I grew up in a fundamentalist church that purposefully and actively sequestered itself and its members from the rest of the world whenever possible. For example, when its founding members’ children reached school age, they started a school to spare their children the corruption of secular schools. 

This is not uncommon, perhaps your Christian school was started for much the same purpose. And if you didn’t attend Christian school, you are probably otherwise familiar with another aspect of the evangelical ghetto, that segregated and often subpar copy of the larger world. Many people have noted not just that this is what many evangelicals have traditionally done to keep themselves pure, but also that this has been an unproductive and ultimately harmful way of being a Christian in the world. Also, it’s a well-documented fact that most of what passes for evangelical “culture” is little more than cheap knockoffs.

For many of us who have recognized this ill-fated ghettoization of our faith, we’ve simply parted ways—sometimes from faith altogether, and in other cases from evangelicalism to churches and denominations that see themselves as members of the larger world. These churches wrestle with what it means to be “in the world, but not of it,” while actually being, you know, in the world. This is why, if you’ve been following Patrol over the years, you’ve seen a marked move away from actively critiquing evangelical culture to mostly just ignoring it—at least from some of us.

But the response to the recent decision by World Vision to hire people who are in legal same-sex marriages, has shown that, if anything, the ghettoization has only gotten worse. It used to be that evangelicals would just wall themselves off from “the world”—non-Christians and other “others”—but now even some Christian organizations must be avoided. World Vision no longer fits some evangelicals’ extremely narrow vision of what it means to be a Christian and so they are making a big show of publicly withdrawing support from the organization, which provides support to children living in poverty. So take that, children living in poverty.

It is yet to be seen whether the funds being withdrawn from World Vision–and the de-sponsoring of as many as 2,000 children according to some estimates–will have a significant impact on World Vision’s operations, but the embarrassing display of evangelicals turning against a Christian aid organization makes for a powerful statement.

This is how not to be Christian—to create increasingly smaller boxes into which one can retreat every time he disagrees with something that happens “outside.” And yet with startling frequency, this is where evangelicalism is heading. Maybe it’s the last gasp of a cultural movement that has always been a little too cozy with enlightenment ideals to actually be fully Christian. Maybe it’s fear that the world is changing too quickly. Probably it’s a combination of these and other factors, but whether it’s creating “Christian” copies of secular culture, choosing to only associate with those you deem worthy (or “saved”), refusing to do business with those with whom you disagree, or withdrawing support for needy children because of an updated employee handbook, American evangelicalism is literally shrinking itself to death.

On one hand, who cares, right? The smaller evangelicalism gets, the less influential it will be. But, on the other hand, it somehow gets louder and louder as it shrinks, like a balloon squealing as it deflates. In addition to the firsthand victims of this walling-off of evangelicalism—those excluded from churches or refused services, or, most recently, organizations that serve impoverished children—American Christianity as a whole suffers. The more non-Christians dismiss evangelicals, and by extension all Christians, as a close-minded fringe group on the verge of extinction, the less likely it is that other, more moderate Christian voices will ever be heard.

That’s why I care, because I’m a person of faith who often has to apologize for fellow Christians. And, I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what we mean by “apologetics.”

About The Author

Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

Editor | Follow him on Twitter.

25 Responses to Evangelicalism is Shrinking Itself to Death

  1. Paul G says:

    Polls have consistently shown that evangelicals are among the most generous people in the world, “far surpassing” others (For example, https://www.barna.org/barna-update/congregations/41-new-study-shows-trends-in-tithing-and-donating#.UzMbUdzJU1k). Agnostics and liberals are among the least generous. So your painting of evangelicals as impoverished-child haters is baseless. Generous people will remain generous people. Also what does not change for many evangelicals is their reliance on an unchangeable standard for truth. World Vision changed its standard; that doesn’t mean that evangelicals have to follow suit in order to continue to be generous and caring. Of course, they weren’t looking for your applause in the first place.

    • Rebecca Wimer says:

      I think you are addressing different issues. Jonathan didnt say anything about the generosity of evangelicals.

    • Emma Duncan says:

      nope, just brownie points from their “God” and therefore more stuff after they die.

    • steve says:

      One thing I’ve been wondering about with respect to giving to churches concerns how much money goes to which kind of budget items. A lot of that goes to building gyms and family life centers, and a lot of infrastructure that does not directly go to charity. Still it is good stuff but should it be evaluated the same as direct cash to flooded or starving people? I don’t think the Barna study breaks things down but assumes all giving is equivalent. I’ve been in conservative churches all my life and sometimes it seems like a church can become a kind of country club. It helps raise and entertain our children and a lot of good things. So giving to it is also selfish, to some extent.

  2. Rebecca Wimer says:


    • Patrick Sawyer says:

      Rebecca and Emma,
      World Vision has now reversed course but you both missed Paul G.’s point. Fitzgerald equated withdrawing support from World Vision with withdrawing support for needy children, even spinning it as an intentional way to do harm to children when he said “so take that, children living in poverty”. He then reinforced that viewpoint at the end of the 2nd paragraph after that statement. So Fitzgerald DID in fact say something about the “generosity of Evangelicals”. He framed it as something that is contingent on agreement to something he believes is of little consequence. His direct implication is that support will be reduced to needy children because of moral nit-picking by Evangelicals. But that is not correct.

      The reality is that Paul G. is correct. Authentic Evangelicals who have donated to needy children in the past who have decided not to do that anymore through World Vision will simply do it through other means. Why? Because World Vision was never the point, the needs of children were/are. And those needs will still exist and Evangelicals will still give.

      Moreover, as is too often the case with Patrol, few who write and comment seem to know what real evangelicalism is. For instance, the type of myopic, culturally monastic church Fitzgerald described at the beginning of the post is not an Evangelical church. Not in truth, not in reality. No matter how it self-identifies. And Emma the comment you made about “brownie points with their God” that Rebecca said “amen” to has ZERO to do with how true Evangelicals think. If you two are that out of touch with basic theology that Evangelicals hold to, you may not want to comment in a context such as this. It’s embarrassing for you.

      • Rebecca Wimer says:

        Points noted and received. I cant really say I am embarrassed (or should be) however. It is embarrassing (E)Christians are so reactionary.

        What Jonathan said is also an excellent metaphor for our endless culture wars now becoming between Christians. Also this does (did?) affect service to children because WV’s decision resulted in loss of donations which (would have eventually resulted) in dropping service to impoverished children.

        All that said, WV’s leadership is ultimately at fault. Surprised they didnt vet that decision better. Makes me wonder what it was really all about. Haha probably not some sinister conspiracy but just incompetence?

        • Patrick Sawyer says:

          I have some friends who were going to stop their support of World Vision, but, like I referenced, they were just going to redirect their funds. Which means, while WV would lose support another group would gain support. Ultimately it would be a zero-sum gain for needy children. (It sounds insensitive to put it that way). Most (E)Christians I know are quite measured but you are correct that some who are categorized as Evangelical are reactionary but that is in spite of (not because of) their identification with Evangelicalism.
          I should also note there is a vital distinction between those who are rightly defined as Evangelicals and those who are rightly defined as Fundamentalists. These terms get conflated too often at Patrol to everyone’s detriment.
          I want to also add that in re-reading my comment to you that you and Emma should feel embarrassed for the theological ignorance or misrepresentation regarding the “brownie points” comment, it strikes me that it sounds a little condescending and pejorative. I apologize for that. While I was a little frustrated, my overall perspective about it is actually more kind than that. So again, sorry about that. I just want to assure you that real Christians (ergo many Evangelicals) are not trying to earn any “brownie points” with God. They know they are secure in the finished work of Christ (Eph 4:30) and any blessings associated with Heaven abound exclusively from God’s unfathomable grace. Best…

          • Just a quick comment on the identification of evangelicals. I think that over the years here at patrol we have made the case that the evangelicalism you’re referencing has actually lost the identification battle to the way the world at large identifies evangelicals. You and I may know that evangelicalism is marked by certain theological commitments but for better or (I’m sure you’d say) worse, the world is not interested in those commitments. Thus, we define evangelicalism as it has come to be most broadly defined, which includes the kind of fundamentalist churches I reference at the beginning of the post. At this late stage, it doesn’t matter what insiders say evangelicalism is, it has come to be understood a certain way and there is no going back.

          • Patrick Sawyer says:

            It is well known point what you say but I want to maintain a commitment to what the word actually means. A failure to do that has helped create the confusion and disillusionment that exists today regarding perceptions of the visible church. And this is not without great consequence to souls, which is really my concern.
            Of course this is only one word among many where this applies but it was germane to the discussion. The Bible speaks much of false expressions of what is true, false expressions of the real thing: false gods, false prophets, false teachers, false believers, false faith, false gospel. And it does this with an emphasis on holding onto what is true, what ACTUALLY IS from God’s standpoint. To a lessor extent that is my point on the insistence of an accurate understanding of Evangelical.
            But, I would concede that a day may come where the term is so co-opted by what is false and fraudulent that it must be abandoned. After all meaning tends to reside in people and not in mere symbol systems such as words. (Although Christ being the living WORD problematizes such a notion when it comes His written revelation). But I just don’t think we are there yet where we should cease to strive for its proper meaning and I recognize that when we do arrive there it will be symptomatic of further damage done to souls through the blurring of the lines between truth and error. Thanks for your engagement.

          • Holding on to what is true, what actually is from God’s standpoint requires some method for doing that. Originally, despite its prudery or ‘fundamentalism’ that method involved a great deal of personal, subjective faith that was closely related to empathy–going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, giving the shirt off your back–because we were sensitized to the suffering of others by the grace that had broken into our own. In contrast to many of today’s ‘evangelicals’ we were often the first to accept the ‘losers’ of secular culture. Somewhere that empathy has been lost. Now there is only this crazy, ‘It has to be this way ’cause that’s what the Bible says’. We don’t really hate you, but God says what God says. It never occurs to us anymore that what we think God says may be hindering God. We’re so afraid of abandoning divine truth that we poison the very soul of our faith.

          • Patrick Sawyer says:

            Just seeing this. Not sure how it accurately relates to my total comments on this post. I will just say that “going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, giving the shirt of your back” is part of the love ethic that should rule those who call themselves “Evangelical”. Moreover this ethic of love is not incompatible with the notion that the Bible should be followed because it is God’s revealed will. In fact, it is utterly compatible with such a disposition.

          • I’m just trying to point out that the Evangelicals I grew up with placed burdens on themselves for spirituality–not on others. We didn’t smoke, or dance or drink, etc. etc. Prudes we were, but we accepted the responsibility to live as we thought the Bible called for. And many of those whom the outside culture frowned on were well accepted in our group. In contrast, today’s evangelicals have flipped that model. They make themselves feel holy by placing burdens on others–particularly LGBT Christians–and hide behind the Scripture. I absolutely do not see that as ‘God’s revealed will’. Let’s call it what it is–Phariseeism.

          • Patrick Sawyer says:

            The Pharisees were condemned because they ADDED to the commands of the Scriptures. The elevated man-made traditions to the point of nullifying God’s word (Mark 7:13). The Bible does NOT universally condemn drinking, dancing, smoking cigarettes, cigars or even pot in states or nations where it is legal. (The issue of legality is in keeping with the Christians concern to stay in step with the laws of where he or she is located – Romans 13) Now certainly, some of those things mentioned become a violation of God’s law when done to excess. Why? Because God has said so. Getting drunk through alcohol for instance (Eph 5:18). It also may be sin for someone who has lung cancer to smoke 2 packs of cigarettes a day. This person has to navigate rightly the issues of liberty laid out in 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14. Real Christians who have put man-made restrictions on others have hurt the testimony of Christ egregiously. But in many situations where this is being done you merely have a person who thinks he or she is a Christian, claims to be a Christian, but is really NOT a Christian from an authentic spiritual standpoint. Rather he or she is someone who is eat up with damning self-righteousness (Luke 18:10-14)
            However, actually obeying God’s word is NOT considered being a Pharisee. Jesus repeated several times in John 14 that if we love Him we should (and will) keep his commands, will keep His word, etc. With respect to the gay community, I have deep friendships with those who are part of the gay community and because I love them, I encourage them to consider strongly what God has said in His word regarding sexuality including passages that demonstrate that homosexuality is against God’s ideal for our sexuality (1 Corinthians 6:9 among others). I am a worse sinner, left to myself, than anyone I know, including my friends in the gay community. So this has nothing to do with Pharisaical self-righteousness. My pointing to God’s word – the Scripture – God’s revealed will is because I know that is where life is found (John 6:68). No other reason.

          • “No other reason”. That is exactly the point. “I know that is where life is found.” You and I both trust in that life transforming grace. We look to the Scripture to get a clearer understanding of how we live in this world. Where we part company is in how we apply ‘God’s revealed will’. When my reading of the ‘will of God’ imposes sanctions on a person who in all respects has the same faith as me; when they are clearly capable of entering into and fulfilling vows of lifetime fidelity, honor, respect, parenting and support in marriage, and when I can see no external reason to deny them….then I can only conclude as did Peter, ‘Who am I to hinder God?’ I must conclude, as should you, this is actually NOT where life is found. If you are certain that denying marriage to LGBT couples is spiritually required for their own good–you need to be able to point to the visible good that is achieved. You need to show where the “life” is. There is none. All the ills assigned to the sincere commitment between two adult LGBT couples have been proven time and again to be false. Again and again those who oppose offering marriage to LGBT Christians fall back to one simple argument–“It’s God’s will revealed in Scripture. We don’t know why. Somehow it will be best for you to obey it. (P.S. It’s an easy one for us ’cause we’re straight but we have other crosses to carry–like tithing cumin and mint and stuff.)” i.e. Phariseeism

          • Patrick Sawyer says:

            Your reference to Acts 11:17 is misplaced and misapplied. Acts 11 teaches that salvation is open to the Gentiles and by derivation everyone. To keep it in the context of this discussion no one has said that salvation is not open to the gay community, at least I haven’t. Salvation is open to everyone and when God saves someone He changes them. He makes them a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), predestines them to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8), sanctifies them (Rom 8), and leads them to produce the righteous fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5). Your entire comment is loaded with value statements: “fidelity”, “honor”, “respect”, “lifetime commitment”, etc. How YOU define those terms is irrelevant. I’m not interested in your wisdom or your personal ideas. They are not binding or authoritative. They have no bearing on anyone in the world. Just as my wisdom doesn’t either. Just as my personal ideas don’t either. That is why I am not leaning on my understanding or my ideas (Prov 3:5). We must look to Christ to define what righteousness is. That is all I am doing.
            Also, I have not denied marriage to anyone. It’s not helpful for your argument to make accusations that are utterly unfounded. I have not brought up marriage at all. You have conflated false conjecture on your part with my comment that I want my friends in the gay community to take their cues about sexuality from Christ. That is exactly what I want for myself. And not just myself, but everyone, particularly those who I intimately care about including my friends. Why? Because Christ is worthy to be trusted for our supreme pleasure and satisfaction(Psalm 16:11).
            Hey, I have appreciated the engagement but due to time constraints this is my last comment on this post. Thanks again for the dialogue. Best…

          • Fair enough. Wish you the best as well. You want your gay friends to take their cues about sexuality from Christ–and the same for yourself–I dare you to ask them to write down what they think you want them to be. Ask them if they think you are placing a heavier burden on them than upon yourself. If they answer, you would see your Phariseeism staring you right in the face. Just ask them.
            Furthermore, I certainly have not misplaced and misapplied Peter’s message. He had a vision of ‘unclean’ food–three times–typical for Peter. But when he got the point he did not go half way like today’s evangelicals. He went for the whole enchilada. It wasn’t just ‘forget the food rules’. It was ‘forget the whole basic Abrahamic covenant’. Did you ever read Numbers 17? That’s no Micky Mouse commandment. It’s as black and white and serious as it gets. And Jesus never once suggested that it was canceled. He mentions it once in John 7–and that was to emphasize that it came from God and was not the domain of the priests. Nor was it ever mentioned in Peter’s 3x vision. Did it ever occur to you that nothing about Christianity up to that point really was a break with Judaism? They certainly understood the term ‘Son of God’. And they had no problem with resurrection. And certainly understood the meaning of a sacrificial lamb. Christianity is centered, correctly, in the death and resurrection of Christ. But it didn’t exist until Peter baptized Cornelius and his household. It’s a shame no evangelical today has the vision needed to sustain Christianity. It has become this silly blind leading the blind exercise in quoting pointless scripture verses. I’m sorry to see it go. But it has lost its savor and its Savior.

          • Patrick Sawyer says:

            I am going to do what I never do and answer one more time after I have said I would not. I am not upset but you need to understand that you do not know me. The “burden” that I have put on myself and the hurdles I have had to overcome in my own sin (through Christ) far outweigh most of my friends, including those of mine in the gay community. Moreover, my gay friends realize that it is not about what I want them to be, that my only concern is that they know and thrive in Christ, that they are where He wants them to be. In reality, they view me as the opposite of a Pharisee. And yes I have read the entire Bible several times including Numbers 17. Christ has not done away with the Abrahamic covenant. Acts 11, Peter’s vision does not teach that. The Abrahamic covenant has and is being fulfilled. And it is being fulfilled by Christ Himself, Abraham’s seed. Genesis 15 and 17 set up the Abrahamic covenant as God’s redemptive promise, word, and activity for the world. The salvation of all who would and will follow Christ is the unfolding of the Abrahamic covenant in time and space. Thank God it has NOT been done away with. It seems you are conflating the removal of theocratic Jewish ceremonial law and the removal of theocratic Jewish punishments with the Abrahamic covenant. And as far as the moral law is concerned, Christ said that not one jot or tittle of the moral law will pass away until all things are accomplished (Matt 5:18). And that day is not fully here (although those who are in Christ have the law satisfied for them because of the redemption of Christ fully, completely, and specifically applied to them). Ok, this will be my last comment to this thread. Best…

          • OK. You’re very kind to reply again. I’ve said enough. And I respect your wishes to wrap this up. Please listen more closely to your gay friends. I can tell you are wise enough to learn new things. I am confident you will. God be with you.

  3. Seth says:

    I think your frustration should be with World Vision more than Evangelicalism. World Vision has no theological or practical Biblical foundation for any decision that they make, at least it doesn’t seem like they do. There was no conviction in this decision, it was completely made to make one group happy and when they realized they actually need the other group to survive they turned and ran right back to where they started. It is also not unreasonable for evangelical Christians to want the non-profit Christian charities they support to hold to conservative Biblical beliefs whether it be about who Jesus is or how marriage is defined. Discerning Christians should not be looked down on just because they care about where they donate their money. World Vision needs to decide what they believe about the Bible and stick to it. If they really believe that the Bible is unclear about how marriage is defined and think it is right for them to hire people in same-sex marriages then they should do so and be willing to deal with the fallout. If they believe that the Bible is clear about how marriage is defined then they went about their policy decision in completely the wrong way. Either way they should have strong convictions about everything they do or they shouldn’t do those things at all.

  4. eroteme says:

    I agree about the negative effects of separation. I grew up in a fundamentalist household (church on Wed night, Friday night, often Sat afternoon and night and of course, twice on Sunday. I went to a neighbourhood school but never made any friends as I was always at some church function and my parents discouraged friends outside the ‘saved’, plus anyway I had no way of relating to the other kids – we did not even have TV as it was ‘of the devil’, so I was quite cut off from everything they talked of. Quite rightly they regarded me as ‘weird’.

  5. hater says:

    “because I’m a person of faith who often has to apologize for fellow Christians”
    what a troubled existence

  6. AC700 says:

    ‘That’s why I care, because I’m a person of faith who often has to apologize for fellow Christians. And, I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what we mean by “apologetics.” ‘

    Feed the poor, absolutely! I’m with you on that….. But don’t embrace religious humanism…. Fundamentals of faith: fallen man-repentance from sin-redemption thru Christ-faith, hope, love (obedience is present in all 3 of these)

  7. Guest says:

    Do not ever ever ever apologize for me. It’s a right you do not have.

Leave a Reply

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.