So much for peace on earth and goodwill to men. America’s legacy media elites used the Sunday before Christmas for extra Christian-bashing, with white evangelicals the preferred targets.
Writing in The New Yorker, Michael Luo complained that “white evangelical Protestants, once again, overwhelmingly supported President Trump in the election,” and that “churches, particularly conservative ones, fought lockdown orders and rebuffed public-health warnings.”
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof interviewed leftist pastor Jim Wallis, with the conversation quickly turning to accusations that “White evangelicalism has destroyed the ‘evangel.’” At The Dispatch, Time columnist David French concluded that much of the scorn white evangelical Christians receive is deserved. He says the world often “rejects Christians because Christians are cruel.”
Yeah, well, merry Christmas to you too.
To be sure, Christians should humbly accept correction if it is deserved, even when the word of reproof is delivered by pagans. But the above writers’ broad indictments against American evangelicals do not withstand scrutiny. Although each criticism has particular errors, they are united by two shared mistakes. The first is a failure to account for differences of denomination and devotion. Lumping Pentecostals, Presbyterians, and prosperity-gospel preachers together is sloppy, as is neglecting to distinguish between those who are committed churchgoers and those who are only nominally evangelical.
It might be said that these varieties of white evangelicals have in common an overwhelming political support for Donald Trump, but this retort only highlights the second error shared by these writers: the assumption that voting for Trump was necessarily immoral.
It is easy to pick out Trumpian words and deeds that are not compatible with the gospel. It is also easy to do the same with his Democratic opponents and their policies. Asserting that voting for Trump is a moral stain on evangelicals, without weighing the alternatives, presumes what is in question. This error is shared by each writer (and Kristof’s interview subject), but each finds some unique ways to express it.
Luo, for instance, unfavorably compares the response of today’s Christians to the pandemic with Christians’ response to past plagues. But although he is correct that reckless churches should be rebuked, he makes no effort to distinguish between the reckless and those cautiously meeting in person, or to value preserving the gathering of believers. Nor does he quantify how many churches are foregoing precautions, or show how many of these congregations fall under the “white evangelical” category.
He suggests that, to eliminate risk, Christians should forgo all in-person meeting, and he dismisses the religious liberty claims that have been raised against capricious government restrictions on churches. But if the casinos, strip clubs, and abortion clinics are getting better treatment than churches, then anti-Christian discrimination has replaced public health policy.
Furthermore, even from a secular public health perspective, eliminating church services would do more harm than good, as churchgoing seems to have been essential to helping many Americans make it through the difficulties of this year. We are physical beings, not disembodied minds who can live in the cloud indefinitely.
Meanwhile, Kristof and his interview subject Wallis presume that technocratic welfare-statism is the obvious way to care for the poor and oppressed, so they dismiss anyone who disagrees with them as bad Christians. This complacent assumption of moral and political rectitude precludes them from understanding those they condemn.
Thus, although Kristof recently wrote a column of questions about Christians and abortion, he seems to have ignored the many responses explaining its paramount importance as a political issue for conservative Christians. His indifference is particularly notable at Christmas, because Luke’s advent narrative emphasizes the humanity of both the unborn John the Baptist and of Jesus. And if the unborn are human, then Christians cannot support the party of abortion on demand.
Kristof and Wallis’s reflexive acceptance of the left’s shibboleths of the moment also leads to ridiculous anachronisms such as declaring Jesus a “person of color.” This conceptual colonization of first-century Israel by modern American racial concepts is odious and misleading—“person of color” makes no sense in that context.
It is, indeed, worse than the depictions of a blond, blue-eyed Jesus (are there many of those?) that Wallis complains about. Portrayals of Jesus and other biblical figures in local style and appearance have been a common, if inaccurate, artistic practice across centuries and cultures.
Race is also central to French’s condemnation of his fellow white evangelicals. In his telling, they are guilty of “some outright racism” but perhaps even more of being seduced by a “Christian nationalism” that “will always minimize America’s historic sins and the present legacy (and reality) of American racism.” French is, for instance, upset that more white evangelicals do not believe that racism is an “extremely” or “very serious” threat to “America and America’s future.”
But even if white evangelicals are wrong in their assessment of the depth and danger of America’s racial problems, this is not enough to condemn them as cruel. It is, in fact, precisely the sort of issue on which Christians may reasonably disagree.
Furthermore, the data French cites does not account for crucial factors such as whether respondents are regular churchgoers or merely culturally evangelical. In addition, French ignores education and class in his analysis, even though the study he relies on emphasizes the importance of these factors in understanding the politics of white evangelical subgroups.
French’s article, like the others, is mostly an impressionistic interpretation of white evangelicalism in America. By their reckoning, white evangelicals have become reckless plague-bearers with no regard for the poor and oppressed, and their cruelty rightly earns them the world’s opprobrium.
There may be some individuals who match this grim depiction, but as a general description of tens of millions of evangelicals, it is obviously untrue. Look around the country and evangelical churches are holding services with masks, distancing, and lots of hand sanitizer. Evangelicals, both individually and corporately, are caring for those in need in their communities and around the world, and treating people of all races with dignity and respect.