The World Today
When faith becomes hijacked
For this edition of Evangelically Departed I offer a couple of follow-ups on major issues and events that I have aimed to address recently, in specific, the matters around Roe vs. Wade and the invasion/war in Ukraine.
As I mentioned in a previous writing, one of the considerations worth thinking about around the evangelical battle against Roe vs. Wade is how the matter of abortion and a woman’s right to choose came to dominate so much of evangelical subculture. There is an argument to be made that those who chose the issue of abortion as a potential rallying point around which to build a political power block cared more about the power than they did about the matter of abortion. As someone who has been a pastor for a few decades, I have seen within the evangelical church that one of the consequences of making abortion a litmus test, single issue, faith-defining matter has been that faith itself has been hijacked.
When people seeking power use an issue like this and convince a whole subculture of people to champion the cause, faith itself becomes understood in divisive, us vs. them, good and evil terms. I am confident in saying that this has been detrimental to faith and to real spiritual growth.
Here is something that might surprise some of you who are not familiar with the evangelical church or with some of you who have rejected the culture; most people in the evangelical church are not bad people. In fact, most people fighting against Roe vs. Wade really do believe that they are standing for the dignity and worth of human life. What most of them don’t know is that the cause as a good vs. evil concept was used to get their allegiance as a political block. In the United States, very many evangelical Christians would never consider voting Democrat because of the issue of abortion alone. In Canada, there are lots of Christians who automatically vote Conservative because of the same issue, even though the Conservative Party has not fought for the anti-choice cause as vociferously as the Republicans have in the United States.
My hope is that we could have some honest conversation theologically.
“Why are you against a woman’s right to choose?”
“Why do you think that the Bible is clear on the issue?”
“Do you know that, even after Roe vs. Wade, evangelical Christians, in general, did not oppose a woman’s right to choose?”
Of course, I would be willing to respond to questions as well.
My point is this, while the actual issue of reproductive rights is the primary consideration, I see how my own faith has been hijacked by people who have intentionally riled up a base and enlisted them as foot-soldiers. They have done this with a kind of disdain for the masses of people enlisted to the cause. For the most part, they don’t have an interest in helping people see the whole of the issue, they want only to scare people to a place of unquestioned allegiance. Yes, of course, this is just as de-humanizing when it happens from the left as well, and it most certainly does. When is the last time you heard someone on the left admit that many people who argue against the right to abortion do so because they feel that they are doing what is right? In other words, most people fighting against a woman’s right to choose really do believe that they are positively motivated and that their faith enlivens the cause.
Faith ought to be, and can be, better than intellectual and political coercion. If someone is telling you what God wants and it is exactly what they want, you should be suspicious. Never ever let someone say, “God is really working” without questioning it, if the only thing that they are referring to is THEIR particular thing. They might well be able to make a case, but if they say, “Anyone who thinks differently than me on this is obviously against God,” then that might be a sign, not that they truly believe in what they are saying, but that they either don’t really believe or that they have some other interest in mind than God’s interest. Maybe it is their own interest in the guise of God’s.
Here is a more in-depth look, just a few minutes, at how abortion was chosen as an issue by a group of people interested arguably more in political power than they were in the sanctity of life.
The second issue of contemporary consideration is how the invasion of Ukraine relates to Christian faith. It feels far away theologically for many of us familiar with evangelical Christianity, largely because the expression of Christian faith in question is the Orthodox tradition. If you are used to performative worship bands and cool, casual, untucked-shirt evangelical preachers, the long beards and icons of Orthodox tradition might seem very foreign to you. Here is where there is similarity around what is happening in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is using the concept of a Christian nation to legitimize the invasion. In this case, the Russian Orthodox Church stands in the place of the Evangelical Church in the United States in support of militarism, nationalism, and in presenting itself as champion fighting against immortality (including some issues common to evangelicals in the United States such as same-sex rights).
Once again, as in the issue of abortion and choice, faith becomes hijacked to a kind of moralist activism. I am aware that there are parallel excesses on the left, but those particular excesses were not the ones that hurt evangelical faith. In my work as pastor, one of the things that I battled was the co-opting of faith by this kind of activism. I saw very many well meaning people have their faith hijacked by the issues of abortion and homosexuality. If people become convinced that faithful living and growth means a fight against the supposed moral degradation of the world, this becomes a major distraction for real and lasting spiritual growth. If people become convinced that the matters they are opposing are evil, then they will struggle to grow in Christlike love of neighbour.
I always find it distressing that there are people who become religious and political leaders who are more interested in using people for their cause and gain, than they are interested in the actual growth of the people they help to lead.
I spoke with a good friend, Orthodox theologian David Goa, about the invasion of Ukraine and the real division it has caused in the Orthodox expression of faith. You can listen to the conversation below (if you have any issues with the player below, you can use this link to get to the audio as well). David speaks at length about something that is obviously painful to him in his faith.
Here is a recent article on the same issue.
Is the evangelical church in its death throes? The number of people walking away from evangelicalism is quite staggering. The death throes can cause real damage, however. My hope is that we aim for a faith better than “us vs. our enemies,” “us as the morally superior.” I am hopeful that we can get to a better expression of faith. The movement to this hopeful faith will involve self-reflection about the causes we have been told are holy and just and an examination of who has benefitted from us being enlisted to such causes.