American Evangelicalism Is Destroying the Good News of Jesus

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, right-wing political operatives — like Richard Viguerie, Paul Weyrich, Kevin Phillips, and Terry Dolan — engineered a political takeover of the evangelical movement. This was a radical hijacking of the message of Jesus Christ. Ten years earlier, the movement that became Sojourners was born at an evangelical seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago. We preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is transforming both personally and socially — a holistic message aimed to change our lives and the world.

In 1973, I worked with Evangelicals for Social Action in a gathering Ron Sider convened, again in Chicago, which produced a document called the "Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern" In that declaration, we acknowledged the sins of racism and classism and called for repentance. We were hailed as the “young evangelicals” in a “new evangelical” movement.

Now, 45 years later, another meeting of 50 fairly diverse leaders met at Wheaton College, a historic evangelical site, to pray and discern together the future of evangelicalism in the U.S. When Fox News, Breitbart, and CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) launched coordinated coverage of the meeting as “Trump bashing,” featuring the Trump evangelical advisers to the president, you knew the meeting hit a nerve.

This disturbing distinction clearly demonstrates the evangelical backsliding we have experienced since the publication of the Chicago Declaration. We are now engaged in “spiritual warfare,” as described in our Scriptures. We don’t finally put our trust in politics, but in God who will win with the long arc of the universe that “bends toward justice” as Dr. King reminded us. I only made one comment at the end of the Wheaton meeting when I said, “I have been listening as I hope you all have been too. The question this meeting is asking about the future of evangelicalism has been answered by the voices of color and women in this room. They are pointing us to the evangel, the good news Jesus said he would bring to the poor in his opening statement in Luke 4. That’s our future, let’s listen.”

As one of the white evangelical leaders in the Wheaton meeting had said to me before, “American evangelicalism is destroying the evangel.” Now is the time for the evangel to turn white evangelicalism in America upside down.

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