During the course of my research for When Evangelicals Sneeze: Curing the American Church from the Plague of Identity Loss, I came across many comments about evangelicals. Some of them were from evangelicals in other parts of the world talking about American evangelicals. Some were evangelical Democrats talking about evangelical Republicans and vice versa. Others were from non-evangelicals, even people from other faiths, talking about American evangelicals. What seemed apparent from all types of comments was American evangelicals have acted in such a way that people around the world do not understand what an American evangelical is. Sometimes I wonder the same. I even wonder if the manner in which we have talked about each other has created stumbling blocks to people learning about Jesus.
If there is one thing I have learned over more than 30 years of cultural engagement, it is that belief in Jesus Christ should be the only stumbling block to a person coming to faith (1 Cor 8:9). This was very apparent regarding the witness of the early missionaries in Ephesus. At a crucial moment in ministry, the town clerk spoke up, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess” (Acts 19:35-37).
The important lesson we learn from these missionaries is that we do not allow our prejudgments to impact our witness for the gospel. We might not agree with someone’s religious views or political views, even their perception of the pandemic. But those things should never become a stumbling block to another person coming to Christ. Unfortunately, in the United States, that is not the case. American evangelicals seem to make all sorts of things, except Jesus, stumbling blocks and it has affected our witness.
Steve Heimoff, a northern Californian wine connoisseur, writes a regular blog. Most recently, his focus on the coronavirus and politics fills his writing more than wine. In an April 2020 post in the category of comedy/satire, he voices what reads as a frustration, but should wake us up to the growing reputation of American evangelicals. He says,
One thing the evangelicals could do to hasten their trip to heaven is to cough and sneeze on each other, and be coughed and sneezed upon in return. I could imagine a huge Christian revival rally at one of those megachurches. Just set aside twenty minutes for everybody to cough and sneeze, while the choir sings and the organist pounds out “Nearer My God to Thee.” Let’s say you’re running a fever and you have a sore throat and a lot of phlegm. You just go up to your neighbor in church, say “God bless you” and sneeze in their face, spraying as much spittle as you can. Your neighbor will then say “Thank you” and in turn go cough and sneeze on someone else. At the end of the 20 minutes (I’ve done the math), a congregation of 1,500 could easily infect themselves several times over. Assuming it takes anywhere from a few days to two weeks to come down with actual COVID-19 disease after exposure, I’d say that, if these evangelicals begin their work this Sunday, around 60% of them will be dead by the first week of June. (“Evangelicals, Trump, and COVID-19”)
We have long since reached the point in our country where our witness as evangelicals has been jeopardized by our actions. Rather than being stigmatized by our love for Jesus and desire to be like Him, we are stigmatized by our politics, social views, even by our views of what is or is not fake news. If we do not change and recover our identity as the household of God, then I’m afraid God will allow us to reap the shallow rewards we’ve been working toward. I hope it is not too late and I hope that our self-inflicted virus has not become a pandemic infecting other evangelicals around the world.