I have often challenged stereotypes, my own along with those of others, by saying, “My, you paint with a broad brush.” Broad, sweeping generalities often rule our discourse in our attempts to force people and arguments into bipolar constructs. We create “us” against “them” arguments, built of straw men to suit our own objectives.
A religion writer for a regional newspaper wrote an article titled, “Evangelicals recast Trump as an Old Testament King.” Another online author penned this title: “Americans are partisan about everything, even sex scandals.” Both authors attempted to illustrate that the group broadly defined as “Evangelical” is an inconsistent, compromising lot that hitches its wagon to any star that panders to its special interests. Both authors described “Evangelicals” as a group that closes its eyes to moral corruption whenever their political darling advances the “right” agenda.
While I grieve the accuracy of these indictments wherever they are well-founded, I resist being categorized as the sort of amoral “Evangelical” described in these articles. Don’t paint me with that broad of a brush.
Presently, evangelical Christians, broadly defined by pollsters and pundits alike, are being told what the group thinks. Such stereotyping is preposterous. We evangelicals are far more complex than that. We cannot even agree on theological matters, hence the large number of denominations. But we are objectified and reduced to a demographic category for polling and editorial purposes.
Why? Well, it has happened before. In World War II, those German believers who resisted fascism found themselves in the crosshairs of Nazi Germany’s propaganda machine. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the leaders of the German Confessing Movement. He recognized the totalitarian government’s attempt at marginalizing and silencing the church by mocking believers as a caricature. Government and its propaganda publications sought to control the church. In many places, government succeeded. But not everywhere or all of the time.
He wrote: “The time is coming when the confession of the living God will incur not only the hatred and the fury of the world, for on the whole, it has come to that already, but complete ostracism from ‘human society’ as they call it. The Christians will be hounded from place to place, subjected to physical assault, maltreatment, and death of every kind. We are approaching an age of widespread persecution”
Bonhoeffer continued: “Our adversaries seek to root out the Christian church and the Christian faith because they cannot live side by side with us, because they see in every word we utter and every deed we do, even when they’re not specifically directed against them, a condemnation of their own words and deeds. They are not far wrong.” (A Testament to Freedom, pp. 319-320).
So, the enemies of Christ will paint us with a broad brush of stereotype, forcing us into their preconceived categories. These attempts to portray the church as inconsistent, waffling, compromising, politicized, and irrelevant will seek to win the day. Unfortunately, some believers fit the stereotype!
Dennis F. Kinlaw, Sr., in his devotional book, This Day with the Master, wrote: “The first Christians became unstoppable. The world had no categories to deal with people like these. They did not fear prison, and they did not fear death. The world had no weapons to use against them that could succeed.”
In the midst of an era of compromise and failure, Christ will have His church, a holy bride. Pejorative labels and caricatures will abound, but the church of Jesus Christ remains. We may suffer terrifically for our faith. Others already have. We may be called upon to sacrifice our very lives for our Lord Jesus. Others already have.
“No weapon formed against you shall prosper” (Isaiah 54:17).