On Leaving Evangelicalism…Again

evangelical-churchJonathan Merritt, a writer for The Atlantic, does not think it is a good idea for evangelicals to “leave the movement.”  He writes:

Even if a National Department of Evangelicalism existed allowing individuals to revoke their membership, there is a very good reason for them to stay put. By claiming to leave evangelicalism, these leaders are creating a vacuum of blind Republicanism within the movement and they compromise their ability to induce the change they wish to see. As with most movements, evangelicalism is more easily changed by inside pressure than outside protests.

Trump keeps his friends close, so it’s likely his evangelical base will hold some level of influence over his policy and behavior. This sizable religious group needs as many principled dissenters as it can muster to hold the Trump administration’s feet to the fire on protecting minorities, immigrants, and the poor as the Bible commands.

If evangelicals give into their frustration and disassociate themselves from their religious community, countless people may suffer the consequences of their absence. Anti-Trump evangelicals must, instead, stay put. Their community needs them. And so does America.

He references and cites me in the course of the article:

On November 10, evangelical scholar John Fea began a post-election article for Religion News Service identifying himself “as someone who once called himself an evangelical.” The previous night he tweeted, “If this is evangelicalism—I am out.”

This is fine.  I just want to make sure readers interested in this subject know that I have nuanced my view a bit.  Here is a taste of my The Way of Improvement Leads Home post from November 14, 2016:

My tweet and RNS piece has resulted in dozens of tweets, messages, and e-mails from evangelical Christians.  Some of them have told me that they are abandoning the label “evangelical” to describe their religious identity.  Others wrote to urge me not to leave the fold.

I have given this a lot of thought.  Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have always had a rather uneasy relationship with American evangelicalism.  Some of this stems from the fact that I spent the first fifteen years of my life in the Catholic church and have been shaped and formed by its social teaching.  Much of it stems from the way that evangelicals have sought power and influence through politics in a way that has, in many ways, hurt their public witness and, at times, equated the kingdom of God with the United States of America.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have been a strong critic of Donald Trump.  They also know that I have been deeply disappointed that so many of my fellow evangelicals have gotten into bed with this monster.

Yet I remain an evangelical in terms of theological conviction.  In this sense I am a David Bebbington evangelical.  I embrace his formulation of evangelical faith, the so-called “evangelical quadrilateral“–biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism, and activism.

Will I continue to use the label “evangelical” to describe myself?  Probably.  But I will do so carefully and cautiously.  I have no plans of leaving my evangelical congregation and will continue to work within the evangelical community to help my fellow believers think more deeply about what it means to be a Christian citizen in democratic America.  (And you can bet that the subject of history and historical thinking will play a role in that work).

I realize, now that some of the emotion that has subsided, that to quit evangelicalism is to abandon a significant part of my responsibility and calling as a public scholar.

I should add that I recently signed up to teach a four-week course at my evangelical church on the topic of Christian America.

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