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Opinion | Divisions Among U.S. Evangelicals

To the Editor:

Re “The Dissenters Trying to Save Evangelicalism,” by David Brooks (column, Sunday Review, Feb. 6):

As a resident of Orange County, Calif., since 1964, I’ve watched the rise of the evangelical movement close up, including megachurches like Calvary Chapel, Mariners Church and Saddleback Church. I was part of it, attending Mariners in the early 1970s.

Mr. Brooks is accurate in describing the sense of division one feels as friendships implode among white evangelicals over Donald Trump, race relations and church sex abuse scandals.

But this has been going on for decades, not just the last six years.

I parted company years ago from my conservative Presbyterian church over the issues of same-sex marriage and ordination. Since then I’ve served as elder at a progressive Presbyterian church, where the former beloved youth minister was gay.

To witness my gay friends relax into their spirituality and grow as they serve the church has been an inspiration to this heterosexual grandmother. After all, who of any of us isn’t in the closet about something or other?

And yet, I remain friends with my former pastor and his wife after much frank discussion about our differences. It can be done, though it takes patience and a willingness to listen to one another. I recommend it.

Let’s remember that Jesus died to take away our sins, not our minds.

Jean Hastings Ardell
Laguna Beach, Calif.

To the Editor:

David Brooks makes a compelling argument for what must be done to save the evangelical movement in America.

But why is he so determined to save a system that seems so wedded to theological obsolescence, sexism, racism and individual salvation at the expense of collective liberation, when the true revival is already here, blossoming in mainline Protestant congregations like ours?

If Mr. Brooks wants to experience an intellectually robust congregation that is trying to begin the hard work of racial reconciliation and reparation, and that never considered separating our life of worship and our work for justice and love outside our walls, he is welcome in our church any Sunday he wants to come.

As long as he doesn’t mind that this queer lady might be preaching from the pulpit.

We’ll be here, Mr. Brooks.

(Rev.) Katherine Pater
Scarsdale, N.Y.
The writer is the associate pastor at Hitchcock Presbyterian Church.

To the Editor:

David Brooks sensitively examines the struggles many U.S. evangelicals are facing today. I regret only that he limited his focus to the United States. The hopeful vision he depicts for evangelicals already exists, all over the world.

At the United Nations or the European Union, evangelicals are recognized as valuable partners on issues of human rights, religious freedom (for everyone, not just for Christians) and sustainable development.

The World Evangelical Alliance works hand in hand with the Vatican, Muslims, people of no faith and many others on matters of global justice and human rights.

Our U.S. affiliate, the National Association of Evangelicals, which Mr. Brooks mentions, has produced an excellent statement on Christian political engagement, including a call to pursue racial justice.

The current battles among U.S. evangelicals will pass. On the other hand, evangelicals in 143 national alliances worldwide have shown, ever since the World Evangelical Alliance’s founding in 1846, their ability to bring Christ’s love to a hurting world and to cooperate with all people of good will.

Thomas Schirrmacher
Bonn, Germany
The writer is secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance, which represents an estimated 600 million evangelicals globally.

To the Editor:

I read this article with great interest and much sadness, as it seems so accurate to me, an evangelical for many years. One area that I would add is the disdain or minimization of science. This is evidenced strongly in the high resistance to the Covid vaccines and the skepticism to climate change within this group.

These are powerful issues that affect the entire world, and the lack of support for them clearly is losing the next generation of believers, both literally and figuratively.

Mary Lou Meeks
Palo Alto, Calif.

To the Editor:

While I admire David Brooks’s attempt to find signs of hope for the future of American evangelicals, I believe that the self-inflicted wounds in the evangelical church are too advanced for it to recover.

The barely church-attending, Fox-bingeing Donald Trump fans whom Mr. Brooks identifies won’t stop identifying as evangelicals, no matter what reformers do on the margins. This in turn guarantees that the term evangelical will continue to be anathema to anyone under 30.

Young people will never accept the blatant hypocrisy and the thinly masked racism and misogyny long on display in the evangelical church. Any attempted revival of American evangelical Christianity will succeed only by cleanly breaking from the past, not by papering it over.

Shawn Huckaby
Loveland, Colo.

To the Editor:

I’m pleased to report that the dynamic campus ministries of “decades ago” are well and truly alive, and by no means stagnating, as suggested in Rev. Tim Keller’s excellent strategies for change that David Brooks cites.

Covid restrictions have forced us to find new ways of encouraging students in their faith and Christian witness, but almost daily I hear of students coming to Christian faith on campuses in the United States and around the world.

Last year, when international borders were closed and much of the world was in lockdown, we were even able to launch a brand-new student ministry in the South Pacific in partnership with colleagues in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA and local churches.

As one staff member shared with me, “The Gospel is not in lockdown!”

Tim Adams
Oxford, England
The writer is general secretary of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.

To the Editor:

I was born and raised evangelical and used to be an evangelical writer. In his column, David Brooks imagines that evangelicals could have a solution to modern woes by offering “some system of belief that is communal, that gives life transcendent meaning.”

It’s an incongruously sentimental claim for an article that’s about how transcendent meaning and communal belief are disintegrating within the movement (as they are outside).

Moreover, Mr. Brooks’s alleged “dissenters” depart from evangelical orthodoxy by not bowing to Donald Trump; otherwise, they’re typical evangelical gatekeepers. Tim Keller’s Christianity excludes lots of folks who self-identify as Christians, prohibiting women from preaching and L.G.B.T.Q.+ people from marrying.

Karen Swallow Prior wrote approvingly in these pages of Texas’ vigilante abortion law as a step in the right direction.

By positing these institutional leaders as dissenters, and evangelicalism as a balm, Mr. Brooks rubs salt in the wounds that white evangelicalism has inflicted on women, people of color and L.G.B.T.Q.+ folks and uses his platform to give evangelicals a boost they do not need.

Rachel Stone
Stony Brook, N.Y.

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