Ed Stetzer is Right About CNN’s Equality Town Hall

Beto

Here is a taste of the Wheaton College professor’s recent post at Christianity Today:

I’m concerned with the clear and complete disregard around religious liberty. This term was used a few times, often with the phrase “so called” tacked on. Candidates would say they affirm religious liberty, but then describe exactly how they did not.

Elizabeth Warren was asked a revealing question: How would she respond if an “old fashioned” voter told her that they believed that marriage is between one man and one woman? She retorted with, “I’m going to assume it is a guy who said that,” before answering, “Well then just marry one woman. I’m cool with that.”

There was much applause. However, she then shrugged, adding, “assuming you could find one.” The audience roared with laughter, further insinuating that any person who held such values is so out of step, bigoted, homophobic, and small minded that he could not find someone who would be willing to marry him. (See the CNN clip.)

But let’s be honest: that’s really not the issue. The issue is: Can people dissent from what is now the majority view of marriage? As we saw, Warren not only mocked those who disagreed but advocated for policies that seek to marginalize and penalize those who do hold a biblical view of marriage.

Contrary to Warren’s playing to the choir, these views are not representative of frustrated men but rather reflect a broad array of people of faith— people many Democrats have recently ignored.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, Slate published an analysis of “Why Hillary Clinton Bombed with Evangelical Voters.” In the article, I said it appeared that Hillary Clinton was working hard to alienate evangelicals—and she succeeded.

Later, the news would be how evangelicals had aligned with President Trump, while neglecting the clear and obvious reality that even Slate Magazine noticed: when it comes to evangelicals, Hillary was disengaged and even alienating.

Last night’s CNN debate was a perfect example of that same alienation.

While Warren’s quip lit up social media, another candidate delivered the biggest surprise in giving voice to what many perceived to be the trajectory of religious liberty debates, long left unsaid by other Democrats. Facing a question over the tax exempt status of churches, Beto O’Rourke asserted that not only churches but any organization that opposed same-sex marriage, should lose their tax exemption.

tweeted a link to the Beto video and this comment:

2009: How is my gay marriage going to hurt you? We just want marriage equality.

2019: We want the tax exempt status of the churches, charities, and colleges revoked for your failure to change your views on gay marriage.

In 2009, the mantra was “We just want our marriage equity. We just want to be able to let love be love.” Ten years later, the goal posts have moved for many: affirm the new orthodoxy on same sex marriage—or lose tax exempt status. This is quite a striking position, considering all the institutions he mentioned (churches, charities, and colleges). That’s your religious hospital, the orphanage, the homeless shelter, and more.

Now, this was Beto O’Rourke, not every candidate. But, it is important to consider the Equality Act if we want to talk about the broader field of Democratic candidates.

Equality Act is widely supported by the Democratic political candidates for president. That act has significant implications for the very institutions that Beto did mention—charities and colleges.

At Wheaton College where I serve, we have a community covenant that aligns our life and beliefs. We affirm the biblical teaching that marriage is designed and created for one man, one woman, and one lifetime.

The Equality Act would in essence say that our beliefs are unacceptable and that we must change. 

Read the entire piece here.  We covered this story here and here.

Do Beto and Warren represent all the Democratic candidates for president?  I imagine that we find out soon.  As I mentioned here yesterday, Don Lemon’s question to Beto Rourke should be asked of all the Democratic candidates.

How might evangelicals respond if all that Stetzer proposes comes true?  I stand by what I argued in Believe Me.  The answer is not fear, the pursuit of greater political power (to the point that we put our trust in a strongman to save us), or an appeal to nostalgia.  The answer is hope, humility, and thoughtful efforts to bring about a more confident pluralism.  We might also be called to suffer. These are the things evangelicals should be thinking and praying about right now.   The answer does not lie in what is happening in Washington D.C. this weekend.

Ed Stetzer on the Trump Visit to McLean Bible Church

Platt Trump

I agree with just about everything Ed Stetzer has written about this incident.  I said something similar, but not as eloquently, here.

For those Christians who have been criticizing David Platt from the left, I would ask several questions:

  1. What would you do in this situation?
  2. Even if you believe Trump is evil, how would you balance that with his human dignity?  Yes, he was there for a political opportunity, and it was disgusting, but I don’t know many members of the clergy who would turn someone away who was asking for prayer.
  3. Christians are called to pray for their leaders.  Several folks have noted that prayers for government leaders are embedded in the Book of Common Prayer.  So what happens when the president actually shows up and asks for prayer?  Does the call to pray for leaders cease to apply when the leader is actually in your presence?
  4. As most readers know, I am no fan of the president.  If Platt allowed Trump to speak I would have a serious problem with it.  If Platt used the prayer to demonize Trump’s enemies or extol Trump as King Cyrus, I would be the first one to scream.  But this is not what happened.
  5. Some people are complaining about the optics.  Of course the optics could go both ways.  And if you are a historian and you don’t like the image of Platt with his hand on Trump’s solider, then interpret the image for your readers.  Provide context.  Source the document (who is Platt?). This is what we do.

Stetzer gets it right.  Here is a taste of his piece at Christianity Today:

I was frustrated at the arm-chair quarterbacking I saw online, with some saying that he should prophetically have rebuked the president, others saying he should have denied the request, and still others wishing that he’d been more affirming of the president.

I tweeted:

I know that every person tweeting criticism of @PlattDavid would have handled it so much better if @POTUSshowed up to your place with little notice, but maybe just consider that he is not as smart, godly, or prophetic as you are and try to extend grace to your lesser brother.

Simply put, David Platt made a fast decision when the president came by. To condemn him for that is simply not appropriate. He basically had two choices—either honor the request or not.

Platt could have chosen to decline the visit. This would have inevitably led to attacks from Trump supporters, a public outcry over a pastor refusing to pray for the president, and questioning of his personal position on the president.

Instead, he chose the second option and, in his eyes, sought to model what he saw in Scripture about praying for those in authority.

Yes, he could have prayed behind the scenes. Yes, he could have refused to have the president on stage. To some, he should have thought of all of those options in the few minutes he had while the president of the United States was asking for something else.

But let’s give David Platt the benefit of the doubt. He’s earned it. He did what he thought was right in that moment.

There are no parameters when it comes to who we will pray for, and we are specifically commanded to pray for our leaders. Jesus commanded us all to pray for even our enemies. We can debate if that prayer should have been on the stage, but perhaps we can agree that we pray when asked to pray.

Read the entire piece here.

Why are White Evangelicals Ambivalent About Refugees and Migrants?

immigrants

Over at VOX, Tara Isabella Burton tackles this issue.  She wonders why so many evangelical leaders reject anti-immigration rhetoric and so many of their followers embrace it.

Here is a taste:

From his dismissal of “shithole countries” to his attempts to institute a “Muslim travel ban,” from his incendiary rhetoric about Mexican immigrants being rapists and criminals, to his latest attempts to prevent the Honduran migrants to seeking asylum, Trump’s approach to borders has been one of nativism and insularity by protecting (his idea of white) America at the expense of everyone else. And, by and large, white evangelicals on the ground have followed suit — even when some in evangelical leadership is advocating for more nuanced policy positions.

The reasons for this discrepancy are complicated. They include a white evangelical population that gets its moral sense as much from conservative media as it does from scripture. There’s also a more general conflation of white evangelicalism with the GOP party agenda, which has been intensifying since the days of the Moral Majority in the 1980s.

As Jenny Yang, vice president for advocacy and policy for World Relief, the humanitarian wing of the National Association for Evangelicals, told Vox, white evangelicals’ views on immigration are more likely to be shaped “not from their local church or their pastor, but actually from the news media. … This has become an issue of the church being discipled by the media more than the Bible or the local pastor in terms of their views on immigration.”

Ed Stetzer, a Christian author and commentator who leads the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, agreed. “White evangelicals are more shaped on this issue by Republican views,” he told Vox. “They’re being discipled by their cable news network of choice and by their social media feeds.” He pointed out that, while white evangelicals are more likely than other religious voting blocs to express conservative views on immigration, they don’t necessarily do so at greater rates than nonwhite evangelical Republicans.

In other words, the political views of white evangelicals may say far more about their party affiliation than it does about their theological identity. In the Trump era, in particular, white evangelical Christianity and nativist political isolation have become particularly intertwined. Trump, his administration, and its allies have used the language of Christian nationalism to shore up their political base.

Read the entire piece here.  Sadly, it appears that Fox News-style fear-mongering easily sways many white evangelicals.  Or at least this is what I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Paige Patterson “does not often get criticized without the critic receiving significant backlash”

ppatterson-homepage-main-image

Ed Stetzer‘s piece at Christianity Today confirms everything I have heard about Paige Patterson’s authoritarian rule at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Stetzer writes in the wake of this.

Here is a taste:

Because of the Conservative Resurgence and the role that he has played for decades, Patterson is one of the most significant leaders in SBC life, and one who does not often get criticized without the critic receiving significant backlash.

I know this first hand.

In 2008, I first publicly criticized Southwestern for the way certain faculty members were (repeatedly) registering disagreement with the results of our research. That day, several SBC leaders told me it was my last day as an SBC employee. As one son of an SBC entity told me, “Nobody criticizes Paige Patterson and keeps their job.”

I still have the letter from Patterson. It was not the last.

Stetzer goes on to chronicle some of Patterson’s recent antics.

Here is Stetzer on Paige Patterson’s role in the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Church in the late 1970:

In the aftermath of the Conservative Resurgence, the SBC made a mistake. We spent more time taking victory laps than really leading. We let our history become mythology. We turned men into heroes, and then we turned our heroes into gods.

What we really needed to do was be about our mission and hold each other accountable…

…Patterson, in a sense, built an era. I am glad. I am a Southern Baptist today because of its inerrantist theology, and I’ve personally benefited from that era and from the SBC that he helped create.

But many SBC leaders I know think this and privately acknowledge that it is time for a new era.

They can’t say it because of the unofficial rules, so let me say it.

If Patterson preaches at the SBC, he will, because of his past work, get a standing ovation. Every news story will point to that moment, tie it together with the accusations against Paul Pressler, and say that Southern Baptists don’t take abuse seriously.

And it’s not just a public relations crisis. It’s a message to women that we must not send.

I think a better way forward is to think of the SBC’s future mission rather than Paige Patterson’s past success, and I hope he desires the same for the SBC he gave his life to.

Thank you, Dr. Patterson, for your service. You did the right thing when it was hard. Now, let me encourage you to do so again. Thank you for thinking first of the SBC as you step into a well-earned retirement.

Read Stetzer’s entire piece here.

Southern Baptist pastor Wade Burleson is also calling for Patterson’s retirement.

Making Sense of Joel Osteen

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Joel Osteen, the prosperity preacher who is the leader of the 38,000 member Lakewood Church in Houston, has been taking a lot of heat for apparently not opening his church to flood victims.

I really don’t have enough information to judge what is happening with Lakewood Church.  Those who don’t like Osteen are taking some pretty hard shots at him on social media.

In the last forty-eight hours I have found two piece sto be helpful.

The first piece is Kate Bowler‘s “Here’s why people hate Joel Osteen.”  She writes:

With his yachts and jets and endlessly-smiling mouth offering promises of “Your Best Life Now” (that’s the name of his best-selling book), Osteen was already a subject of contempt among Americans, in general.

But in the past few days he has been lambasted as being, at best, sluggish in providing emergency aid to those suffering from the disaster and, at worst, a hypocrite who cares more about people’s wealth than welfare. In fairness, the city of Houston has more megachurches than any other metropolitan area in the country, with dozens of big-church celebrities to thrust into the spotlight at a time like this. So what is it about America’s grinning preacher that everyone hates so much?

I’ve been studying the American prosperity gospel for more than a decade, and I have come to the stunning conclusion that Joel Osteen seems to be a pretty nice guy. He is the cheery advertisement for the 606,000-square-foot Lakewood Church and, with the gorgeous Victoria by his side, tours the country in packed-out arenas to bring “A Night of Hope” — a religion-lite, inspirational speech set to music. And, for those who don’t mind waiting a few minutes after the service, he will shake your hand and tolerate your comment about how his hair looks even better in real life. It does.

But there are three main reasons long after this controversy passes, Joel Osteen will still be the preacher America loves to hate — and perhaps for Christians more than others.

Read the rest at the Washington Post.

The other piece is by Wheaton College professor Ed Stetzer and is titled “Some Christians Hate Joel Osteen More Than They Love The Truth. And That’s Wrong.”

Stetzer writes:

Apparently, Osteen had canceled church on Sunday and the church indicated (perhaps inarticulately) that the church was impassable. (They did not say it was flooded, though who needs to worry about facts when we hate someone, right?) The church directed their people, and presumably others, to take shelter with friends, family, or at the George Brown Convention Center.

As the waters rose in Houston, social media spread the word that Lakewood Church, housed in a 16,800 seat arena, was turning people away who were seeking shelter.

Nope. They said that is not what happened.

You can see more facts herehere, and here.

Christians Joining in Spreading a False Narrative

Fast forward twelve hours and the facts began to surface that the church itself was flooded in a few sections. And Lakewood responded that only three people came for shelter, and they had all been helped.

So, well, maybe we might see that facts are our friends.

And just because you hate (or just have theological concerns with him) Osteen does not entitle you to your own set of facts.

I’m not saying they did not bungle their first statement. I am saying that a lot of Christians spread false statements. Let’s let the world spread lies as we stand for truth.

Read the entire piece here.

Mark Silk on American Evangelicalism

Mark-Silk_avatarMark Silk is a veteran religion journalist who teaches at Trinity College (CT) and runs the Leonard Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.  He writes a regular column for Religion News Service called Spiritual Politics.

In April, he co-edited (with Candy Gunther Brown) The Future of Evangelicalism in America.  The book includes essays by Michael Hamilton, Chris Armstrong, Roger Olson, Amy Black, and Timothy Tseng.

(This is an interesting collection.  Silk and co-editor Brown, as far as I know, are not evangelicals.  Columbia University Press is not an evangelical publisher.  Yet all of the authors are affiliated in one form or another with evangelicalism.  Do Silk and Brown see this book as a sort of collection of primary sources?  Just a thought.  Maybe Mark can weigh-in).

Over at Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer of Wheaton College has published an interview (the first of two parts) with Silk about American evangelicalism.  Here is a taste:

Ed: When you look at the numbers in terms of Evangelicalism, are the numbers going up, down, or remaining flat?

Mark: I like the approach that our sociologists and demographers take, which is to ask people to identify themselves rather than giving people a list of things to choose among. This approach is found in the series that we call the American Religious Identification Survey, or ARIS. One of the interesting things that emerged from that is the substantial shift between 1990 and the last ARIS survey, which was, unfortunately, almost a decade ago. Nonetheless, I think it still holds from the decline of people who identify themselves as Protestant and the great increase in the number who identify as just ‘Christian’ (a term for general Evangelical).

One of the interesting things we discovered is that a lot of people, including Catholics, will say they consider themselves Evangelical or born again, which is the political polling question.

Nobody who writes about this stuff really thinks that Catholics are Evangelicals, but the point is that these are pretty plastic terms. So, I’m pretty comfortable with saying Evangelicals are holding their own. You can see some denominational group bodies growing, particularly at the Pentecostal hard edge. It’s certainly true that nondenominational Evangelicalism and megachurches have experienced considerable growth, but if you dig deep, you discover these churches are actually Southern Baptist, Assemblies of God, or something else.

You know when you’re walking into one of those churches that that’s an Evangelical church, even if the set of criteria that you want to map everything onto doesn’t quite work.

Read the entire interview here.

The Prophetic Witness of American Evangelicals

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Ed Stetzer, the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, gets it right in his recent piece at Christianity Today.  According to Stetzer, “if you are unable to critique a president, you’ve lost your prophetic witness.”

Here is a taste:

This is key, and the point of my article today. These events don’t call people’s loyalty into question, they expose the loyalty they already have in their hearts. And that’s concerning when the Rorschach test exposes where their hope truly lies…

I don’t think everyone needs to speak up on everything, but I’m talking about those who defend that which Trump saw that he needed to correct—with him (finally) condemning racism in this instance.

Christians have a prophetic witness, but we can lose that witness when we are unable to see (or speak to) the errors or failings of leaders. And if Christians feel the need to defend even an obvious and divisive mistake (and my Twitter feed is filled with those people), they hurt the church’s witness and tie it too closely to a person, not the truth.

Now, if that’s your job in the White House, I get it. You sometimes have to defend even the errors. But if Christians do the same, it shows the world that our loyalty is to the person in the White House rather than the Person who said He is the Truth.

If you are a Christian, you should be able to speak out against error, injustice, and the depraved strategy of silence. Many did, some said nothing, but some went to the defense of something, ironically, the President two days later felt the need to correct.

If you’re a Christian who acts like President Trump can do no wrong, you’re giving the message that he’s the savior. He’s not. He is fallible, human, and makes mistakes that we, as responsible Christians and members of Christ’s household, should not be afraid to address.

So, rather than defending his error, which he himself felt the need to correct today, search your heart and ask, have I become too connected to a secular leader?

Read the rest here.