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Monday, September 11, 2017

The State of Evangelical Christianity

This special edition of The Galli Report is not a definitive report on the topic announced above, but a number of recent articles tell us at least something about our current state.

As far as pure numbers go, minority evangelicals continue to grow, as white evangelicals continue to shrink, so that "1 in 3 American Evangelicals Is Now a Person of Color."
The American religious landscape has undergone dramatic changes in the last decade, and is more diverse today than at any time since modern sociological measurements began," reported PRRI on its 2016 American Values Atlas, based on more than 101,000 bilingual surveys between January 2016 and January 2017.
In fact, the number of nonwhite Protestants has grown so large that the group has surpassed white mainline Protestants and has nearly caught up with white evangelical Protestants.
In fact, minority issues are driving the conversation among us more than ever—right now, mainly immigration, racism, and national politics. These three come together in the controversies surrounding President Trump's evangelical advisory board. After Charlottesville, many condemned members for not resigning after Trump's ambiguous remarks about the riot. When to remain and when to resign such commissions is more complex for evangelicals than critics allow. Many remain, yes, because they want to publicly support Trump and his policies. Others remain for pastoral reasons—because they want to be able to speak to the president about their pressing issues and hopefully shape his views.

Tony Suarez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) is one of the latter, and his boss, Sammy Rodriguez, president of NHCLC, is not reticent to criticize the president. Regarding Trump's rescinding of DACA, Rodriguez "directly communicated to his disappointment" to the president and publicly said, "Hundreds of thousands of Hispanic young people will be overcome with fear and grief today."

As readers of this Report know, we continue to be divided over how to negotiate the many issues surrounding race, including what to do with statues that honor Confederate leaders (I've received more feedback on these posts than any other since I started this Report!). The larger point is that as a movement, we're more open about our political and social disagreements than ever, which is good. It nearly goes without saying that we could use a little more charitable listening to one another.

Another controversial issue is human sexuality. The recent Nashville Statement was an attempt at clarifying evangelical distinctives on this topic, but it only managed to muddy the waters and divide evangelicals among themselves—and raise a firestorm of protest from those outside the movement. I found the most helpful responses to come from Matthew Lee Anderson at Mere Orthodoxy and Mark Yarhouse on his blog.

The Nashville Statement furor is not just about human sexuality but also evangelical identity. We are a reform movement that wants to be relevant to the times and faithful to the gospel, and that means we'll constantly worrying whether in the interest of relevancy we're watering down the gospel, or in the interests of the gospel, we are speaking in ways that our culture doesn't understand. I'm of the view that this is a healthy tension. During such controversies, some believe that the rift between the parties signals an unbridgeable divide. But this sort of dispute has been with us since the Great Awakening, when we divided over whether the revivals were excessive emotionalism or extraordinary movements of the Spirit. Today, nearly all evangelicals affirm the traditional orthodox sexuality as taught in Scripture, and now we're trying to fine tune how to talk about that and how we deal with that in our churches.

In sum: There was a time not long ago when evangelicals were criticized for being overly concerned about sexuality and other private matters and disengaged from social and political issues. That is no longer the case. It's a both/and world for us right now.

One redeeming feature of the movement is our willingness to not take ourselves seriously all the time (the ongoing temptation of reform movements). Thus the continuing popularity of evangelical satire, from The Wittenburg Door to The Babylon Bee to John Crist videos, like "How It's Made: Christian Music."
Grace and peace,
Mark Galli
Mark Galli
Mark Galli
Editor in Chief, Christianity Today

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