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It’s not funny anymore

Evangelical leaders shouldn’t treat apostasy and transgenderism as laughing matters

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It’s not funny anymore
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There’s been a reshuffling in the evangelical world, and it has become more pronounced since the 2020 pandemic. Aaron Renn has talked about the rise of the Negative World, and I think he’s right, on the whole. But I think several prominent evangelical voices and leaders don’t, or perhaps haven’t come to full terms with what it means that our society has decided Biblical Christianity is a baleful influence on American culture. They don’t, as the kids say, know what time it is.

This reshuffling in American Christianity shows up in changed media consumption, church membership, allegiances, and even conference attendance. Recently, Megan Basham noted with concern the lineup of potential speakers for Preston Sprinkle’s Theology in the Raw conference. It includes a trans-identifying speaker as well as a notable deconstructionist. Dr. Sprinkle sarcastically responded, “Wait until she finds out I also have a catholic speaking, and a democrat” with an accompanying “horrified face” emoji. Now, the implication here is rather ugly—the same kind of people who are suspicious of the conference’s speaker lineup are also likely Know-Nothings and sellouts to the GOP. It’s a moderate or “third way” posture against what it sees as judgmental, partisan anti-intellectualism that obsesses over tribal lines without actually listening to what someone is going to say. It brooks no concern-trolling, sea-lioning, or hasty condemnation.

Now, I worked with Preston when I was at the Evangelical channel at Patheos. While I didn’t always agree with him, I thought we got along well. Like him, I think it’s important to hear what is actually said and see what actually happens before making a final judgment. However, we should give less credence to institutions and voices when we suspect that they may be on a foolish trajectory or that they may lead the faithful astray. It’s not so much a fear of ideas we don’t understand as it is a vigilance over souls.

When I read Preston’s response, my first thought was, “That kind of talk was cute 15 or 20 years ago. Now it’s just a red flag.” I wasn’t alone. Others expressed concern over how such speakers were introduced. Would it be clear that they were false teachers? That the conference organizers condemned apostasy and transgenderism?

Pastors and parents alike are starting to realize that apostasy and sexual depravity must be fought politically, theologically, devotionally, and socially.

After all, apostasy means the damnation of souls. Transgenderism entails not only creating unsafe places for girls but also permanently harming the human body with prescriptions and surgeries. It produces tragedies of parents pressured to visit such harms on their children and forfeit their chances of having grandchildren, of children being taken away from loving parents, and of spiritual and psychological maladies left untreated.

Ministries must have the religious liberty to hire and fire according to doctrinal convictions. Churches need to expect and enforce standards of discipline. Sexual perversion must be frowned upon so that fewer souls take it up. Sexual depravity is a social contagion, and children increasingly take the brunt of these upsetting trends. False teaching must be cast out from the Body of Christ and torn down through argument and godly example in the public square. Otherwise, we find chaos and destruction that hurts the neighbors we are responsible for and affronts the God we worship.

Pastors and parents alike are starting to realize that apostasy and sexual depravity must be fought politically, theologically, devotionally, and socially. They want clarity rather than coyness on these issues. However, the world of Big Box evangelicalism, its conferences, and its academic institutions do not always provide that clarity.

And so many of the faithful are demanding it. Christians are starving for leaders with the courage to say, “This is wrong. This is despicable. This error doesn’t stand to reason and contradicts the Bible. This needs to stop. For those of you caught up in this, repent and believe the gospel. Turn to Christ to find forgiveness and restoration.” In other words, what our society needs are Christian voices that don’t budge an inch on sin while also heralding the sure hope of salvation in Christ.

Christians are clamoring for this, and I think some influencers in evangelicaldom resent it. After all, the appeals are often made in low-status ways and derail certain projects and conversations. While some of those frustrations are understandable, they are increasingly baseless. People’s lives are getting destroyed by the chaos. Those who refuse to comply or speak out get punished, from the company man who keeps getting passed over for promotions to the baker getting sued and harassed. Do Christianity’s leaders show that they see, care, and seek to do something about it? Increasingly, believers must require that they do.

Barton J. Gingerich

The Rev. Barton J. Gingerich is the rector of St. Jude’s Anglican Church (REC) in Richmond, Va. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from Patrick Henry College and a Master of Divinity with a concentration in historical theology from Reformed Episcopal Seminary.

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