This speech was given by Fuller Seminary President Dr. Mark Labberton at a private meeting of evangelical leaders held at Wheaton College in Chicago, Illinois, on April 16, 2018. The following is excerpts. Read more at the Christian Post.
What draws us together here—and in hope—is the gospel of Jesus Christ. God’s great love and mercy poured out for the sake of the world is deeper, wider, stronger, and wiser than any possible threat or danger, competition or distraction. Our common confession that “Jesus is Lord” names the central testimony of our faith, even as it also names that to which no one and nothing else compares: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.
What also draws us here is our deep affection and gratitude for our evangelical family. As one who was converted to Christ as an adult, my cradle identity was not evangelicalism. But as one born into Christ, the thoughtful, faithful, humble evangelicalism I stumbled into has been and is my heartland. It is where I grew up in faith and where I have found a capaciousness of mind and spirit, and a zeal for mission that tells me I am home.
This gathering is not an occasion for celebration of evangelicalism, however. This gathering emerges instead from worry, sorrow, anger, and bewilderment—whether we are Democrats or Republicans. Christians in both parties found the others’ candidate patently unacceptable, leading to fierce division. Many felt cornered without a genuine choice when the issues represented are complex and fear is justified. This is not the first or last time the body of Christ has gathered in lament. When evangelical leaders like us gather, it is often with a spirit of optimistic hope, known for “pressing on” in the work of the gospel. For me, this is not a time of pressing on. I feel a personal urgency to stop, to pray, to listen, to confess, and to repent and want to call us to do the same.
Only the Spirit “who is in the world to convict us of sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8) can bring us to clarity about the crisis we face. As I have sought that conviction, here is what I have come to believe: The central crisis facing us is that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been betrayed and shamed by an evangelicalism that has violated its own moral and spiritual integrity.
This is not a crisis imposed from outside the household of faith, but from within. The core of the crisis is not specifically about Trump, or Hillary, or Obama, or the electoral college, or Comey, or Mueller, or abortion, or LGBTQIA+ debates, or Supreme Court appointees. Instead the crisis is caused by the way a toxic evangelicalism has engaged with these issues in such a way as to turn the gospel into Good News that is fake. Now on public display is an indisputable collusion between prominent evangelicalism and many forms of insidious racist, misogynistic, materialistic, and political power. The wind and the rain and the floods have come, and, as Jesus said, they will reveal our foundation. In this moment for evangelicalism, what the storms have exposed is a foundation not of solid rock but of sand.
… In much of the last century, American evangelicalism has had a complex relationship with power. On one hand, it has felt itself marginalized and repudiated, defeated and silenced. On the other, it has often seemed to seek—even fawn over—worldly power, mimicking in the church forms of power evident in our culture. (I remember being at a conference where it was announced we should all be back after dinner for “an evening of star-studded worship.”) An evangelical dance with political power has been going on from the time of Billy Graham, through the Moral Majority and the religious right, to the Tea Party, and most recently with the white evangelical vote—the result being, as honorary Chairman of the Lausanne Movement Doug Birdsall has said, “When you Google ‘evangelical,’ you get Trump.”
This points to an evangelical crisis over so many issues of power: racial, political, economic, cultural, right against left, Republican against Democrat, rich against poor, white against black, men against women, and so on. But winning power was the goal of Judas, not Jesus. A Faustian pact between evangelicals and power—even when claimed on behalf of the kingdom—cannot be entered in the name of Jesus Christ without betraying the abdication of power inherent in the incarnation. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son . . . .” (John 3:16)
Abuse of power is central in the national debates of the moment. Whether we think about US militarism, or mass incarceration, or the #MeToo movement (or mistreatment of women in general), or the police shootings of unarmed, young, black men, or the actions of ICE toward child and adult immigrants, or gun use and control, or tax policy—all this is about power. The apparent evangelical alignment with the use of power that seeks dominance, control, supremacy, and victory over compassion and justice associates Jesus with the strategies of Caesar, not with the good news of the gospel.
Second is the issue of race…