By Rachel Martin
As fallout continues from the deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol, Ed Stetzer, head of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Illinois, has a message for his fellow evangelicals: It’s time for a reckoning.
Evangelicals, he says, should look at how their own behaviors and actions may have helped fuel the insurrection. White evangelicals overwhelmingly supported President Trump in the 2020 election.
Some in the protest crowd raised signs with Christian symbolism and phrases.
“Part of this reckoning is: How did we get here? How were we so easily fooled by conspiracy theories?” he tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “We need to make clear who we are. And our allegiance is to King Jesus, not to what boasting political leader might come next.”
In the interview, Stetzer also laments that evangelicals seem to have changed their view of morality to support Trump.
“So I think we just need to be honest. A big part of this evangelical reckoning is a lot of people sold out their beliefs,” he says.
Here are excerpts from the Morning Edition conversation:
You write that “many evangelicals are seeing Donald Trump for who he is.” Do you really think that’s true? There have been so many other things that Trump has said and done over the past four to five years that betray Christian values and their support didn’t waver. You think this time it’s different?
I think it’s a fair question, and I’ve been one for years who was saying we need to see more clearly who Donald Trump is and has often not been listened to. But I would say that for many people, the storming of the Capitol, the desecration of our halls of democracy, has shocked and stunned a lot of people and how President Trump has engaged in riling up crowds to accomplish these things. Yeah, I do think so. I think there are some significant and important conversations that we need to have inside of evangelicalism asking the question: What happened? Why were so many people drawn to somebody who was obviously so not connected to what evangelicals believe by his life or his practices or more.
You write that Trump has burned down the Republican Party. What has he done to the evangelical Christian movement?
If you asked today, “What’s an evangelical?” to most people, I would want them to say: someone who believes Jesus died on the cross for our sin and in our place and we’re supposed to tell everyone about it. But for most people they’d say, “Oh, those are those people who are really super supportive of the president no matter what he does.” And I don’t think that’s what we want to be known for. That’s certainly not what I want to be known for. And I think as this presidency is ending in tatters as it is, hopefully more and more evangelicals will say, “You know, we should have seen earlier, we should have known better, we should have honored the Lord more in our actions these last four years.”
Should ministers on Sunday mornings be delivering messages about how to sort fact from fiction and discouraging their parishioners from seeking truth in these darkest corners of the Internet peddling lies?
Absolutely, absolutely. Mark Noll wrote years ago a book called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, and he was talking about the lack of intellectual engagement in some corners of evangelicalism.
I think the scandal of the evangelical mind today is the gullibility that so many have been brought into — conspiracy theories, false reports and more — and so I think the Christian responsibility is we need to engage in what we call in the Christian tradition, discipleship. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” So Jesus literally identifies himself as the truth; therefore, if there ever should be a people who care about the truth, it should be people who call themselves followers of Jesus.
But we have failed, and I think pulpits and colleges and universities and parachurch ministries and more need to ask the question: How are we going to disciple our people so that they engage the world around them in robust and Christ-like ways? — and I think part of the evangelical reckoning is we haven’t done that well.