Union Theological Seminary

Union Theological Seminary hosts Identity Politics-Driven Panel on Evangelicalism

on July 27, 2018

Last Thursday, Union Theological Seminary hosted a panel discussion entitled “Where do we go from here?” Speakers discussed the need for Evangelical churches to more openly embrace social justice issues. Various speakers criticized churches that support progressive politics in name only rather than actively pushing them. Several of the speakers even accused Evangelicalism of being dominated by white supremacy and argued that the best way for the church to grow is to actively reject orthodox theology and embrace the LGBT community.

Jonathan Merritt, the moderator, explained that the event took its title from the famous 1967 speech by Martin Luther King Jr. admonishing Americans to improve race relations. Merritt equated the struggles of LGBT people today to the struggles that blacks endured during segregation. He pointed to the 2016 election as confirmation that America is a deeply evil society. In his introduction, Merritt stated,

We can no longer pretend that we have moved beyond the scourge of white supremacy, much less racism, of more common varieties. We can no longer pretend that we have truly wrestled with sexism and misogyny as a society. We can no longer maintain the illusion that LGBTQ equality was settled by the Supreme Court. The election of Donald Trump tore down the veil and has disillusioned us.

The speakers answered questions about the topics of “women in church leadership, LGBTQ inclusion, and racial justice.” When asked about Christian churches’ support of LGBT rights, Brit Baron, pastor at New Abbey, a church in Pasadena, CA, explained the importance of rejecting traditional Christian orthodoxy. She said:

One thing that I personally understand about the Gospel is that it was always meant to be understood as we progress right? So I think that’s happening in a very beautiful way with LGBTQ topics is that we are realizing that this story was meant to get bigger, we are realizing the complexity of our humanity and our theology, like we’re just catching up to where the story has always been.

Other speakers framed their opposition to traditional Christian beliefs as a battle of theology against pragmatic policy designed to encourage inclusivity. For them, the church doctrine on sex and marriage that has stood for millennia should be ignored if it threatens to be “unwelcoming.”

George Mekhail, executive director of Church Clarity, a Christian LGBT rights group, echoed this emphasis on actions instead of beliefs when he criticized churches that neither openly support nor condemn homosexuality. He rhetorically asked “We’re not after your theology, we’re not looking for what your view is on Romans, like what’s your policy? What is your actively enforced policy? If my queer friend comes up to you and asks ‘will you perform my wedding?’ what are you gonna say? Yes or no?”

Speakers at the event equated the moral absolutism of traditional Christianity with white supremacy and called for a moral relativism that will accept all beliefs. Mekhail argued that Evangelicalism should not affirm any single interpretation of the Bible. When asked to define “Evangelicalism” he replied, “It is hard to pin down, and we need to pin it down.  But it’s just like the word ‘Christian’  I would say falls into a similar category, or when someone says well ya know this is Biblically sound or ‘the Bible is clear on this. All that stuff just needs to go away, and we need to just talk to facts. Here’s what you mean by Evangelical.”

What Mekhail was arguing for was nothing short of the religious relativism from a “COEXIST” bumper sticker. It is a rejection of the objective truth of the Bible from the flawed argument that since people disagree on the truth of Scripture, it must be impossible to know the truth. By “facts”, Mekhail meant your church’s position on social justice issues such as performing marriage services for homosexuals, affirmative action policies to hire more female pastors, and support of the Black Lives Matter movement. What your church actually believes on crucial theological questions that have always defined the Christian church is less important than your support of former NFL player Colin Kaepernick.

Many of the speakers touched upon the hypocrisy of churches choosing to simply “check the box” for social justice. Mekhail challenged churches saying “you have a Black Lives Matter banner outside your church, what does that mean for you?” He argued that churches need to “look at how we’re making decisions on hiring and figure out how to get more diverse people.”

Baron in turn presented a way for white people to combat racism. She said “White people need to start talking to each other more honestly about, ‘yeah this is awkward, but are you racist? I feel a little racist.’ or however it goes, I don’t know I’ve never been white.”

Josef Sorett, a professor of Religion at Columbia University, doubled down on this racism by accusing white people of causing the problems in Evangelical churches. He complained “because of a host of activists who have organized together and been well-resourced, Evangelicalism has become aligned in the popular imagination with the right. A set of right politics and with whiteness.” Sorett had earlier called the Trump administration “white supremacist” and compared Donald Trump succeeding Barrack Obama as President to the black codes in the South following the end of slavery.

Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith and Public Life, pointed to the nebulous “patriarchy” as the source of white supremacy. She warned that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop is an example of how conservative Evangelicals are using “religious freedom” as “a Trojan horse.” In light of the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing homosexual marriage across the nation, Butler claimed that the religious right is engaging in a “rearguard fight” to discriminate against LGBT people in housing and employment rights.

The speakers all agreed on the need for the Evangelical church to reject white people. Sorett claimed that because of its association with “whiteness”, black people do not want to be involved with Evangelicalism. Statistics show that black Americans identify more closely than white Americans with traditional Evangelical values that the leftist speakers rejected. The idea that blacks shun Evangelical churches because white supremacists have come to dominate Evangelicalism is an unsubstantiated attempt to promote racial tension.

In her closing remarks, Baron acknowledged “There is a lot of death in the church” but pointed to intersectionality as the solution saying, “revival of the church is going to come from the queer community.” However, according to the 2014 Pew poll only 48 percent of lesbian, bisexual, and gay people are Christian compared to 72 percent of the American population overall, and LGB people are just half as likely to identify as Evangelical. Regardless of the morality of prioritizing identity politics over theology, it seems unlikely that the homosexual community will flock to an Evangelical church, no matter how loyal they are to a radical leftist ideology.

  1. Comment by Mike on July 28, 2018 at 10:53 am

    Where was any truth in all of that? Where was any clear exposition of Biblical teaching? Where was any sanity?

  2. Comment by senecagriggs on July 28, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    If only the Evangelical church would abandon Scripture – dryly.

  3. Comment by Loren Golden on July 29, 2018 at 10:36 am

    Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of the Church, is not served when His Church is subverted for political gain, regardless of whether the gain is in the name of justice or morality.  And this is true, irrespective of whether the gain is for a conservative political party or a liberal.

    “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (I Cor. 2.2)  And again, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” (I Cor. 15.3-4)

    The Gospel message that Jesus Christ died on the Cross to pay the penalty for the sins of men and women like you and me must be the primary message of the Church of Jesus Christ and must not be allowed to be displaced from its position “of first importance” for any secondary cause, even for social righteousness, justice, or morality.

    To turn an old saying on its head, it is of no everlasting good to anyone if the Church of Jesus Christ is so earthly minded that she is of no Heavenly good.  That is, it is of no everlasting good to anyone if the Church of Jesus Christ is so focused on solving the problems of the world in the here and now that she neglects to proclaim the Gospel of Salvation from sin and death that is solely to be found in the Atoning Death and Life-Giving Resurrection of the only Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.

  4. Comment by Paul W. on July 29, 2018 at 2:11 pm

    It’s always amusing when a group chooses to hold a conference to discuss how their adversaries need to change in order to remain or become relevant. It’s just sad though when they try to co-opt parts of their adversary’s identity, e.g., identifying as “progressive” Evangelicals.

  5. Comment by MJ on July 29, 2018 at 3:54 pm

    Honestly, this panel seems to know shocking little about evangelicalism. They seem to be speaking out of their own wounded history with a very narrow strain of conservatism.

  6. Comment by Loren Golden on July 29, 2018 at 6:48 pm

    Indeed!  The root of “Evangelical” is the Greek word e’uaggélion, meaning “Gospel” or “good news”, which according to Mounce (p. 391) appears 76 times in the New Testament.

    The Gospel is as I have stated above.  The Evangelical response, therefore, is to be Paul’s: “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2.20)  And again, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal. 5.24)

    Merritt, Barron, et al, have subverted the Gospel of Christ, exchanging it for a “gospel” of works—some of which works are good, such as racial reconciliation (albeit by worldly means of “white shaming” rather than by genuine repentance and reconciliation), and some of which are perverse, such as advocating for sinful behaviors and desires on the grounds that such are necessarily caused by a hypothetical “orientation” (that is supposedly manifested by these behaviors and desires) and therefore justified by it.

    Exchanging the proclamation of the Gospel for Progressive social justice activism as the primary mission of the Church of Jesus Christ, as these panelists advocate, is not going to lead to healthy, vibrant, racially integrated congregations, as half a century of precipitous decline in the Mainline Protestant denominations has amply shown.

  7. Comment by Palamas on July 30, 2018 at 8:11 am

    The racism was strong in these folks. The Christian was not.

  8. Comment by Scott on July 31, 2018 at 10:39 am

    Is this an approved seminary for UM’s. If so, it should be removed from the list, along with Boston University. This is the root of the problem. The head (clergy) of the church are sick with this kind of foolishness, which is why the whole organization is sick.

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