Curt Smith: The conservative, protestant church is struggling

Curt SmithLike so many individuals and institutions in these difficult times, the conservative protestant church is going through a period of deep introspection and reflection. The deliberations, however, are less about theological conflicts than a recognition of a culture increasingly hostile to Christian faith.

One view suggests evangelicals (a loose term used for theologically conservative, Bible-believing Christians) are still working through their support of former President Donald Trump. Serious thinkers and authors in this camp such as David French and Mike Gerson hold this view.

Still others believe the consequence of poorly acknowledged sexual impropriety, especially in the denomination known as Southern Baptists, is stirring the reflections.

Divergent and largely irreconcilable views on issues as diverse as global warming, immigration and social justice also underscore division, fracture and separation. While such splits on political or public-policy issues are familiar to church historians, the disagreements add to the introspective mood.

Meanwhile, polling shows our fellow non-Christian citizens are less tolerant of us—catch this—because they think we are less tolerant. In February, the Pew Research Center found about 20% of evangelicals report being harassed online for their faith views. This was up—though not dramatically—since the prior poll on this topic in 2017.

In America, such conflict inevitably leads to lawsuits. A recent string of cases strengthened religious liberty, with several notable U.S. Supreme Court rulings on disparate treatment of faith communities during the pandemic. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s beatdown of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Roman Catholic Diocese of New York v. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is required reading for any interested observer of church-state relations.

These cases confirm, at least for evangelicals, that the top three benefits of supporting Trump are sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court today. The next best 200 reasons Trump’s presidency was good for the church sit on federal appellate and trial courts.

Against this backdrop, a thoughtful article analyzing these developments in the life of the church was penned by Skyler Flowers of Mere Orthodoxy at mereorthodoxy.com.

Flowers sorts current and former Christians into six categories, ranging from neo-fundamentalist evangelical (high view of Bible, high view of church) to de-churched and de-converted (no engagement with the Bible as authoritative nor fellowship with believers).

After an insightful analysis, the author states that churches today can, at best, serve two of the six categories.

Such analysis points to a growing belief among church historians and church growth experts that the mega-church of today will struggle to maintain large numbers because of the growing difficulty of serving such disparate groups under one roof.

Still, while the evangelical church is struggling in some ways, should cultural hostility continue to grow, what these groups share theologically and culturally might come into greater focus rather than what separates them.

Believers might struggle to come up with a common strategy to serve the poor or victimized in their communities, but they can and will band together to make sure religious liberty, free speech and free association remain the norm in America. That can and must be the mission of every citizen, not just those who follow Christianity. And that is sound theology.•

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Smith is chairman of the Indiana Family Institute and author of “Deicide: Why Eliminating The Deity is Destroying America.” Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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2 thoughts on “Curt Smith: The conservative, protestant church is struggling

  1. With all due respect, Mr. Smith, this comment: “Meanwhile, polling shows our fellow non-Christian citizens are less tolerant of us—catch this—because they think we are less tolerant.” … is true of many of our fellow Christians. I won’t assume, but it sounds like you consider it ironic. As a devout Christian, I look inwardly and at the evangelical followers and say, “It’s not hard to believe. It’s not ironic — it’s true.” Unless you travel to parts of the world where radicals and lunatics use their so-called faith to oppress (or worse) fellow citizens, there is no country and no denomination in the world that has mixed politics and religion like evangelicals.

    I don’t think I’m unique whatsoever, in believing that the evangelical movement has done considerably more harm than good to Christianity in America the last 70 years. Our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, lays it out very plainly, the separation of church and state, and freedom of religion – which for some American citizens means they also have the right to freedom *from* religion. Sad but true.

    But take it one step further in terms of what guides our daily lives: John 15:17, “This I command you, that you love one another.” There’s no text before or after that verse that provides exceptions. Like it or not, Mr. Smith, you and I have a right to our personal beliefs, but so does every American citizen who’s not a Christian, yet evangelicals judge, support legislation that limits certain unalienable rights. We are not the judge, just because we believe in Jesus. He is the judge. In my humble opinion, until evangelicals figure out that you can’t have your cake (freedom of religion) and eat it too, the Christian church will continue to wear a black eye.

    1. Yet again, Curt Smith dances around an obvious issue because it’s bad for his donations to come out and admit that’s he’s part of the problem.

      Culture has no place for a church that’s more interested in packing courts with judges interested in Christian sharia law than the teachings of Jesus. Because Jesus’ own words don’t care one whit about fighting for the right for free association. The Gospel tells Christians to help the poor and victimized. The Church grew despite oppression from the Romans for a reason, and it wasn’t because early Christians were focused on getting judges into the Roman court system.

      It’s really hard to take seriously complaints about the “oppression” of the American church when you see how Christians are treated in countries like Afghanistan or China. Or when you see how Burmese churches are growing like gangbusters .. as they buy up all the buildings that formerly housed congregations on the Southside of Indianapolis. It’s very possible to have a growing, vibrant church when you focus on the right thing (Jesus) and not the wrong things (political influence).

      Maybe Curt Smith should spend time learning from his Burmese brothers in Christ what they’re doing.

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