The “Wrong Kind” of Faith

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

For evangelicals who had come to despise President Obama and all that he stood for, it was hard to imagine anyone worse. And then Hillary Clinton declared her candidacy. Clinton was a devout Christian, but the wrong kind. She spoke about her Methodist faith frequently during the 2016 campaign…
~Jesus and John Wayne, Kristin Kobes Du Mez

If you’ve not read Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez, do yourself a favor: head to the library, the local bookstore or Amazon, and get yourself a copy. And then prepare to be really disappointed, frustrated and enlightened all at the same time.

Jesus and John Wayne traces the history of the evangelical movement in America, specifically, the white evangelical movement that has been heavily (and rightly) criticized over the last several years, as more and more people are moving into the “Nones” category of religious self-identification, according to research from the Barna Group.

This, in large part, came to a head after the 2016 Presidential Election in the United States when a reported 80% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, who was (and remains) a very divisive figure in the United States political scene. Trump, whose life is the very antithesis of what evangelicalism should stand for, was embraced by white evangelicals, and to this day, is lifted up as a model and victim of a “rigged” election in places like Global Vision Church, lead by the controversial Greg Locke, and so-called Patriot Church, which is openly a Christian nationalist gathering with multiple campuses.

What I want to focus on in this post in particular, however, is the above quote. The statement that Hillary Clinton was the “wrong kind” of Christian.

Full disclosure here, I’m a United Methodist pastor. So, the idea that “Methodists” (as most people refer to us, even though it’s not quite accurate because there are many different Methodist denominations out there) are the “wrong kind” of Christian irks me quite a bit. And yet, I know exactly what the author means.

For the most part, the United Methodist Church is not seen as an evangelical denomination. It’s not independent. It’s not fundamentalist, for the most part. And it tends to have a wide variety of views, if we are looking at it from the theological and political spectrums. A 2001 article regarding the religious backgrounds of some presidents, pointed out that Bush was the third Methodist president, following McKinley and Hayes. Bill Clinton, while a Southern Baptist, did attend a United Methodist Church during his presidency.

The same article points out that in 2001, there were 65 members of Congress who claim to be Methodist — 39 Republicans and 26 Democrats. I’m certain those numbers are different these days (a lot can change in 21 years!), but it goes to point out that, generally speaking, Methodists have been “big tent” oriented when it comes to the theological and political spectrum.

Unfortunately, this is on the verge of changing in a dramatic fashion. News came out last week that General Conference (the global meeting of delegates from the world-wide United Methodist Church) is going to be postponed again. This time, it’s getting pushed back to 2024.

This is a meeting that is supposed to happen every four years, but thanks to a global pandemic, it has not happened since there was a special called General Conference in 2019. For a long time, the United Methodist Church has been fracturing. There’s no point in throwing blame around here — everyone has some culpability. But, in the last three years, it has become increasingly clear that the “big tent” is coming down. Those on one end of the spectrum want things to be a certain way, while those on the other want the opposite. The two sides cannot co-exist for much longer, and there is going to be a split.

In light of the General Conference postponement, a new denomination is going to be launching in May of this year that will be the future home of conservative Methodists moving forward. Who knows, maybe this new denomination will be the “right” kind of Methodist for white evangelicals. Maybe it won’t. I can’t see the future.

But here’s the problem: the Church is looking a whole lot more like our political system than it should be. There are divisions and factions. Political machinations trying to manipulate things in their favor. All the while, people are leaving the church because they are fed up with how closely it’s all tied together. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen comments on social media about how progressivism isn’t true Christianity or how evangelicals don’t represent Christ. All the while, I can’t help but think of how much we grieve the Holy Spirit when we do these things.

Until we realize that there are no “right” kind and “wrong” kind of Christians, until the people in the Church start living and loving like Jesus, people will continue to leave. Because the church is about something more than our personal preferences or political leanings. Personally, as a pastor, I long for the kind of diversity that recognizes and acknowledges our differences, but is committed to working together in spite of them.

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