I came across the following quote in the New York Times yesterday (5/19/2019):
Activists have been buttressed by many of the nation’s conservative churches, which have increased their emphasis on abortion policy in recent years. A few decades ago, many Southern Baptist churches would preach far more frequently against divorce, fornication and premarital sex, said Wayne Flynt, one of Alabama’s most influential historians and an ordained Baptist minister. “There has been a huge shift,” he said, “and a narrowing of focus to abortion and same-sex marriage.”
The article itself is about the grassroots organization of the anti-abortion forces in the various states that are passing “heartbeat” laws. What I find most interesting in this quote, though, is that many churches are preaching less frequently against divorce, fornication, and premarital sex and choosing to focus on abortion and same-sex marriage.
If you read Slacktivist, you’ll find that he considers abortion and gay rights two of the gatekeeper issues these days for the religious right. If you want to stay an Evangelical, you have to toe the line on those two topics. And I’d have to agree.
Why, though, did churches turn away from the previous topics of preaching? It’s pretty simple. They’ve lost the war on those. Despite preaching that an inerrant Bible says that divorce, fornication, and premarital sex are all sins of the highest degree, Evangelicals seem to be practicing them just like the rest of the world. The preaching just doesn’t seem to be working.
So, they’ve turned to a couple of topics that seem to be tried and true. Abortion and gay rights. After all, nobody really “likes” abortion. It’s one of those things that society kind of tolerates. Since the late 70s, when Evangelicalism tied their horse to abortion, they’ve held fast to the belief that we need to have Roe v. Wade overturned so that the states can all be pro-life. As for gay rights, well, just read the Old Testament. Sodom and Gomorrah anyone?
And the idea that anyone in the Evangelical congregations might be dealing with abortion or homosexuality is just anathema to them. Sure 25% of women will have an abortion in their lives, but it can’t be the women coming into our church. And, yes, at least 10% of the population is LGBT of some stripe or variation, but they aren’t really sitting in our congregation. So, it’s easy to preach to the choir about how terrible these two things are and how the congregants need to get involved politically to get abortion overturned and gay marriage de-legalized.
Clearly, these churches are missing something. I’ve figured it out! These churches are missing love. Individuals in this church may love individual women who are dealing with crisis pregnancies. Specific men and women may love their LGBT kids. But the church as a whole, and Evangelicalism as a social movement is being unloving to the women in unplanned pregnancies by engaging primarily with them by legal means and is being unloving to the LGBT community by refusing to share civil rights with them (RHE’s term).
Sadly, some Evangelical churches are preaching for social change, not the love of Jesus. It didn’t work when they were preaching against fornication, adultery, and divorce, and it’s not likely to work now. Churches have to become bastions of love, and until they are willing to give up political power to become like Jesus and love the poor and marginalized, the people they profess to love just won’t buy it.