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It is yet to be seen whether the funds being withdrawn from World Vision–and the de-sponsoring of as many as 2,000 children according to some estimates–will have a significant impact on World Vision’s operations,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.”
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