to conceal the abuses and the wounds, the struggles and the failures, the harsh judgmentalism and craving to dominate and dehumanize others, the doubts and the dark sides. The viciousness of church politics can rival pretty much any other politics you can name; the difference is that the viciousness within churches is often cloaked in lofty spiritual language and euphemisms.Peter Wehner, The Scandal Rocking the Evangelical World
A few weeks ago, I told a friend, “I am as thirsty for the real Jesus as I have ever been, but I am tired of church bullshit.” Some of you reading this are more concerned that I said “bullshit” than you are about the state of the church in America. Some of you may have questioned whether I am still a Christian. I still believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and because I believe that, I feel burdened to add my voice to those saying that evangelicalism is in trouble. Yet there are many Christians who want to blame the surrounding culture for our problems rather than take a hard look inside.
I am not alone in my disillusionment. Every week, I hear from friends and acquaintances about their disappointment and confusion about the church in America. Some continue to go through the motions of going to church but feel conflicted. Others have stopped attending services while still considering themselves to be Jesus followers. Still others have rejected Christianity altogether. A substantial number of people have adopted the term “ex-vangelical” to describe themselves in recent years.
Why the exodus away from the church? There are too many reasons and individual stories to detail here, but here are some of my concerns. First, it seems that every week in the news, there is a new story about some prominent Christian leader or denomination caught in sexual abuse and exploitation. As I watched how one denomination chose to handle a victim of sexual abuse who bravely came forward, I felt disoriented and disgusted. The denominational leaders called her a liar and said she was making up her abuse because she was no longer under the control of her husband. I have watched other churches and denominations ignore, minimize, or try to sidestep accusations of abuse within their midst. Leaders in one prominent denomination recently suggested that sexual scandals are distracting them from the work of sharing the gospel. Father forgive us.
Christians claim to be pro-life, yet in truth, they generally mean they are anti-abortion. When it comes to taking steps to honor and protect the lives and dignity of those already born, too often, Christians act in dehumanizing ways. Several years ago, I wrote a blog post about the viciousness of some of the pastors from my hometown directed against Muslims. We claim to desire religious freedom, but routinely act in ways that deny that freedom to non-Christians. We respond to violence with violence in words and sometimes in action.
Evangelicals want to pretend that racism is not an issue in the American church, but too often are unwilling to look at the historical and current hurts experienced by racial minorities. Dismissive responses to movements like “Black Lives Matter” fail to acknowledge the unique pain felt by blacks and people of color. In recent months, many prominent evangelicals are more concerned about Critical Race Theory, which the average congregant knows nothing about, than they are about the ongoing racism in our midst. Rather than listening to understand, we insist that we are not racist while we fail to recognize the insensitivity and dismissiveness of saying things like “All Lives Matter.”
All of these issues mix under the heading of Christian nationalism, which is not biblical Christianity. I had friends justifying the January 6 attack on the Capitol building because they believe in the need to take back America for God. Some continue to think the 2020 election was rigged despite all evidence to the contrary. They not only gave a pass to a leader who was self-centered, narcissistic, sexually immoral, caustic, and deceptive–the very opposite of Jesus–many claimed that he was the best Christian president ever. We have failed to recognize our own hypocrisy in suggesting that character somehow no longer matters.
Friends, what I see happening in the American church breaks my heart. We want to blame the surrounding culture, but our problems are primarily internal. Jesus came to show us a better way, the way of peace, love, welcome, and service. Until we are willing to take a hard look at the inside of the cup, we will continue to be clanging cymbals that drive people away from the loving arms of Jesus.