red letter bible

Is The Evangelicalism of Old White Men Dead?

This morning I worked through my daily list of readings – beginning with God’s Word. I have worked my way through the One Year Bible each year for nearly 30 years. If I didn’t, my spiritual growth would be stunted, deformed. I would read books more to my liking (Mark, Philippians) and read books less to my liking (Leviticus, Ezekiel). I might focus on the red letter edition.

Included in my morning prep is the NY Times, articles from The Atlantic, a perusal through the list of articles in RealClearPolitics, and (if it is Monday) Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback. On most days, I am challenged, convicted, comforted, stimulated, entertained, and provoked. Today was no exception.

What caught my attention was a column in the NY Times by Tony Compolo and Shane Claiborne – “The Evangelicalism of Old White Men is Dead.” The article was written out of a conviction that among the casualties of the recent election is the reputation of evangelicals. How could it be, they ask, that 80% of white evangelicals voted for a man who is racist, sexist, and looks at the world with an obvious xenophobia? It is time for a new movement, for it is clear evangelicalism is not a community where younger, nonwhite voices can flourish. It is time for a new reformation. It is time to be Jesus-centered, giving focus to His words. This is a moment in our history for evangelicals to “repent and be ‘born again’ again as Red Letter Christians.”

I’m not surprised to find this in the NYTimes. Reading and re-reading this article, I find their views disturbing, even antagonistic. Some might respond, “Of course, you are an old white evangelical, as well as male.” But I believe this has little bearing on my reaction. First of all, I am not trumping the cause of Trump. Like many evangelicals I know – young and old, Anglo and non-Anglo, I found the choice presented to us on election day very difficult. I could not look past the character issues of either candidate, nor could I ignore party platforms that went deeply against my core convictions. I believe these writers missed what many of us, perhaps the vast majority of us – on all sides – wrestled with. They read far too much in how one voted.

But here’s my question – shouldn’t we, together, affirm that the future of our faith must lie with all of us, young and old, white and non-white? Why do we marginalize one group at the expense of another?

Second, because of my passion for ministry to be multicultural (I led a multiethnic, multigenerational church for sixteen years and pastored a ministry of thirty-five nationalities in Europe for seven), I resent articles that paint with a broad brush a particular ethnic or age group within my faith. The writers note that as white evangelicals, they admit the future does not lie with them. It lies with other ethnicities. But here’s my question – shouldn’t we, together, affirm that the future of our faith must lie with all of us, young and old, white and non-white? Why do we marginalize one group at the expense of another?

Finally, the call to be “‘born again’, again, as Red Letter Christians” is most troubling of all. It is both naïve and unbiblical. Again, the writers marginalize. In this case, their words demote the other members of the Trinity. What they are saying relegates the “black letter” portions of Scripture to something less important, less inspired. Wouldn’t it be far better to say – “Maybe this is a moment in our history for evangelicals to repent of marginalization – of one another, of God, and of Scripture. It’s time we be this Trinity-centered movement that reveres all of Scripture, as well as respects one another.”

Am I somewhat embarrassed by some evangelical leaders who publically endorsed Trump (despite his character and some of his policies)? Yes. But I was also troubled by other evangelicals who endorsed Clinton (despite her character and her stand on abortion and marital redefinitions). Looking back over these months, I would have preferred that all evangelicals, of all ethnicities and ages, were determined to be a faithful presence (Hunter, To Change the World), speaking with their actions and declaring with their words that our hope is not in this kingdom but in God’s kingdom. Leaders come and go, like flowers of the field (Isa. 40). But God’s kingdom endures.


About John Johnson

John Johnson is the former lead pastor at Village Church in Portland, OR. Presently, he is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Western Seminary and devoted to writing.

2 thoughts on “Is The Evangelicalism of Old White Men Dead?

  1. Dr. John,

    Thank you for writing about such a difficult topic that I believe most Evangelicals would hide from discussing. I agree that there was a moral deficit in our political candidates this year, and therefore the choice of who is better morally proves to lead to a stalemate. The “did not vote” option actually won this election.

    In elections past, the Republican Party has relied heavily on the white Evangelical vote. It was the party of family values and pro-life, which most Evangelicals would agree are Christian values. Other liberal denominations see on the left side more social justice reform and agree that the liberal side has more Christian values. If both candidates were morally correct, either side would be a good Christian vote depending on one’s perspective of the world.

    However, what we saw this election is that the media plays to stereotypes. There are generalizations made about a particular party or candidate, and then the media looks for stories that reinforce these stereotypes. Conservative Evangelical churches have stereotypes of including homophobic people, mysoginists by not electing women into eldership (some can’t even preach), and the particular group they pinpointed were those Evangelicals who were white (most white people encourage white privilege systems without realizing it). Therefore, the election of Donald Trump was reinforcing all of these stereotypes because Trump’s campaign is known to be mysoginistic, racist, and homophobic. There wouldn’t be such an accusation of the Evangelical church if they did not support these stereotypes. I personally have seen a woman leave the Evangelical church because she would not be able to be an elder in her career in vocational ministry. I have also heard homophobic banter from Evangelical friends who have never even known someone who is homosexual. I’m glad that your church is multiethnic. That has not been my experience of Evangelical churches.

    The Evangelical church needs to do better. Be better. How are the systems within the Evangelical church perpetuating these stereotypes that Trump supports? Maybe it’s just viewing the world from the eyes of one who suffers from the privilege of others and allowing it to change our hearts. Or perhaps looking for ways to empower individuals who suffer from these systems. There can be a balance of conservative values and inclusivity. We just need to try harder.

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