Paul L. Caron

Sunday, August 6, 2023

NY Times Op-Ed: Losing Our Religion — An Altar Call For Evangelical America

New York Times Op-Ed:  The State of Evangelical America, by Tish Harrison Warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (2021) (Christianity Today's 2022 Book of the Year)):

MooreThere are few evangelical Christians who have gotten as much media coverage or criticism in the last decade as Russell Moore. He previously served as the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the policy wing of the Southern Baptist Convention, and became a prominent evangelical voice opposing a Trump presidency. Moore is currently the editor in chief of Christianity Today, which The Times’s Jane Coaston called “arguably the most influential Christian publication” in the United States. I asked Moore if he would speak to me about the evangelical movement and his new book, Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Tish Harrison Warren: The subtitle of your newest book is “An Altar Call for Evangelical America.” What do you mean by “evangelical America”?

Russell Moore: What I mean by “evangelical” is people who believe in the personal aspect of what it means to be a follower of Christ. That includes the way that we understand the Bible, the way that we understand the need to be born again.

In your book, you tell a story about how an evangelical person said to their pastor: “We’ve tried to turn the other cheek. It doesn’t work. We have to fight now.” Why do certain evangelicals feel so embattled now?

Some of it is a response to legitimate fears. There are many people in American life who assume that religion itself is oppressive and should be done away with. And there is a general sense of crisis and decline in American life, and it’s translated into religious terms. In many cases, I would not disagree with the diagnosis about some of the things that are wrong. What I would disagree with is the sense of futility and giving up on what it means to live in a pluralistic democracy.

I would also point to the decline in personal evangelism. When you have people who are trained to share the Gospel with their neighbors, they have an understanding from the very beginning that people in my community aren’t my enemies; they’re my mission field. This changes the way that you see people.

When that starts to diminish, there’s a lack of confidence and a frantic looking about for whatever tool is at hand. Ideological zealotry becomes the tool at hand.

I mentioned in the book about how many pastors talk about referencing Jesus’ call to “turn the other cheek,” only to have blowback from people in their congregation because they say that that doesn’t work in times like these. The assumption is that we’re in a hostile culture as opposed to a neutral culture — as though the Sermon on the Mount is delivered in Mayberry, not ancient Rome. And the assumption also shows a lack of confidence in the means that God has given us to advance the church through proclamation and demonstration. ...

You write about how his experience has given you compassion for folks who have left the church. And you often say that people don’t always leave the church because of what Christians believe but instead because they don’t think Christians actually believe what they claim to believe. What do you mean by that?

When I first started in ministry, if someone came and said, “I’m losing my faith. I’m walking away from the church,” the cause was almost always one of two things. Either the person started to find the supernatural incredible, or the person thought that the morality of the church was too strict in some way, usually having to do with sex. I almost never hear that anymore. Instead, the people that I talk to often have a sense that for the church, the Gospel is a means to an end — whether that end is politics or cultural control or cultural influence or something else. And in many cases they’re starting to question not whether the church is too strict but whether the church actually holds to a morality at all. What is alarming to me is that some of the people I find who are despairing are actually those who are the most committed to the teachings of Christianity.

An Announcement
I have some news. The past two years of writing this newsletter for The Times have been a profound joy and privilege, so it is bittersweet to announce that I will be leaving this post in early August, first for a brief sabbatical and then to work on longer-form book projects. I am very grateful for my editors and colleagues at The Times. And for you, my readers, who have generously shared your lives, thoughts and prayers with me through thousands of weekly notes and emails. You have stuck with me through controversial pieces and lighthearted ones. You’ve walked with me as I’ve written my way through grief, doubt and joy. I cannot thank you enough. For fans of my work, I intend to keep writing. And I hope you will see my work in The Times, too, in the future.

Editor's Note:  If you would like to receive a weekly email each Sunday with links to the faith posts on TaxProf Blog, email me here.

Other New York Times op-eds by Tish Harrison Warren:

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