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By David W. Virtue, DD
December 31, 2019

By any standard of grossness, greed, venality, sexual infidelity and stupidity Evangelicals must qualify as the No.1 story in 2019. They have lost so heavily in the court of public opinion, one is forced to ask, can evangelicals and the message of the gospel they proclaim recover in two generations. A civil war among evangelicals is the last thing evangelicals need. Consider the following:

1. The alliance of Franklin Graham with President Donald Trump (whether you approve of Trump or not) was the single biggest disaster for American evangelicalism in 2019. His father would be rolling in his grave. Billy made that mistake only once with President Harry Truman by revealing what they spoke about. It took 17 years to fix that, but his son jumped right into bed with Trump, thus aligning himself and the BGEA with Trump and Republicanism. Franklin had the audacity to reveal how his father voted (it was Trump), but Billy would never have told us that were he alive. President Barack Obama visited with Graham before he died and both men benefited by the meeting. Winning Democrats for Christ is now a proposition made virtually impossible by Franklin's alliance with Trump

2. Wayne Grudem, a leading Calvinist theologian and prominent complementarian, made the "brilliant" discovery that abuse might be grounds for divorce. Apparently, it took him more than 60 years to discover that in 1 Cor. 7:15, the phrase "in such cases" should be understood to include any cases that similarly destroy a marriage. Therefore, he concluded that abuse is such a case. Like WOW, where has he been for the last 30 years. Evangelicals have known and accepted for decades that the three A's for divorce namely adultery, abandonment and abuse have been grounds for divorce, so now we need a Calvinist theologian getting enlightenment to tell us!

3. The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant and evangelical denomination in the US, discovered they were entangled in a multifaceted sex-abuse crisis and held a high-profile conference on the topic to address it. They learned that sexual abuse had taken place among their leaders and the denomination had also been losing market share just like liberal Protestant denominations. A three-day Caring Well conference opens at a resort hotel near Dallas, drew hundreds of pastors and church officials from the largest Protestant denomination for a program featuring victim advocates, attorneys, therapists and at least 10 survivors of sexual abuse. Their numbers were down, and it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out why.

4. An editorial in the conservative magazine Christianity Today calling for Trump to be removed from office proved to be an evangelical disaster of Titanic proportions. Whether you agreed with writer Mark Galli or not, the timing could not have been worse, right on the heels of Trump's impeachment by the House and the sure knowledge that the Senate would never go for it. If non evangelicals were cynical about evangelicals, this surely made the case. The Christian Post followed up with an editorial also calling for Trump to go.

5. Across the pond, a leading evangelical vicar in the Church of England, the debonair, suave and smooth-talking Jonathan Fletcher, apparently liked taking saunas with naked young men while massaging them and then beating their naked bottoms. I think this might be the definition of sadomasochism, ya think?

6. You can love him or hate him, but President Donald Trump has galvanized evangelicals as no other president has ever done (and that includes Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan), but in doing, so that galvanization has created cynicism among non-believers making it virtually impossible for them to hear the gospel. The confusion of the two kingdoms (the Kingdom of God with the Kingdom of America) has and will continue to create such a contempt among secularists that they simply will not listen or hear us. Not even evangelical showman Eric Metaxas can pull off a Barnum and Bailey act to change that.

7. The failure of Trump's unofficial evangelical cabinet to hold Trump accountable for anything makes them less than Nathan the prophet and more like Fonzie of Happy Days.

8. And then there were the cowardly evangelical folk at Chick-fil-A who announced plans to end charitable giving to Christian organizations--including the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA)--amid concern over homosexual backlash as the popular Christian-owned business expanded beyond the US. No guts no glory, but still plenty of profits.

9. Televangelist Benny Hinn suddenly renounced his selling of God's blessings and while he doesn't plan on fully renouncing the prosperity gospel (he still needs to keep his private jet in the air), critics wanted more. Benny said he had done with the prosperity gospel, but longtime observers were not ready to take his word on faith and should not. Hinn has been a leading proponent of prosperity gospel theology since the 1980s, teaching that God rewards active faith with health and wealth. Hinn's financial practices have also been investigated twice by the federal government. The US Senate launched an investigation of Hinn, along with Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Paula White, and Eddie Long in 2007. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), then chair of the Senate Finance Committee, was shocked by the lavish lifestyles of American prosperity preachers and expressed concern the IRS wasn't doing its job enforcing existing rules against excessive compensation for leaders of religious nonprofits.

And then there were the lesser evangelical lights whose bulbs flickered and went out this year.

An independent investigation concluded that the sexual harassment allegations that led to Bill Hybels's resignation last year were credible, based on a six-month investigation into the claims against the senior pastor and into Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) and the Willow Creek Association (WCA). The 17-page report placed the blame for such incidents on Hybels himself and not the broader culture at either organization, though it concluded that both the church and the association could benefit from more thorough written policies to address inappropriate behavior.

Harvest Bible Chapel fired its founder and senior pastor James MacDonald for "engaging in conduct ... contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church." Harvest elders announced that they were forced to take "immediate action" to end his 30-year tenure.

Comedian John Crist, known for his viral videos and jokes satirizing Christian culture, was forced to cancel his tours after reports he had harassed and manipulated multiple women to pressure them into sexual relationships. According to a Charisma magazine investigation, Crist used his celebrity to exploit at least five women over the last seven years.

In Anglican circles, it was learned that a former Tallahassee priest misused his power to sexually abuse men. The founder of St. Peter's Anglican Cathedral in Tallahassee, (a flagship Anglican parish), the Rev. Eric Dudley was removed from the priesthood after a report revealed new details surrounding allegations of him subjecting men at the church to sexual harassment. An investigation revealed that the former rector engaged in sexual misconduct against several young men and abused his authority.

Full disclosure. I am an evangelical Anglican and will remain so till the day I die.

Overall it was not a good year for Evangelicals. One hopes that 2020 will be a better year for Evangelicals if they want to make an impact on the culture and see their churches grow.


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