I have this theory: Evangelicalism is hated not for what it has become, but because of what it believes. There are many excesses and absurdities one can point to inside Christendom. But when it comes down to it, it is what Christians believe not how they act that torques most of its opponents.
One such belief is about hell.
I recently found another possible entry into The Anti-Evaneglical Hate Machine club. One of my progressive friends linked to it on Facebook. It’s called Jesus, American Style, and has all the requisite venom against all that is American Christianity. (I cribbed this info-graphic from JAS.) Hell is one of the favorite targets of progressives and secularists. Which leads to my point:
We can be as nice and loving as we want when approaching the topic of hell. The problem, however, isn’t our tone. It’s the doctrine itself.
Nevertheless, Christians are told ad naseum to change their approach to culture. Like this article about Louie Giglio who withdrew from praying at President Obama’s second inauguration after ThinkProgress, a liberal watchdog group, discovered a sermon Giglio preached in the 1990s in which he identified homosexual activity as “sin in the eyes of God.” Less than 24-hours later the inaugural committee announced a new, gay-affirming, faith leader would replace Louie Giglio at the event.
In his article, Giglio & the Weakness of the Evangelical Brand at Out of Ur, Skye Jethani uses the backlash from evangelicals to employ the predictable “Blame the Church First” approach. (bold is mine)
“…while there is some reason to view [Giglio's] removal from the inauguration as a turning point for evangelical participation in the public square, it also provides the opportunity to reflect on how evangelicals themselves may be at fault. In other words, before we point out the speck in the eye of the LGBT activists who pushed Giglio out, perhaps we ought to see the log in our own.”
“Rather than using the aftermath of the Louie Giglio inauguration mess as an opportunity to blast LGBT activists or President Obama for intolerance, which only serves to reinforce the brand image most Americans already have of evangelicals, perhaps the energy of concerned Christians would be better spent in self-reflection.”
Why is it that events like this are typically viewed as indictments of the Church? Why does this afford us “the opportunity to reflect on how evangelicals themselves may be at fault,” to “see the log in our own” eye? Why isn’t this viewed as evidence of a creeping bias against conservative Christianity? Why is this our fault?
So I left a comment on the article that concluded thus:
Sorry. No amount of re-branding will make opposition to homosexuality more tolerable to the cultural Left.
This is exactly what I feel the end-game of Jethani’s approach is. (bold mine)
Given [evangelical's] commitment to relevancy, when evangelical leaders refuse to accommodate to the culture on matters of homosexuality it appears to those outside that they are violating their own brand. While Catholic clergy are understandably behind the times, the gay community has trouble believing that evangelical opposition to same-sex marriage is predicated on a principled religious conviction or tradition. As one leader in the LGBT movement asked me, “Evangelicals are fine with ignoring many other parts of the Bible, so why do they insist on holding on to a few verses about homosexuality?” The simplest explanation for many in the LGBT community is that evangelicals must be bigots.
Apparently, we would gain more respect if we simply “accommodate[d] to the culture on matters of homosexuality.”
But homosexuality isn’t the only subject evangelicals should back off of. The doctrine of hell is another one.
In a recent article on Rob Bell and his controversial book “Love Wins,” New Yorker contributor Kelefa Sanneh describes Bell as a Hell Raiser who is searching for “a more forgiving faith.” Apparently, any religion that affirms a place called hell is not “forgiving enough.” Sanneh summarizes: (bold mine)
Last year, [Bell] published “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived,” in which he questioned the existence of Hell. The central message of “Love Wins” is that the church needs to stop scaring people away; in publishing it, Bell hoped to spark a movement toward a more congenial, less punitive form of Christianity.
Once again, whether it’s “hell” or “homosexuality,” the intent seems to be the same — “to spark a movement toward a more congenial, less punitive form of Christianity.” And affirming “hell” or believing that homosexual activity is a “sin in the eyes of God,” is simply not “congenial” enough.
And everyone knows congeniality was one of the watermarks of the life of Christ. Not.
It may come as a surprise, but I agree with evangelical opponents that HOW we talk about issues like hell is important. Believing there is a hell, a place of destruction or torment or eternal isolation, that souls can go to is not a license for being judgmental, rude, unloving, etc.
But I would say basically the same thing as I did in my comment at Out of Ur. No amount of re-branding will make belief in hell more tolerable to the cultural Left.
We can be as nice and loving and culturally accommodating and congenial as we want when approaching the topic of hell. The problem, however, isn’t our tone. It’s the doctrine itself.