Embarrassment: Duane W.H. Arnold
I guess I should admit it, my antipathy towards American evangelicals has more to do with embarrassment than it has to do with anything else. What I mean by this is that I find it hard to understand how evangelicalism has failed to mature. Whether it is their almost fundamentalist approach to the Bible or they’re seemingly complete ignorance when it comes to church history, I simply do not understand the lack of growth in understanding and knowledge. Now, I know that this is not true of all evangelicals, but it does seem to be the case with many who claim to speak for the movement. Even if one ignores the intrusion of right wing politics into American evangelicalism, the intellectual basis (or the lack thereof) for the movement tends to make one blush.
I recognize, however, that such embarrassment is personal. That is, you have to have a personal stake in the matter to be embarrassed. If you are at a party, and someone at the party starts making inappropriate remarks, you can easily walk away. If, however, the person making the inappropriate remarks is your husband, or your wife, or your date, the situation is much different. The embarrassment you feel, and perhaps express, is because you care.
Perhaps what makes it worse, is that I have spent the majority of my life being a teacher or an educator. I believe in the value of education. I have the idea that if one is exposed to books and to learning, one can mature intellectually. In maturing intellectually, one sees other points of views and understands the meaning of nuance. One begins to understand that all issues are not binary. Everything is not a matter of black and white. One also begins to realize, as one person has said, the facts are “stubborn things” and that, indeed, facts matter. Moreover, the more than one learns, the more one realizes how much more there is to learn. It is a process that runs throughout our lives until that time when “we will know, even as we are known”.
Some people, however, desire certainty in the here and now. They desire an inerrant Bible, despite the witness of the texts, regardless of errors and contradictions that are well known. That certainty appears to extend to a view of church history that is measured in mere decades rather than the rich tapestry of two millennia. That certainty now appears to encompass politics as well. While it almost goes without saying that Christian nationalism is a heresy, the suggestion that secular politics will somehow usher in the kingdom of God is simply embarrassing.
It is embarrassing because I care.
As most will know, I began my faith journey among evangelicals. I hold close to my heart many of the things that I learned in those heady days of the late 1960s and 1970s. I still have friends from those days. Watching the films of the attack on the Capitol with people carrying crosses and signs that proclaimed “Jesus saves” it would be easy to be angry, or perhaps sad. One might be tempted to rage in reply. Outside the confines of church I find my reaction is one of embarrassment. I saw people my age, people who might’ve sat next to me at a concert or in a church in Southern California or Ohio. I saw people that I might have known, and I was embarrassed for what this aberrant form of evangelicalism had become.
Walter Martin once said the cults were the unpaid bills of the Church. What he meant by this was that cults came in and found adherents because of what the church failed to do and failed to teach. Despite hour long sermons and weekly Bible studies, evangelicalism has largely failed in the formation of disciples. Unwittingly, they have followed the pattern of the mainline churches, most of which have also failed in this endeavor. In both instances the gospel was not enough. It had to be the gospel plus politics (right or left) or the gospel plus social action (for or against).
Too many of us have forgotten what it means to be the church. We speak the words of exile and pilgrimage, but we do it without conviction. We are the ones who are saying the gospel is not enough, that something more needs to be added for us to be content.
We should be embarrassed not just for others, but for ourselves as well.