In early November 2019, I sat in a room of Christians comprised of various traditions: Coptic, Orthodox, Syriac, Catholic, and evangelical. The location did not escape my attention as the group of about 50 members of the Lausanne Orthodox Initiative, an issue group of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, a movement started in 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland by Billy Graham and John Stott, discussed the meaning of working together for progress in the gospel at the monastery of Saint Bishoy. Saint Bishoy lived in the late fourth century and became known as one of the so-called desert-fathers.
As our group shared that afternoon around the conference table, a brave Palestinian evangelical raised an issue that was certainly on everyone’s minds, but no one would willingly admit, until she exposed the problem with American evangelicalism. In essence she testified to the difficulty she and other Palestinian evangelicals experience in communicating the gospel when evangelicals have been stigmatized with the political policies and morality of Donald Trump. She is not the only non-American evangelical who has felt this tension. As I have travelled around the world and continue relationships with dear evangelical friends now through electronic means, I hear similar stories. But in Egypt, that was the last straw.
I sat next to Doug Birdsall during that session. As the former executive chairman of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, I thought he would be the closest thing to an evangelical pope. So, I turned to him and announced my verbal resignation from evangelicalism. If being evangelical means that I am stigmatized by the actions of a politician, rather than the work of Jesus Christ, then I wanted nothing to do with it. I was done. Heartbroken and shaken to my core.
Well, it’s been a long ten months since that meeting. Mark Galli wrote a stinging review of the president later in November 2019. The novel coronavirus pandemic has resulted in more deaths in the United States than any place in the world. Racial tensions have never been as acute as they are now. And to top it off, Robert Jeffress announced to a packed congregation at First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas on June 28, 2020, at an event called “Freedom Sunday,” that he predicts a record number of evangelicals will vote for Trump later in November.
In many ways, the current political, racial, and health climate of the United States has exposed numerous issues within evangelicalism’s loss of identity. The tensions we feel racially and politically, combined by the ongoing stress and anxiety created by a plague can only be addressed as evangelicals restore their identity grounded in a counter-intuitive reformation found in the first century. I’ve attempted to lay out what that might look like in When Evangelicals Sneeze: Curing the American Church from the Plague of Identity Loss.
I believe strongly that the evangelical church today must become like the churches of the first century. So, the evangelical church must stand on the side of social justice. She must also defend the faith. And she must never waiver from declaring God’s glory so that every people, tribe, language, and nation will one day be represented at the throne of God. The very heart of the evangelical church encourages her members to stay on God’s mission as we unite as one body of Christ to glorify God. In as much as the evangelical church will make this her focus, and I believe it’s possible, I rescind my resignation from evangelicalism and pledge to do what I can to restore our identity in a biblically grounded, socially just, gospel proclaiming community of Christ followers passionate to see God’s glory and Christ’s fame declared around the world. If this is the virus we are spreading, then I will gladly sneeze.