by Aaron Taylor.
Sometime in the latter part of the first century, during the peak of the Roman Empire’s power and decadence, Jesus appeared to his beloved disciple John while he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos. John’s vision led to the writing of what we now know as the Book of Revelation. Between 666, seven-headed dragons, and the whore of Babylon, Revelation’s imagery is cryptic and notoriously hard to interpret, but there’s one passage that stands out as particularly relevant for Americans living in 2017.
Jesus tells the Church at Ephesus they’ve lost sight of their first love, and that if they don’t repent, He’ll quickly remove their candlestick (Rev 2:1). As a person raised in the Protestant faith, I don’t believe that anyone—not even the Pope—has the infallible ability to speak for Jesus today, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t make an educated guess as to what He might be thinking. So I’ll give it a try: I think Jesus is removing the candlestick of white evangelical Christianity.
Thirty years from now, when historians look back at 2017, I suspect the things that currently dominate the 24-hour news cycle—the Trump/Russia investigations, the hurricanes and wildfires, the possibility of a nuclear war with North Korea—will all have their place in ongoing discussions of issues like liberal vs illiberal democracy, climate change, and arms control, but none will have the watershed significance as the tidal wave of powerful men in politics, media, and entertainment brought down in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sex scandal.
For eons, men have gotten away with abusing their power to harass, assault, and obtain sexual favors from subordinates beneath them. In Roman times, men of power exercised sexual dominion over their slaves. In modern times, we have the sexual assault crisis in the military. Whether it’s on college campuses or in the corporate workforce, women have persistently said that power imbalances in society make them vulnerable to sexual harassment, and up until now, their claims have resulted in a collective yawn from the other half of the human species.
Sexual abusers are now shaking in their boots. If there’s no such thing as an anxiety drug for sexual harassers, someone could make a killing inventing one. The genie is out of the bottle. Pandora’s box is open. And yet, when it came to choosing between a credibly accused pedophile and a man who successfully prosecuted KKK terrorists for killing black girls in a church, the overwhelming majority of white evangelicals in Alabama opted for the pedophile. To use another Biblical analogy, on the day of our cultural reckoning, white evangelicals have been weighed on the scales, and found wanting.
Throughout the roughly 2,000 years of Church history, there have been various strands of Christianity. Some endure and some fade away. For many in America, white evangelicalism seems to be the only game in town, but it’s important to remember that no one particular expression of the faith represents the totality of what the Spirit has been up to over the centuries and across the continents. The church at Ephesus was birthed in miraculous signs and wonders through the preaching of Paul, but within the span of a few decades, Jesus warned that if they didn’t repent and fall back in love with the gospel then He would remove their candlestick. Today few Christians exist in modern-day Turkey, where Ephesus once was.
If I were to place a diagnosis on where white American evangelicalism went astray, I would say it was at the very beginning when sincere pilgrims tried to honor God by establishing America as a “City on a Hill”, a new Jerusalem of sorts where Christ was supposedly at the top of the earthly political order, forgetting that Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world, and if it were my servants would fight.” All nation states by definition have a monopoly on the use of force. By placing His kingdom outside of earthly realms and excluding the possibility that one could advance His kingdom through force, no earthly state or political party can claim to be an embodiment of the Kingdom of God on earth, even supposedly “Christian” ones.
After centuries of genocide, slavery, segregation, oppression of sexual minorities, wars of conquest and imperialism, I wish that white evangelicals had learned this lesson sooner. Today, instead of preventing nuclear wars and reigning in remote automatic weapons and “signature” drone strikes aimed at weddings and funerals and rescue workers, we’re ceding the mantle of prophetic conscience to others while we’re left defending an accused pedophile in a cowboy hat.
God forgive us.
Aaron Taylor is an author, actor, producer and an activist.
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please join our Facebook forum, and sign up for our newsletter!