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The Future of Evangelicals in American Culture


I grew up with Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup. The depiction of an African American woman was a part of the logo I never noticed.

Here’s what I was missing: according to Cornell University professor Riché Richardson, the logo was inspired by a minstrel song, “Old Aunt Jemima.” This song perpetuated the “mammy,” which Richardson describes as “a devoted and submissive servant who eagerly nurtured the children of her white master and mistress while neglecting her own.” The logo perpetuating such racism was created in 1889 by two white men.

This week, PepsiCo announced that it was changing the Aunt Jemima brand to Pearl Milling Company and pledged $5 million to support the Black community. The company stated, “We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype.”

Here’s my point: I am just learning what many Black people have known for generations. This fact relates directly to the future of evangelicals in American society, though in ways you might not suspect.

What I believe about racism

I believe that racial discrimination is evil. I am convinced that racism should be repudiated and counteracted in every dimension of our society.

As a result, I would be deeply opposed if you promoted racism by claiming biblical and religious warrant for your prejudice, demanded religious liberty protection for your beliefs, or built a massive media presence to promote your dangerous ideology. If you attempted “conversion therapy” aimed at changing the racial character of minorities, kept them from marrying people like themselves, or excluded them from adopting children, I would be similarly opposed.

Because I am convinced that racist ideology and practices are dangerous to our nation and our future, I would support every legal response. For example, I would endorse school curriculum that taught racial inclusion and equality. I would limit racist exposure to the culture through social media and other platforms, ban racism in all governmental agencies and the military, and create pathways for racial minorities to marry and build families.

In short, I would characterize racists as social pariahs whose beliefs should no longer be tolerated by society.

Seeing evangelicals through an LGBTQ lens

Now, substitute LGBTQ equality for racial equality. Then go back over the last section to see if it does not accurately describe the way our culture views and opposes evangelicals whose biblical convictions prevent them from endorsing LGBTQ behavior.

To this point, we are only seeing the first storm clouds of what I predict will become a hurricane of cultural rejection.

Facebook and Twitter have begun blocking posts critical of President Biden’s transgender policy. National Religious Broadcasters, an evangelical association of Christian communicators, has begun tracking examples of social media and other online platforms restricting Christian viewpoints.

The Biden administration has made the so-called Equality Act “a top legislative priority.” This legislation would elevate sexual orientation and gender identity to “protected classes” without appeal to the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

This could force faith-based hospitals and insurers to provide gender-transition therapies that violate their religious beliefs. It could also require faith-based adoption and foster care agencies to place children with same-sex couples or lose their licenses. It could compel faith-based schools and businesses to violate their beliefs regarding homosexual activity or face fines, censure, or worse. And churches would be redefined as “public accommodations,” meaning that if they refused to provide unisex restrooms for transgender persons, they could lose their tax-exempt status and face other penalties.

Five ways evangelicals will respond

I predict that evangelicals will respond to escalating cultural opposition in five ways, adapted from Richard Niebuhr’s classic book Christ and Culture:

Christ of culture: Some will modify their beliefs in alignment with the shifting cultural tide. We are already watching pastors and theologians “change their minds” on biblical sexual morality. This approach jettisons foundational biblical truth in a never-ending quest for cultural relevance.

Christ against culture: Some will demonize those who disagree with them and characterize the “other side” as the enemy. Others will withdraw from social engagement into communities where they can practice their faith without opposition. They will keep the “light” of the gospel under their “basket” while repelling those who might be attracted to it (Matthew 5:14-16).

Christ above culture: Some will adhere to biblical morality when in community with fellow Christians but make culturally required concessions in their secular lives and work. They may be able to avoid the consequences of their private beliefs, but their public compromises will invalidate their witness and grieve their Lord.

Christ and culture in paradox: Some will engage secular society in order to defend religious liberty, working to secure a minority position for evangelicals in culture. This is a valuable and urgent mission, but we must do more than seek the “right to be wrong.” (I plan to say more about this in tomorrow’s Daily Article.)

Christ transforming culture: Some will speak biblical truth with courageous compassion. They will declare and defend biblical morality because they know that its truth is best for all people. They will view those who reject God’s word as those who most need God’s word. “Speaking the truth in love” will be their mantra and their mission (Ephesians 4:15). This is clearly the most biblical and effective way to respond to rising cultural opposition.

The time for choosing is now.

Publication date: February 11, 2021

Photo courtesy: Pixabay

Jim Denison, PhD, is a cultural theologian and the founder and CEO of Denison Ministries. Denison Ministries includes DenisonForum.org, First15.org, ChristianParenting.org, and FoundationsWithJanet.org. Jim speaks biblically into significant cultural issues at Denison Forum. He is the chief author of The Daily Article and has written more than 30 books, including The Coming Tsunamithe Biblical Insight to Tough Questions series, and The Fifth Great Awakening.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

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