These are dark times for many evangelical Christians in America, but the news isn’t uniformly terrible. Despite ongoing support of far too many evangelicals for Donald Trump, there are signs that the evangelical movement still has an engaged and even growing minority that remains in touch with the Gospel message of their movement, while also correcting the social justice failures of past generations.
Here are 5 positive evangelical trends that I’ve seen:
Evangelical Thought Leaders Are More Diverse and Broadly Engaged
A recent bus trip called the Ruby Woo Pilgrimage brought together a diverse group of black, Latino, Asian, and white female evangelical writers, speakers, and teachers for a three-day journey of education, collaboration, and advocacy. The group learned from civil rights leader Ruby Sales, visited a diverse group of church leaders in NYC, and spoke with lawmakers at Washington D.C.
Organized by Lisa Sharon Harper, the trip addressed a wide range of issues that included racism, immigration, and social justice. If evangelicals are lucky, the future of the evangelical movement in America will look a lot more like this group.
A Best-Selling Christian Author Stood for Refugees
At the start of Trump’s presidency, the xenophobic Muslim ban that would have had no bearing on the safety of America became a major point of protest for Americans. Without fanfare, Canadian author Ann Voskamp took to the streets to protest the ban alongside her American brothers and sisters.
Voskamp may be one of the most popular bestselling authors in America today. There’s no doubt that many Trump voters have purchased her books, but every time a basic matter of human dignity comes up in America, from the abuse of women to the banning of Muslims, Voskamp is unequivocal in her support for the suffering and marginalized.
For all of the press that Falwell Jr., James Dobson, and Franklin Graham receive for their Christian nationalism, if not Christo-fascism, there are extremely well-known and widely read Christian authors and speakers who are resisting the agenda of Trump, including Philip Yancey, Beth Moore, and Ann Voskamp.
Many Evangelicals Recognize Political Compromise
There has always been a strong resistance to any alignment of the evangelical movement with a political party, whether on the right or left. Red Letter Christians, The Simple Way, Rutba House, William Barber’s Moral Monday movement, and numerous other movements and loose networks have stood against this political compromise.
Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Drew Hart, and Christina Cleveland are among a growing number of nationally recognized evangelical authors who have resisted the merging of the evangelical movement with the Republican party. They aren’t going anywhere, and I suspect that many of their future books will be bestsellers.
Real Spiritual Practices Are Taking Hold
The fear, sexism, or xenophobia that drove many evangelical Christians to vote for Trump are surely the fruit of an evangelical movement that lacks the spiritual practices that are able to counter these emotions and beliefs. Too many Christians are discipled by FOX News, Breit Bart, and extreme conservative talk radio shows.
The false self and the desire for personal security are both idols that have fueled the appeal of Trump, and the spiritual practices associated with contemplative prayer can help counter them. Contemplation in silent solitude can lead to awareness of God’s love and greater compassion toward others. By confronting our fears, insecurities, and existential struggles before God, we can find deliverance from destructive forces of fear and self-preservation. We can adopt our identity as God’s beloved children and make decisions based on love for neighbors, not fear for ourselves.
As I interact with evangelicals who are disturbed by this election, I have consistently found that many are turning to contemplative practices. Evangelical men are turning to authors such as Richard Rohr in large numbers in search of an alternative to its toxic masculine culture, and retreats and books focusing on contemplative prayer are drawing evangelicals in larger numbers.
In 2016 I hosted a one day retreat prior to the Festival of Faith and Writing that we barely promoted, and yet nearly 60 people showed up for our time of centering prayer. Many who did not attend approached me during the conference to say they would be interested in attending during the following year. My own little introduction to contemplative prayer for evangelicals, titled Flee, Be Silent, Pray, sells multiple copies every day despite very little marketing work on my part.
This isn’t a majority, and maybe it’s not headline material, but it is a noticeable groundswell of evangelical movement toward contemplation and other spiritual practices that will generate greater compassion and love for others. Today we are seeing the rotten fruit of political compromise, but if this trend holds, we may see a far more appealing fruit come from this sizeable minority in the evangelical movement and along its fringes.
A Pro-LGBT Christian Author Is Still a Bestselling Author
While the attacks on the LGBT community at the behest of the current presidential administration are no doubt welcomed by many evangelicals, there are signs of a shift in this movement. Opposing basic LGBT rights isn’t quite as high of a priority in the evangelical camp today.
About a year after publicly sharing her support of same sex couples and LGBTQ rights, author Jen Hatmaker released her latest book, Of Mess and Moxie, as a bestseller. The book stormed up every possible chart, settling into the top 10 on several lists. This is someone who cannot sell her books in the majority of Christian bookstores and who has been disowned by many in the evangelical establishment.
Maybe this isn’t such a big deal, but I see it as a sign of a major shift. An author need not oppose same sex marriage in order to be profitable in the Christian publishing ecosystem. There are many other authors who believe the same as Hatmaker but have not gone public yet.
Hatmaker continues to lose speaking engagements and tours because of her beliefs on same sex marriage, but the outcome for publishing is impossible to deny. Christian authors can now support LGBTQ rights and find a large enough audience to be commercially successful. For publishers looking at sales numbers and spreadsheets, this could be a “Before Hatmaker” and “After Hatmaker” moment.
Let’s Promote Constructive Leaders
I don’t write any of this to minimize the massive moral and political failures of the evangelical movement in America, especially among white evangelicals.
The good news is that there are signs of hope and reform. There are new voices emerging that we should seek out. There are established voices speaking the truth.
If you want to see the evangelical movement change, promote these voices over those who are divisive and compromised. The prophets are speaking. Leaders are taking initiative. Whether anyone can hear them over the roar of today’s news cycle is, in part, up to us.
9 thoughts on “5 Signs That Evangelical Christianity in America Isn’t a Complete Dumpster Fire”
Thank you, Ed. We need all the encouragement we can get💞💞💞
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Just curious. How do you define the word “evangelical?”
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I like the broader trends of the movement described by Knoll and Beggington in their 3-part historical survey that is generally adopted by other academics who study this. It’s more or less a convergence of “convertative piety” (ie. transformative personal relationship with God), prioritizing the Bible, emphasis on evangelism/activism, and Christ’s death reconciling us with God.
Thank you, Ed, for this. Another very widely read and well known Christian author who speaks a lot about spiritual direction, centering prayer and contemplative practices is Shauna Niequist in her book ‘bittersweet.’ I enjoyed it very, very much for its honesty and course corrective content. (Shauna is daughter of Bill Hybels.) She mentions these practices in an interview with Oprah when she was invited to talk about ‘bittersweet.’ https://www.facebook.com/oprahwinfrey/videos/10155667308532220/ I have heard the bestseller “Present Over Perfect” also contains some welcome course corrections for evangelicals.
Thank you for your article. You said that too many evangelicals support Donald Trump. I believe the main purpose of government is to protect it’s citizens. I greatly respect Beth Moore and Anne Voskamp but their role is not to protect millions of people.
Becky, I honestly think you need to read a bit more widely if that’s what you think Trump is up to. I’m not trying to slam you. That’s just the facts. That man is not keeping my relatives in Puerto Rico safe. he’s restricting the religious freedom of Muslims. He’s creating chaos for Dreamers and immigrants. He has attacked healthcare in America, threatening the health coverage of many missionaries and pastors I know. Trump is about making Trump rich and stroking his ego. Focus on what folks like Beth Moore and Jen Hatmaker are saying. The prophets are speaking if we have ears to hear.
I am not sure that Jen Hatmaker’s continued success in selling her books is a hopeful sign for evangelicals.
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Right now, I’m at the point where I no longer trust male leaders in either evangelical Christianity or conservative politics. If they don’t abuse people, they support those who do.
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