Evangelical Christians Seeking Renewal Should Look to the Margins

(RNS) – Earlier this month, New York Times columnist David Brooks published a devastating article titled “Dissidents trying to save evangelicalism from itself.” Taking stock of the state of conservative Christianity, the article identified widespread polarization, pain and disaffiliation, as well as the rapid decline in the number of people who call themselves evangelicals.

But Brooks’ investigation isn’t the whole story. As it shines a light on those trying to reshape evangelicalism from within, we see a rising tide of religious renewal not just in evangelicalism, but in many spiritual traditions, including our own Jewish world. This revival often comes from the margins.

Part of the decline of white evangelical Protestantism can be attributed to the growing diversity of the American population. The institutional struggles of white Christians, for example, belie the burgeoning Hispanic evangelical churches. Additionally, there may be a growing gap between religious identification and Sunday attendance, as people lose faith in institutional religion and try to make a difference, no less faith-driven, in other ways.

This is certainly the case in synagogues, where membership continues to decline even amid an increase in the American Jewish population. Many American synagogues were established to help a large group of Eastern European Jewish immigrants integrate and find a way to articulate American and Jewish identities a century ago. They were havens from anti-Semitism and bastions of Jewish culture and served as conduits and translators for broader American society.

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They succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, helping American Jews to prosper and reach unprecedented levels of acceptance in America. Yet that very success now leaves a void as new needs arise. American Jews, for the most part, do not need synagogues to mediate between their American and Jewish identities. The synagogues, for the most part, did not articulate a new purpose of animation. Yet Jewish continuity is still often measured by the continuity of institutions.

However, as synagogues continue to decline, a remarkable group of spiritual startups, along with some grassroots institutions committed to continued growth, are creating what will become the Jewish institutions of the future.

Evangelicals may have lost their purpose as their messages were repeated by the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court and their spiritual mission gave way to political messages. As the religious community has become a beacon of partisan tribalism and been dogged by sex abuse scandals, spiritual seekers have been forced to double their institutional membership or go elsewhere to find meaningful membership. No wonder evangelical communities have remained divided and apathetic, unsure of how to bring people together around a common cause.

Yet we have hope for its emerging redemption, as evangelicals currently on the fringes and outside of formal church leadership may come to define the future of the faith. We don’t dismiss the leaders Brooks cites, but there are thousands more — women, people of color, immigrants and, over time, LGBTQ people — who have been kept out of the mainstream. places of power and influence but which present themselves as long-standing strongholds. power drop.

Reverend Samuel Rodriguez has emerged as a key voice as president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Reverend Adam Russell Taylor now manages Sojourners and its community of progressive evangelicals. Beth Moore, a prominent Bible teacher who faced ostracism in the Southern Baptist Convention because of her gender, has gained even more votes since leaving.

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The institutions of American Judaism and white evangelical Christianity are suffering a decline from which they may not recover. But a revival continues to rise around the edges and may soon define the center. The current crisis of church and synagogue is not so much a crisis of faith as a crisis of purpose.

We have seen this before in American history. When institutions and power become the driving focus of religion, people move to refocus their focus on the satisfaction of human needs and a higher calling of community. In the upheavals of religion today, we see the beginnings of a new revival. Our respective religious communities will be forever changed, emerging more diverse, more accessible and more relevant than ever.

” Awakenings: American Transformations in Identity, Leadership, and Belonging.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

Barry F. Howard