True North Leaders Analysis: Has American Evangelicalism Reached the End of the Road?

Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. — Jesus of Nazareth (John 15:2)

We’ve lived through a mindboggling 20 months. Right? So many ways to analyze, reframe and explain 2020 (and most of 2021) in terms of massive global upheaval. In the words of my old friend singer Russ Taff from his self-titled 1987 album,

All that can shake, will shake. All that can quake, will quake

Certainly seems an apt description of our times. At least to me. Maybe to you also?

I was recently sent a very cogent article by Brandon A. Cox, 15 Reasons People Are Disillusioned with the American Evangelical Church. Cox wonders whether the pandemic might also serve the Church as a time of pruning. And he identifies potential “branches” that may need a trim. These are, he argues, symptoms of what many would identify as reasons for a collapsing American Christendom:

1. We’ve rejected science unnecessarily.

2. We’ve been superstitious — we’ve been enamored by anything suspected of being “dark” to the point of seeing tons of things as demonic in a superstitious way.

3. We’ve embraced Christian nationalism. We’re married to patriotism and faith in an idolatrous fashion.

4. We’ve idolized the Bible on the pedestal of literalism — our understanding of the Bible’s authority leaves no room for the human element of scripture’s origins. Nor, I would add, for the element of cultural and intended-audience relevance.

5. We’ve re-created secular celebrity culture inside the church.

6. We’ve often mimicked corporate culture inside the church — we define “success” by numerical output and effective leadership as persuasiveness and salesmanship.

7. We’ve devalued women and defended patriarchy.

8. We’ve ignored systemic poverty — we’re so addicted to individual freedom that we often turn a blind eye to the suffering and those without healthcare or financial security and have written it off as a lack of personal responsibility.

9. We’ve ignored systemic racism — we’re so fragile and sensitive to any insinuation that we are privileged because of whiteness that we turn a deaf ear to those suffering under unjust and inequitable systems.

10. We’ve made secondary issues primary — doctrinal matters that are outside the scope of the major creeds, we’ve made non-negotiable tests of orthodoxy.

11. We’ve been inconsistent in our “pro-life” message — we’re pro-birth and anti-abortion but also okay with the death penalty, we ignore gun violence, and don’t seem to care about the economic conditions of those who often seek abortive measures.

12. We’ve embraced conspiracy theories — a thousand little lies about some supposed satanic agenda behind everything we don’t understand.

13. We’ve allowed spiritual and sexual abuse to often go unaccounted for, handling abuse issues “in house” as “sin problems” rather than calling the police first and believing and supporting victims first.

14. We’ve singled out certain people groups (LGBTQ+ people, undocumented immigrants, etc.) for exclusion, judgment, and rejection instead of welcoming and including everyone who wants to follow Jesus.

15. We’ve become self-appointed judges to the neglect of love — seeing ourselves as having the moral high ground and using it as a gavel to sentence those we perceive as morally inferior.

Now, if you’ve read through the entirety of Cox’s list of evangelical ills and agree, good. If you stopped reading because you angrily or even philosophically disagreed. Good. But those folks are probably not still with me at this point.

My goal herein is not to agree with nor argue his analyses. But to discuss these issues from a leadership perspective. Specifically in this case, from a religious leader’s point of view.

I’ve taken it upon myself to dissect the list into CULTURAL and MORAL/BIBLICAL issues. The latter list is shorter: Superstitious behavior (2), Literalism (4), Doctrinal (10), Judging (15). Now, your classifications may look different. But by this bifurcation, I’m better able to address the cultural (longer) list as they pertain to leaders.

· Rejecting Science.

· Christian Nationalism.

· Celebrity Culture.

· Corporate Culture.

· Patriarchal and (often) misogynistic behaviors.

· Poverty and Racism.

· Pro-life vs. Anti-Abortion.

· Conspiratorial thinking.

· Sexual and spiritual abuses.

· Marginalized or Rejected people groups.

Now please. Just read with me. Use your open mind. Not one clouded by denominational or political ideologies. This is a conversation-starter. No intention to argue a particular point of view. Rather, in light of True North leadership principles, an effort to work toward honesty, authenticity and truly caring about and cherishing others.

I am apolitical. Truly.

I worked for a boss whose worldview saw Jesus as a Republican. I had a father who, later in his life, became a virulent arch conservative, hating and eschewing all who disagreed with his ideologies. Note: neither of these men based their oft-expressed views, opinions and vitriol on biblical truths. No. Theirs were politicized ideologies that were, in my humble opinion, as misguided and one-sided as those they condemned on the “other side.”

But let’s return to the One True North leader’s requirements for His followers (Jesus and us) to find a divine perspective on these issues:

· God loves us — and everyone on earth. Equally. No one is elevated. No one is more special than another.

· God desperately desires our love and devotion. We express those, in no small measure, by obeying His commands. What are those?

o Love the Lord your God.

o Love your neighbor as yourself.

· The Kingdom of God has arrived. Live like it! (Mark D. Roberts)

· Repentance and Forgiveness are essential.

Oh. I can’t begin to distill Christianity in this space. Re-read the famed Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7). Therein you will find the major ideals of Christianity and a clear explication of how to live in the Kingdom.

Now, go back. Using the teachings of Jesus as a lens, reflect on Brandon Cox’s list of indictments against the evangelical church in America. Which ones are on target? Which are off?

Let’s presume his list is half right. Of which issues are you guilty? Or at least, complicit?

If you’re still reading, I repeat: this is NOT a political blog. I am not indicting us all. I am bringing attention to 15 important questions raised by Cox. And asking all True North Leaders to dig deeply with personal and spiritual introspection in order to gauge our individual and collective roles in what may well be the disintegration of a religious system. Evangelicalism.

Norm Mintle

Dr. Mintle holds an earned Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership. He has served in executive positions across a broad range of media organizations and as a dean in multiple universities. This and previous blogs now provide conversation fodder for a group of True North Leaders online. Join us at True North Leadership on Facebook.

End of the Road for American Evangelicalism?