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The unravelling of public discourse in evangelical Christianity

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As a Christian leader based in the southern part of the globe, I wonder sometimes if Evangelicals in North America are aware how their statements and activity are viewed down here. The unravelling of Christian discourse over a host of hot-button issues in the United States before a watching world is disconcerting.

A Hindu religious leader recently asked me the following: Why do Christians in the U.S. tear down each other and their institutions? I asked the reason for his question. He said he was following the social media reaction to the Southern Baptist Convention and the way a serious issue is ending up with diatribe and resignations of various leaders.

The way some Evangelical leaders are handling these important issues is becoming a stumbling block for religious minorities outside the Western world. We are exposed to vitriolic language, crass judgmentalism, and self-righteous pronouncements that are thrown at each other. 

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What is the Christian witness to a watching world? 

Consider the following:

1) Social media is not the place to sort out important issues

The American obsession with resorting to social media to address complicated issues requires serious introspection. Do public posts and abrupt 140 character statements reflect the spirit of Jesus and point toward the kind of Christian culture we aim for? Are we being slow to speak and quick to listen? And are we speaking the truth in love?

A subset of Christian media approach “truth” much like tabloid journalists. Many stories appear more as a marketing effort driving clicks, sales, downloads, and personal notoriety even if done in a Christian veneer. 

Because of the First Amendment protection of free speech, it seems there is no accountability for half-truths and outright falsehoods. People can get away with saying nearly anything online. But Christians should be setting the standard, not exploiting it.

2) Extra-judicial processes can’t be a default solution in democracies with a rule of law

Any process that resorts to ”independent” groups or independent international investigations to resolve criminal activity is seriously flawed. Criminal acts must not be handled by Christian mediators and even “independent investigations” are not the solution. Rather, criminal acts must be reported to the police so law enforcement can investigate and run a proper judicial process, which preserves the rights of all of those involved.

As a human rights activist, I view extra-judicial processes as human rights violations, and unfortunately both those who have been sinned against, and the sinner, suffer where extra-judicial processes run rampant. Mob justice is not the answer. Americans must cherish their justice system and stop taking justice into their own hands.

When Christians resort to mob justice with regards to criminal activity, whether that’s sexual abuse, financial fraud, or anything else, we end up descending into tribalism in a failed attempt to bring justice.

The statute of limitations is being extended the world over for sexual abuse, and that is encouraging. 

But when tribalism takes over, we end up with the spectacle of the Kavanaugh hearings.

3) Politics is present in the church and is as bad as the politics between political parties

The political dimension impacts all areas of our social behavior. Politics affects the family, the church, and society as a whole. Politics is about power and everything that is derived from it. 

A major blindspot in many Christian circles is the failure to work out a good political theology. By harping on the spiritual dimension, Christians avoid uncomfortable questions about the ideology behind church governance, mission structures, mission activity, and racial issues.

The church seems increasingly blind to their appropriation of the same politics they condemn within their own polity. 

4) Stop tearing down your institutions

One of the most perplexing problems of our time is the attack on all forms of authority, and a disrespect for societal institutions. Authority and institutions are being dismissed, but without offering an alternate model.

Societal “freedom” does not mean being free from responsibility and institutions. Freedom is not absolute. Nature itself puts restrictions on human freedom. The American and Western cultures bent toward tearing down authority structures are causing devastation to the family, church, and civil society.

Christians have a tendency to see institutions as inherently evil. But God is the Creator of institutions and their authority. God’s natural laws bring order to the world, and he created the first institution of human society — the family. He then created other institutions in the church and government. So dismantling these Biblical institutions creates a credibility crisis that cannot be ignored. It is also terrible theology. 

We are living at a time when the world needs the church to represent Jesus and His Kingdom in all areas of life, not to restrict the Gospel as only for the soul. The world needs to see the good, truthful, and loving way we deal with human evil. The world needs to see how, even in the midst of sin both inside and outside the church, Jesus is able to produce living new humanity that brings redemption to the whole world. 

We must, as Christians, adopt this goal in all our discourse and actions. We can begin by leaving the important issues off social media, avoiding the division caused by politics, rejecting extra-judicial processes, and refraining from tearing down the institutions that brought His enormous blessings over the last century.

Joseph D’Souza is the founder of Dignity Freedom Network, which delivers humanitarian aid to the marginalized and outcasts of South Asia. He is archbishop of the Anglican Good Shepherd Church of India and president of the All India Christian Council.

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