PROVOKING THE INTENDED OFFENSE: A Seismic Shift for an Evangelical Footing

“Evangelical Christianity, or evangelical Protestantism, is a worldwide, trans-denominational movement within Protestant Christianity which maintains the belief that the essence of the Gospel consists of the doctrine of salvation by grace, solely through faith in Jesus’s atonement. Evangelicals believe in the centrality of the conversion or “born again” experience in receiving salvation, in the authority of the Bible as God’s revelation to humanity, and in spreading the Christian message.” 

For additional information on Evangelicalism you can check out this article quoted above:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelicalism

In the past, accurately presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ risked offending the listener. Listeners often found the tenants of the message, the person and ministry of Jesus, the Word of God, the message of the cross, etc. offensive. Offenses reveal personal mindsets and beliefs which hinder faith. Overcoming those offenses is part of the process of coming to faith in Jesus Christ. I remember a conversation with a parishioner who had been an engineer for a major manufacturing company that designed and built jet airliners. When he first heard the gospel, it offended his engineer mindset and scientific belief system. He had lots of questions. Ultimately he decided to take a leap of faith and follow Jesus Christ.

There has been a cultural shift in the US in the past 40 years. Evangelicals have come to be identified more with right-wing political ideology and specifically with the Republican Party and less with the gospel message. More often than not, the offense created today when sharing the gospel is not inherent in the word. The umbrage taken has to do with perceived political ideology. I watched this shift begin with the creation of a movement called the Moral Majority in the late 1970s.

“The Moral Majority was a prominent American political organization associated with the Christian Right and the Republican Party. It was founded in 1979 by Baptist minister Jerry Falwell and associates, and dissolved in the late 1980s. It played a vital role in the mobilization of conservative Christians as a political force and particularly in Republican presidential victories throughout the 1980s. 

The origins of the Moral Majority can be traced to 1976 when Baptist minister Jerry Falwell embarked on a series of “I Love America” rallies across the country to raise awareness of social issues important to him. These rallies were an extension of Falwell’s decision to go against the traditional Baptist principle of separating religion and politics. (Emphasis mine)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_Majority

I disagreed with these developments at the time. I believed then, and still do, that individual Christians should be politically informed and engaged in the political process according to their political worldview. The corporate expressions of Christianity should remain neutral and should not identify with any particular political ideology or party. In reality, not all who consider themselves evangelicals, are of the political right or Republican in their political worldview.

This movement also represented a significant shift in evangelical thought. Formerly the thinking concerning leadership was, “When it comes to leadership, character counts.” The Moral Majority espoused a new, mostly unspoken mantra, “When it comes to leadership, political worldview counts.”

Billy Graham was the most well known and respected leader in the evangelical movement for many years. Although a registered Democrat, in public, he maintained a neutral posture concerning politics. Rev. Graham did not publicly endorse specific candidates for the office of President. His neutral stance was likely one of the reasons he enjoyed face time with every President from Harry Truman to Barak Obama. During Obama’s tenure as President, Rev. Graham was not physically able to travel to the White House. Obama became the first sitting President to visit Billy Graham at his home near Asheville, North Carolina. Rev. Graham’s son, Franklin, has not followed in his father’s politically astute footsteps. Franklin has chosen to endorse a specific political party and presidential candidate publicly. Franklin also dishonored his father during the 2016 election by publicly alleging that his father had voted for a particular presidential candidate. Given his track record concerning previous presidential elections, Rev. Graham would not have publicly disclosed for whom he had voted. Franklin Graham is the current President and CEO of the Billy Graham Association, the ministry founded by his father. Franklin’s public political posture as the leader of this is a disservice to the gospel that his father diligently proclaimed. His public stance is also a disservice to evangelicals who prefer to be known by their message about Jesus than by a particular political worldview.

As I watched this political shift by certain evangelicals unfold, I was concerned that the seeds sown would reap harmful effects for the gospel message. The gospel message is indeed good news. This message tests the heart of those exposed to its truth. By intention, elements of the word are offensive. Receiving and believing this good news involves not only overcoming these offenses but also a willingness to be identified with these offenses. The three primary potential stumbling blocks of the gospel are:

#1. The person and work of Jesus:

“Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'” (Matthew 26:31)

“As it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”

(Romans 9:33)

“We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,” (1 Corinthians 1:23)

“Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.” (1 Peter 2:7–8)

#2. The Word of God:

“yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.” (Matthew 13:21)

#3. The Cross:

“And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased.” (Galatians 5:11)

For the sake of the gospel and the unity of the church, corporate expressions of Christianity must maintain political neutrality.

Whenever anyone hears the term evangelical in our culture, the first thought should be, “This is a person who believes and proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Addendum:

There are IRS regulations relating to 501(c)(3) organizations and required neutrality concerning political candidates and issues.

“In 1954, Congress approved an amendment by Sen. Lyndon Johnson to prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations, which includes charities and churches, from engaging in any political campaign activity. To the extent Congress has revisited the ban over the years, it has strengthened the ban. The most recent change came in 1987 when Congress amended the language to clarify that the prohibition also applies to statements opposing candidates.” 

For more information, click on this link for the complete article.

https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/charities-churches-and-politics

Recommending Reading:

The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham                                                                                              by Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley, (Zondervan © 2005)

“Billy Graham was not only remarkably effective as a preacher, but also an innovative and influential CEO and global leader. Billy successfully combined sound leadership with deep spirituality.” (Source: Back Cover)

Christianity Today is a magazine founded by Billy Graham. Normally the editorial staff maintains a neutral stance with regards to political issues. During this unique season surrounding the impeachment of Donald Trump the editor, Mark Galli, opted to write this editorial:

Trump Should Be Removed from Office

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/december-web-only/trump-should-be-removed-from-office.html

Quotes from this editorial:

“The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”

“The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”

Timothy Dalrymple, President of Christianity today, wrote a followup article to Mark Galli’s editorial:

The Flag in the Whirlwind: An Update from CT’s President

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/december-web-only/trump-evangelicals-editorial-christianity-today-president.html

Quotes from this article:

“Let me protect against two misunderstandings. The problem is not that we as evangelicals are associated with the Trump administration’s judicial appointments or its advocacy of life, family, and religious liberty. We are happy to celebrate the positive things the administration has accomplished. The problem is that we as evangelicals are also associated with President Trump’s rampant immorality, greed, and corruption; his divisiveness and race-baiting; his cruelty and hostility to immigrants and refugees; and more. In other words, the problem is the wholeheartedness of the embrace. It is one thing to praise his accomplishments; it is another to excuse and deny his obvious misuses of power.”

“We nevertheless believe the evangelical alliance with this presidency has done damage to our witness here and abroad. The cost has been too high. American evangelicalism is not a Republican PAC. We are a diverse movement that should collaborate with political parties when prudent but always standing apart, at a prophetic distance, to be what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the conscience of the state.” That is what we believe. This is where we plant our flag. We know we are not alone.”

An open letter from black church leaders and allies to Christianity Today

An open letter from black church leaders and allies to Christianity Today

A quote from this article:

“The late Billy Graham, CT’s founder, gave us a loud warning in an article he wrote for Parade Magazine in 1981 when he said: “I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”

 


3 thoughts on “PROVOKING THE INTENDED OFFENSE: A Seismic Shift for an Evangelical Footing

  1. Gary
    Thanks for this good article on evangelicals and politics. My one addition would be that (hopefully) when people hear the word “evangelical” they would also identify evangelicals as people who live out the values of Jesus – including kindness, compassion for the poor, help for widows, orphans and strangers/aliens. It was that winsome, servant posture that led an unbelieving world in the first century to then listen to the gospel good news, and the church exploded. I believe for the church to regain credibility in this day, we need to be strong in both “word and deed.” Our words- often judgmental – and divorced from acts of compassion have turned off a whole generation. Perhaps the only way forward is to lead with the full ethic of the gospel and gain a hearing for the source and power to sustain such a lifestyle.
    (On my FB page I just posted an article from black pastors in response to the recent CT article.)
    God’s blessings on the good work you are doing

    Like

  2. Thanks! That’s a good word!! I was crafting a potential blog yesterday about the view from the margins of society. The disabled are often marginalized in society. We discover that there some interesting folk to hang out with there that others choose to not see. Glad to know you’re still running the race. Often when I’m privileged to address ministry leaders I say, “I’ve been in fulltime ministry leadership for 40+ years and I’m still smiling!” Blessings!

    Like

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