Top Ten Embarrassing Evangelical News Stories of 2012

As an evangelical who is also a news junkie, my daily fix is often undermined by a certain amount of dread.  You see, evangelicals and evangelicalism make the national news on a regular basis, and we almost always look like idiots when it happens.  Blame media bias or schadenfreude for the frequency of such accounts of stunning stupidity or shameless hypocrisy if you like; it seems poetic justice to me that those claiming personal relationships with God endure public humiliation if they turn out to be hypocrites, and the simply dumb make news regardless of creed.  Even so, some news stories involving evangelicals each year strike me as particularly cringe-worthy and embarrassing.

Crucially, I know I’m not alone.  I know other evangelicals feel the same dread when they see the word ‘evangelical’ in a headline, and I know other evangelicals are equally tormented when a member of our community acts the fool.  For that reason and in the hope of a cathartic group experience, permit me to present my last post of 2012 and my first of 2013: a list of the ten most embarrassing evangelical news stories of 2012.  Part one runs today, and – to ensure I don’t miss any Monday night lunacy – the final half will run later this week.

To steal from Bill Simmons, before I get to the actual list of 10, here are a few evangelical news stories that earned honorable mention in this collection of the year’s most embarrassing events:

Todd Akin           Congressman Akin, I bet – if you could – you would unsay that women’s bodies can prevent pregnancies in the event of actual rape.  I bet it came out wrong, and I imagine you grew as a result of it in ways that are admirable and will be of use to the God in whom we both believe.  But still.  The science side of that statement is so wrong it sounds like it was spoken by a sinister Catholic Cardinal in a medieval period flick on the BBC.  Also, as a politician, you’re entitled to fight the culture war on whatever ground you choose, but if you really want to battle over whether or not “no means no,” I speak for most evangelicals when I say we won’t be behind you.  We’ll be looking for someone who doesn’t need more than one opportunity to clarify that date rapes (and other, frequently less “forcible” rapes) are wrong, because the whole medieval villain thing is embarrassing us.

Billy Graham and Mormonism   To be fair, it hasn’t been established that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s decision to rescind Mormonism’s listing as a cult on their website was a result of Mitt Romney’s visit to Billy Graham in October.  But what a coincidence!  Right after Mitt Romney visited Rev. Graham, Mormonism stopped being a cult!  Understand: the word ‘cult’ is complicated, and I’m not saying we should necessarily apply the pejorative to Mormonism.  But I’m pretty sure it’s OK to be embarrassed that Republican politics appears to trump theology in defining cults.

____________________

As for the actual list, here are the first five:

10) Dinesh D’Souza Gets Engaged Before He’s Divorced               The 10th most embarrassing evangelical news story this year involved Dinesh D’Souza and the end of his tenure as President of The King’s College in New York.  A figure beloved by many conservatives for his movie, 2016: Obama’s America, I assure you that D’Souza is not on this list for embracing conspiracy theories about our president that make Michael Moore look nonpartisan.  Instead, this evangelical of recent vintage makes the list for his speedy and unplanned exit as president of the aforementioned evangelical school after admitting to confusion over whether or not the evangelical understanding of marriage frowns on people proposing to their second wife before actually divorcing their first wife.  While Mr. D’Souza is no longer confused by that question, we remain embarrassed by his momentary confusion.

9) Grand Canyon University (GCU) Refuses a Multimillion Dollar Gift Because They Can’t Squeeze Millions More out of Massachusetts  As student debt ascends to the stratosphere in what some are calling a crisis, the role of for-profit universities – universities that try not merely to break even on educating a student, but to generate a profitable return for investors – has come under much criticism, since universities run for profit often have lower graduation rates, higher student loan default rates, and higher prices.  That’s not true at all for-profit universities, mind you, but the idea of a Christian for-profit university (like GCU) definitely seems a little sketchy.  None of which is news.  What is, however, is the fact that this year a Christian philanthropist – after a detailed selection process – decided to give a valuable Massachusetts campground to Grand Canyon University for free, but after initially accepting the offer, Grand Canyon realized it would be unable to extort additional free millions from the local taxpayers of Massachusetts and declined.  As a business decision, it may have been correct and perfectly defensible.  But as an explicitly Christian business already operating in an ethical gray area, the appearance of avarice – however defensible from a business perspective – is embarrassing.

8) Heart OMG   Visit this site immediately if you haven’t already done so.  To be blunt, I can’t decide which is more embarrassing about it: on the one hand, this could be legitimate and there may be Christians in Southern California who really do think this meets a pressing need of the evangelical community, and that would be very embarrassing.  On the other hand, this seems far more likely to be a hipster effort to make piles of ironic money at the expense of the church, while also securing a few dollars from irony-immune evangelicals to boot; such brutal lampooning of the evangelical desire for cultural conformity would also be embarrassing.  Either way, this is the 8th most embarrassing event in this year’s evangelical news.

7) Angus T. Jones Calls the Show that Pays Him ‘Filth’ but Keeps Going to Work and Cashing His Checks              It made entertainment headlines nationwide when Two and a Half Men star Angus T. Jones filmed his testimony for a church group, called the show that pays him $350,000 per episode (just under $4m per year) ‘filth,’ and subsequently saw the recording go viral.  Jones – a young man and a young believer – has repeatedly apologized to his coworkers for the statement, but you have to admire how earnest he is in his lucidity.  After all, in potentially torpedoing his future (his co-star Ashton Kutcher reportedly wants him fired over the incident; one can only imagine how Jones would assess the notorious horndog’s actual life), Jones managed to confirm the truth of two things about which nobody in America had any doubts: Two and a Half Men is horrible television, and Christians really can be shamelessly oblivious hypocrites.  Keep cashing those checks, Angus.  We’re embarrassed by what you did, but $4m/year buys a lot of forgiveness, and time will bring greater wisdom and savvy.

6) Every Story about “Sovereign Grace Ministries”          Last year this group of charismatic Reformed evangelicals – SGM is essentially a denomination – saw their leader and founder C.J. Mahaney take a leave of absence to consider charges against him that included being prideful, being unapproachable (unentreatable is his word), and a hypocrite.  He came back this year, which should be a happy story of repentance and reconciliation.  It’s not, but for the reasons why, I refer you to Google.  I know that sounds vague, but SGM has a history of divisions and I don’t want to get sued, so that’s all I’m writing about them.  Just Google SGM already and see if you aren’t embarrassed (or appalled…).

Star Trek and the Gospel of Luke

On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there’s an episode in which Worf is drinking with an old family friend named Huraga.  As they drink, Huraga asks Worf, “Did I ever tell you how your father saved my family’s honor during our blood feud with the House of Duras?”

Worf’s curt and clearly irritated response is to growl, “Many times.”

An indignant Huraga counters immediately with, “It is a good story!” and Worf – looking chastened – offers the emphatic and conciliatory exclamation, “Yes, and you tell it well.”

Seen on film, it’s an easy scene to like; I chuckled aloud when I saw it recently, if only because we all know someone who tells the same story over and over (or a writer who keeps returning to the same topic…), but reacts with indignation if you illuminate that repetitive tendency.  Still, Worf’s response – “and you tell it well” – elicited joy from me for another reason: it was a clever answer in what amounted to a moment of crisis.  You see, Worf’s disgust at the prospect of hearing Huraga’s tale again risked embarrassing Huraga, and there’s no honor in embarrassment.  The scene’s tension floats only for a few tiny seconds, but Huraga’s honor is at stake in those seconds, all because of Worf’s impatience.  Worf’s answer defuses the predicament, and it teaches us a lesson: honorable people do not withhold honor from those to whom it is due.

____________________

Call me crazy, but I see something similar in Luke 7.  Starting with verse 36, that’s the chapter that tells the story of a woman – described only as ‘a sinner’ – who interrupts Jesus’ dinner with a Pharisee to clean his feet with her tears, hair, and perfume.  To us, her willingness to humiliate herself as she honors Jesus is obvious, as is the fact that Jesus preserves some dignity for her in the face of the Pharisee’s indignation.

It’s not quite the same as Worf and Huraga, of course, since the woman identified as a sinner could hardly be described as an honorable person.  Nevertheless, Jesus’ response is to give honor to a person acting honorably, and his timing matters.  In speaking quickly – while the Pharisee is still reacting to the scene – Jesus protects the woman who is honoring him from suffering additional shame, and in so doing he arguably elevates her to a more honored status than she held before the evening’s events.  In this instance she acted honorably, and Jesus does not withhold honor from people to whom it is due.

____________________

The Pharisee’s name is Simon, and Luke 7 unfolds less favorably for him.  For one thing, when Jesus initially defends the woman by asking whether one forgiven much or forgiven little is inclined to love the forgiver more, Simon’s answer is begrudging and petty – he opens with, “I suppose” even though the answer is clear.  That could have been the end of it; Jesus’ point was made, and his question justified the woman’s actions.  But Jesus chooses not to stop.  Wow, does he not stop.

Jesus proceeds to add still more honor to the woman in question by shaming his host, going on at length about how much better she has treated him than did Simon.  Jesus’ rant – note that it is a rant – requires no interpretation.  But consider the context.  Jesus is a guest at Simon’s house, and the passage clarifies that Jesus is not the only guest.  The attack Jesus launches on his host is breathtaking in an honor-based culture; it’s not merely rude, it’s unthinkable.  Jesus is with Simon’s people, under Simon’s roof, reclining at Simon’s table, eating (or about to eat) Simon’s food when he launches into a 3-point denunciation of Simon contrasting him unfavorably with a woman of ill repute.

If Jesus’ only concern had been to honor and affirm the woman, none of that was necessary.  But unless you’re prepared to suggest Jesus a sadist or say he had a proclivity to fits of pique, the humiliation of Simon must’ve been as important to Jesus as the elevation of the woman.

So what did Simon do to deserve this?  He withheld basic courtesies from Jesus.  One might not always anoint a guest with oil (Jesus’ third comparison between the two), but in that culture one would typically greet a guest properly (with a kiss – Jesus’ 2nd complaint), and one would definitely provide an opportunity for the washing of the guest’s feet (pause a moment and ponder sweaty, muddy, potentially dung-covered feet mixed with the scent of leather sandals).  Simon did none of these things, and in so doing he withheld honor from one to whom it was due, and revealed himself for who he was: a dishonorable man.

Honorable people do not withhold honor from those to whom it is due.  Worf doesn’t, and neither does Jesus.  Remember, however, that culture’s estimation of who deserves honor may differ from God’s estimation.  It does in Luke 7, and so we see a disreputable strumpet receive honor from Jesus while a religious leader receives scorn.  Honor where it’s due; not where it’s expected.

Reflecting on Newtown

Newtown, Connecticut.  Just saying the name of the place conveys enough horror that it almost feels as if nothing more can be said, except that if we don’t say anything more, the shock and the horror feel as if they’ll never abate.  Some of those poor innocents have already been lowered into the wintery New England soil for the longest of naps, but in our minds they’re still lying in that classroom amidst a scene so sick it kills a part of us each time we consider it.  So there has to be more that we can say, and we fumble for words while trying not to feel as helpless as children ourselves in our struggle to believe that we can master this evil or at least move past it if only we say the right thing.  But the words don’t come and the evil keeps winning.

____________________

The bible tells us that humans are made in the image of God.  We aren’t told what that means, just that it’s true, and theology’s efforts to understand it have covered thousands of years.  There are several schools of thought, but the two I always found most persuasive argue that we image God in our capabilities and our in our relationships.  With respect to our capabilities, the idea is that squirrels do not give to charity, dogs do not complete logic puzzles, orangutans do not cure polio, and lobsters do not win Olympic medals.  Which isn’t to say that these tasks are essential to imaging God, but that the abilities making each possible – intellect, reason, imagination, and determination for example – are restricted to us and to God.  Humans have potential, basically, to do or be anything, and in this potential we image God.

The idea that we image God in relationships is similar.  God exists in a trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  As such, God exists in relationship at all times, and he made us to exist in relationship too.  Not only did God give us the ability to have relationships; he also gave us the need for them.  We’re born into families, form friendships, get married, and – assuming we start our own families along the way – nag our children when we want grandchildren.  We crave companionship, and the thought of a truly solitary life is abhorrent.  In this, we also bear God’s image.

____________________

One way to describe the actions of the Newtown monster is to say he ran amok.  That phrase may seem like an understatement that diminishes the unredeemable malice he brought to that school, but the phrase run amok has a unique history; it’s adapted from a Malay word used to describe a very specific phenomenon: a tribesman snapping and indiscriminately murdering or maiming random bystanders.  In the words of Dr. Manuel Saint Martin,

Amok attacks involved an average of 10 victims and ended when the individual was subdued or “put down” by his fellow tribesmen, and frequently killed in the process. According to Malay mythology, running amok was an involuntary behavior caused by the “hantu belian,” or evil tiger spirit entering a person’s body and compelling him or her to behave violently without conscious awareness. Because of their spiritual beliefs, those in the Malay culture tolerated running amok despite its devastating effects on the tribe.

Mass killings have a much longer history than many in the United States realize; while we have much more efficient weapons than Malay tribesmen and thus mass killing here can be far more deadly, the nature of the killings is fundamentally similar: a person decides to slaughter innocents and to die while doing so.  Dr. Saint Martin, in fact, has argued that the diagnosis of amok – an actual psychiatric condition listed in the DSM-4, the handbook by which psychiatrists make their diagnoses – should be applied in every culture.  The most infamous examples happen to be in the United States of late, but it’s not a specifically American – or Malaysian – problem.

____________________

If we image God in our potential, consider who has more potential than a child?  Everything’s still on the table for them; 5 years of med school mean the chance to be a soccer phenom has passed, but for a child of 6, both are still options.  Which isn’t to say that children have more of the image of God, but they do have more potential, which gives the image of God more clarity in the young.

As for relationships, it stands to reason that some relationships reflect God more than others.  Man and wife are different than man and mistress; mother and daughter are different than supervisor and employee.  What relationships are more pure than those of a child?  What six-year-old has true enemies, or is capable of devious interpersonal manipulation?    Who needs relationships more than a child?  The bible says we are all created in the image of God, but with respect to relationships, it can be argued that the least guileful image him most clearly.  Just like with potential.  Just like with kids.

____________________

In seminary I had a class from a wise man named Grant Osborne, and among the most memorable things he said was that the operational objective of demon possession is the destruction of the image of God.

Look, I don’t want to become ‘that writer obsessed with demons.’  But did you catch that bit up above about the Malays attributing mass killings – running amok, remember – to a demonic force?  What if the Malays were correct?  What if running amok is caused by a demon?  The fact that it is a diagnosable psychiatric condition doesn’t necessarily rule this out; a quick read of the article linked above will show that clinicians don’t seem to know what to make of amok.  Maybe Malays from an earlier time knew something our scientists don’t.

Is there any conceivable way one could do more damage to the image of God than this Connecticut murderer?  Surely his actions were inhuman; I might argue that his image of God was gone.  And what could strike with more force at the image of God in others than to attack such young children?  Not only did this prematurely rob us of the opportunity to observe God’s image in those 20 kids, think about the shattered potential and relational capabilities of those left behind by the children.  If demons act to subvert and destroy the image of God, how could it be achieved more effectively than we see in Newtown?

____________________

I don’t know if the Newtown murderer was demon possessed, I don’t know if the Aurora theater shooter was, and I don’t know if that kid at Virginia Tech was.  But when I read that anthropology finds traditions of such killings predating written history in some corners of the globe, and when I hear those same traditions attribute such disregard for human life to forces of spiritual evil, I’m inclined to listen.  Unrestrained evil devoid of mitigating sentiments doesn’t exist in science.  It exists in theology, and it’s only with theology’s help that I can understand anything about what happened in Newtown.

There are dark forces at work in the world, and last week, they acted out in Connecticut.  But please remember what I wrote last week: I’ve seen those same dark forces defeated.  I also, for what it’s worth, noticed that Adrian Peterson’s miracle knee ran for 212 yards on Sunday.  Acknowledge the darkness, but don’t forget to notice the light.  After all, we were made in its image.

Exorcisms and Adrian Peterson’s Knee

In 2001, I saw a few exorcisms in Zambia.  Participated in them, actually, by adding my prayers and laying my hands on some of the people.  Not metaphorical exorcisms over psychological demons, mind you.  The real thing – supernatural powers fighting over a lowly person.  Casting out demons took some time, and generally involved a lot of screaming, thrashing, and frothing at the mouth of the person possessed.  And when the demon left, the erstwhile victim would radiate tranquility, and brighten with the same glow runners have after a particularly successful 5k.

I wasn’t alone – I was with a group from college and we numbered over 20, and most of us struggled to reconcile what we saw with how we understood the world to work.  As evangelicals, we profess belief in a supernatural realm, but I can say from experience that many evangelicals prefer that realm to remain hypothetical.  If you never actually encounter a demon-possessed person, you never have to decide whether or not you really saw what you think you saw, and you never have to decide whether or not your friends are entitled to think you’re crazy.  I say this, of course, because I’m aware that a fraction of you believe me, but most think I’m either lying, crazy, or preposterously superstitious.  To which I say: I saw what I saw.

____________________

I’m teaching a short class on the Nicene Creed at my church right now, and last week we talked (for all of 7 minutes) about the fact that it affirms that God created “all that is, seen and unseen.”  For those of you who don’t know, the Nicene Creed is one of a handful of church documents that predates denominations; long before my Methodists split from other Methodists who split from the Anglicans who split from the Catholics who themselves split from the Eastern Orthodox, the whole church agreed on the Nicene Creed, and it continues to be a point of unity among the many Christian churches.  Which means that every church you or I have ever attended affirmed the existence of an unseen order of creation.  Like angels.  Like demons.

It also means, by the way, that many of you who don’t believe my account have stood in a church, affirmed the Nicene Creed, and lied your skeptical butts off.

____________________

When we came back from Zambia, three of us from the trip had dinner together once a week (more or less, as is always the case when college kids commit to something) for the rest of college.  During these meals we talked about the things friends talk about when they talk, but every two months or so we repeated a very specific conversation: we explored whether or not we were naïve to accept that we had seen supernatural forces battling with people as pawns.  One friend questioned more vocally – he was always more forthright with his honesty than the other two of us – and the other stayed quiet, listening and visibly wavering in her estimation of what she saw.  I wavered too, but with the memories fresh, at the end of the day I always held the line: I saw what I saw.

____________________

I bring this up now because I just read Steve Marsh’s excellent Grantland piece on Adrian Peterson.  I don’t usually write on sports – it seems prudent to impose some limitations on the portions of American culture on which I presume to comment – but this piece was so theological in nature that I can’t resist.  I assumed that the piece would simply be a recounting of how Adrian Peterson – a Minnesota Viking football player and for a brief time likely the best running back alive – recovered improbably fast from a horrible knee injury to arguably reclaim his crown as the best running back alive.  On that the story doesn’t disappoint, but Marsh manages so much more.

In choosing not to edit the frequent references to Jesus, God, and the devil by Peterson and his family, Marsh adds a spiritual component to the story of how Peterson’s knee healed in only 8 months.  Understand: the knee injury that felled him in December of last year should have taken much longer to heal – in many cases, it can take 18-24 months for an athlete to return to form.  That Peterson has returned to form as the best running back alive in under a year is unthinkable.  Maybe even miraculous.

____________________

There’s only one kind of supernatural spirituality OK in American culture: a superstition-like belief in miraculous healings.  Some of the same people who will tell you that stories of angels and demons belong on library shelves along with stories of dragons and leprechauns have no problem whatsoever suggesting that divine healing can and does happen.  It’s an easier sell, after all.  Tumors that disappear can be miracles from God without making the supernatural uncomfortably tangible in the same way witnessing an exorcism does.  Nobody ever had to reevaluate their worldview or theology over a medical miracle.  It’s easier, and easy works for most people.

During those post-Zambia dinners with my friends, we struggled with denial over what we’d seen not because we doubted our senses, but because life would be easier and make more sense if only we could return to our rationally ordered world in which the supernatural was merely hypothetical.  We wanted to be able to lie our way through the Nicene Creed with everyone else, if only because that had always felt honest before.  The problem for me – and perhaps I’ve mentioned this – was that I saw what I saw.

I knew Adrian Peterson had healed in a fantastically improbable time frame.  I thought him a specimen or a freak, but I never thought that he was the recipient of a miracle until I read that article by Steve Marsh.  I’m not saying that it was a miracle, mind you.  Just pointing out that you might expect someone who believes he’s seen demons at work to remain sensitive enough to the supernatural realm to at least ponder the possibility of a miracle when medicine has no explanations.  But I didn’t.

Maybe you don’t even believe in medical miracles.  Maybe you do, but you draw the line at angels and demons.  Or maybe – like me – you’ve seen enough that you believe in a supernatural realm, but think life would be easier to understand if you didn’t.  For what it’s worth, the Nicene Creed affirms the unseen – without specifying whether the unseen is invisible, or simply unnoticed because it’s easier for everyone not to look.  In any case, Adrian Peterson’s knee reminded me this week that if I don’t look, I don’t see.

On Declining Empires: Part Five

This post is the final of a five-part series.  To read the other parts, click here: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4

 In the tale of Awful Group, there’s one vital element to the story at which I’ve hinted but haven’t yet fully explained.  If my experiences at that singles bible study could generate such penetrating anxiety week after week, why did I keep going back?  I did it because Awful Group offered me some hope.

If any lesson can be learned from this 5-part meditation on the demographic decline of evangelicalism, it must be that the solution to the evangelical church’s problems will not be found in treating the symptoms of that decline.  The small numbers of people under 40 in many evangelical churches may be an easy problem to identify once we look for it, but we’ve already seen that attacking the problem head-on can be counterproductive, since it risks creating new divisions and perpetuating the problem. As a result, implementing more deliberate demographic ministry strategies to address this decline will – at best – slow rather than stop the bleeding.  The solution lies in refusing to confuse the demographic symptoms of a decline with the underlying disease.  The solution lies in emphasizing hope.

____________________

Over the years, the white evangelical church has exercised its power in a variety of ways that are well known – electing presidents and changing American politics among them.  There’s another area of church power, however, that this series has briefly addressed: the church has profound power to shape the identities of members. When Awful Group told me my value derived from whether or not I was a professional, I internalized that message despite my efforts not to.  The church’s demographic vision invented new boundaries for my identity, just as churches everywhere do for their members.

This is the root of the disease afflicting evangelicalism: churches often spend too much time reminding people of who they are instead of inspiring them with who Jesus will help them be.  It often relates to the demographic problems of evangelicalism; that was my experience at Awful Group and that’s certainly an issue for people under 40 who don’t have children.  Even so, the problem is bigger than that.  People need to hear a message that their identity is rooted in hope, and any message about identity that focuses too heavily on the present rather than the future obscures that foundation in hope.

Don’t get me wrong: every church aspires to be a place of hope.  Evangelicalism, however, doesn’t always live up to that aspiration.  This failure is tragic on several levels, but more than anything, it’s a tragic betrayal of the church’s role in the world.  The church, with all of its power over matters of identity, should be infusing the faithful with enough hope to redefine them.  As a whole, the church should be THE repository of hope in the world.  Too often it is not, and so the evangelical church is slowly dying.

____________________

When we talk about matters of identity in the evangelical church, hope seldom comes up.  In part, this is because the evangelical church has become so good at explaining the minutiae of the faith that the big picture is often lost; we talk about all the reasons for the hope we should have, but we forget both to mention the hope and to act like we actually have it.  We pronounce ourselves saved by grace, and proceed to wring our hands about the direction of the world.  We mention our knowledge that God is truly good and wins in the end, and then we share statistics about the demise of the family and fret about which party won the most recent elections.  We read about Jesus helping the lame walk, the blind see, and the dead rise, and we commence discussions about cutting our missions budgets because the economy is unsteady and giving is down.  Whatever else the evangelical church adds to the identities of evangelicals, far too often it does not add hope.

In this, the evangelical church is a shameful failure.

____________________

At this point, some of you are snidely thinking that I’ve lost my way; hope isn’t the transcendent message of the church, Jesus is.  To which I say: sort of.  For one thing, Jesus isn’t a message.  He’s the Son of God, and if someone is going to know him, they have to make an effort.  The key point, however, is that before someone takes the time to know Jesus for themself, they need a reason to put forth that effort.  That reason is hope.

Others will object that the evangelical church needs to grow deeper, not broader.  What we need are more strong Christians, not simply more Christians.  This is a stupid contention; the Great Commission assumes that part of reaching more people will be discipling them, and if the church is ever choosing between the two options, the church is wrong.  Hope motivates discipleship, and we needn’t choose.

I know it’s more common to hear people talk about love as the church’s mission, message, and raison d’etre.  This isn’t entirely wrong, but I’ve had work environments that gave me a lot of love; coworkers that became like family.  People can find love in many places, and the absence of young people in evangelical churches shows that they must be finding it elsewhere these days.  Hope is different.  I’ve never had a workplace that filled me with the kind of hope that could sustain me.  In fact, I’ve only seen hope like that in one place, and that’s why I think hope is the church’s comparative advantage.

You know who will be drawn to a message of hope?  White people and people of color.  Rich people and poor people.  Young people, old people, and even old people who think they’re young.  Married people and single people.  Young professionals, grad students, and people with anxiety issues.  Everyone.

Hope transcends all demographic groups, because everyone wants to live a life of hope.

We have a hope that can be found nowhere else; a hope that transcends all boundaries and lasts longer than life itself.  Truly apprehending a hope that deep and that profound should change a person; and a community of such people – which is what evangelical churches claim to be – would arrest evangelicalism’s decline by attracting people from every demographic slice of America.  That’s the solution.  Instead of self-doubts, feelings of inadequacy, fears about the future, or suspicions of unworthiness, the identities of evangelicals should burst with hope for improvement and a confidence that no personal shortcomings will matter now or ever.  God wins, and we’re along for the ride as his children.  Nothing else should matter.  The evangelical church needs to learn to hope, and until it does, the decline will proceed.