Liberal Iliff Professor: “Christianity has died in the hands of Evangelicals”

on April 23, 2018

Christianity has died at the hands of American Evangelicals if the faith ever existed in the United States at all, one liberal professor has declared. During an interview with the “Friends Talking Faith” podcast, Dr. Miguel De La Torre, Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at the United Methodist-affiliated Iliff School of Theology, questioned U.S. Evangelicals’ faithfulness and attempted to examine the unhealthy roots of American Christianity.

The podcast discussion focused around De La Torre’s 2017 Baptist News op-ed in which he wrote, “The beauty of the gospel message — of love, of peace and of fraternity — has been murdered by the ambitions of Trumpish flimflammers who have sold their souls for expediency.”

When pressed by the podcast hosts about this controversial statement, De La Torre reconsidered his premise. Why? Because it assumed Christianity was once a vibrant part of American history. “When in reality I probably should have said Christianity came to these shores stillborn and never really took root in this country.”

He explained, “If we look at our history, based on the genocide of indigenous people, the slavery of Africans, the stealing of land from Latin American countries, I’m beginning to wonder if we ever really had Christianity in this country.”

When asked if he was speaking broadly about the death of all Christianity, De La Torre said no and clarified he is specifically talking about “white nationalist Christianity.” As it is, De La Torre argues this variety of the faith is representative of America’s dominate Christianity. “That is the Christianity that does not question structures of oppression and the Christianity that instead supports and abets white supremacy, which is the foundational Christianity upon which the country was built…” At this point, De La Torre attempted to examine the white nationalist motives of the Pilgrims.

Though change is not imminent, there is hope for a revival, according to De La Torre. “It only really will occur when white people crucify their white privilege and when people of color crucify their colonized minds and begin to understand this faith through their own symbols.”

There do exist true American Christians “standing in solidarity with the oppressed,” De La Torre acknowledged. But also “Jewish groups, and Muslim groups, Hindu groups, and even in Humanist groups and Atheist groups who are more faithful, than I would say the 81 percent who voted for someone who represents the very opposite of everything that Jesus taught.”

When asked if De La Torre—an ordained Southern Baptist clergyman—still identified with the term Evangelical, he said “I think I have already given up the term. I really cannot be part of a terminology that really is used to oppress other people.” Also, he claimed “the word Evangelical has become so polluted that it is beyond reformation” and “Generation Z and the Millennials, they want nothing to do with such terms.”

Most disturbing, De La Torre wondered “if even the term Christianity—especially with its history— is a term that I can hold onto as well.”

“Now don’t get me wrong, my faith will not change. But the terminology has done so much damage globally, it’s kind of hard to justify the word,” he stated.

Christians have faults and shortcomings, sure. But while there are Christians who have acted in contrast to Christ’s teaching, we must remember that we are all—liberal or conservative—
fallen and in need of redemption. But this should not dismiss the ultimate meaning of the word “Christian.” Christianity means people who follow Jesus Christ and who strive to uphold His teachings.

I pray that De La Torre will recognize his own politicization of Christ’s teachings. May the Holy Spirit stir De La Torre to place his trust in the Lord, not on his own understanding.

You can listen to the complete interview on the “Friends Talking Faith” podcast web page:   

  1. Comment by Jeffrey Walton on April 23, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    I’ll insert one item here: as I understand it, in the Southern Baptist tradition, local churches ordain, not the denomination. So a person would be ordained by such-and-such church, which affiliates with the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s possible that I am splitting hairs, but De La Torre is not on some sort of Southern Baptist clergy rolls in the same sense as the Episcopal, Roman Catholic or Lutheran churches ordain clergy. Baptist friends, is this how you understand it to be?

  2. Comment by Paul Zesewitz on April 23, 2018 at 9:13 pm

    It is my understanding, as one who was raised Baptist, that all Baptists (and that includes everyone, from the American Baptists to the Conservative Baptist Association), ordain ministers on the local level, and not as a member of a synod, conference, session and what not. Baptists have this thing called ‘soul freedom’, which means they can believe whatever they want to, so long as it’s guided by the principles of the Scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit, and that includes a local congregation being ‘autonomous’ (run by itself, basically).

  3. Comment by Paul W. on April 23, 2018 at 9:47 pm

    Also, as strange as it might sound, there are no ordination standards for SBC pastors. Each local church can choose to ordain anyone they deem fit. As an example, this extends even to the ordination of women pastors; the SBC’s official doctrinal statement (Baptist Faith and Message) and various resolutions state specifically that ordination is limited to men, however this is not binding on the local church.

  4. Comment by MikeS on May 15, 2018 at 9:40 am

    “Christianity has died in the hands of Evangelicals”, he says, but it’s the evangelical churches that are holding on to life and even thriving, while the liberal, feminized, homosexualized churches are decaying and dying. I think he needs some more clarity of perception.

  5. Comment by Colleen Craft on February 18, 2019 at 6:35 pm

    That is not true of all Baptist Churches . My church no longer belongs to the Southern Baptist Convention and we are a very inclusive church. We welcome all people no matter their sexual orientation, color of skin, those who have been deeply hurt by their former church, etc. We are thriving. We are a city church and landlocked (can’t build) so we now have 4 services every weekend. We are not dying and trying really hard to follow the teachings of Jesus. We have gay and women deacons and pastors.

  6. Comment by Liz Marr on February 18, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    Christianity has nothing to do with being liberal or conservative. Christianity died long time ago, even before it came to America. It had been politicized for centuries to develop and create structures of power in order to control and subdue societies and civilizations.
    The Catholic Church, the white power, the Black Power, slaves owners, economists, politics, etc Have used the words of Jesus and The Bible in order to justify for reference and a personal agendas. It had been used around the world, to kill, abuse and destroy others with different faith and believes with the excuse of converting them into Christianity of bringing the truth to them, if I am allowed to be sarcastic.
    No, I do not believe De La Torr has anything to do with politicizing the message of Jesus Christ. It has been done from its beginnings, from its roots.

  7. Comment by Rob Sellers on February 18, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    Esther Chung says, “I pray that De La Torre will recognize his own politicization of Christ’s teachings.” Does she not see the radical political content and implication of Christ’s teachings? She continues, “May the Holy Spirit stir De La Torre to place his trust in the Lord….” Is Chung suggesting he doesn’t trust in the Lord, or just in her understanding of the Lord?

  8. Comment by Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins on February 18, 2019 at 12:14 pm

    Dr. De la Torre speaks courageously, honestly, and prophetically. To use the language of his tradition, I hope people find “conviction” from his stern but ultimately optimistic and generous exhortation.

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