Letter to the Editor
April 25, 2023
Mark Wingfield, executive director of Baptist News Global, wrote: “Donald Trump is the most dangerous pathological liar on the American scene in my lifetime.” This is from his article about Trump’s indictment by the New York district attorney.
Mark has written many excellent articles about the contemporary religious scene. He also wrote: Trump “has undermined democracy itself, not to mention trust in the Christian church and the truth on which it stands. Count me among those who consider Trump an antichrist — someone whose life and gender run completely counter to the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
About a year ago I was introduced to Mark by Os Chrisman, a Baptist friend at The Tradition in Dallas where we lived for about five years. I read the website articles almost daily and rarely read anything I wouldn’t sign. I especially like the work of Little Rock pastor and retired judge Wendell Griffen. He writes with passion and insight about racism in Arkansas, among other topics of interest to me.
I’m long an “ecumenical” Christian, with strong ties and friendships in several denominations. As a former 25-year minister in the Churches of Christ, I often feel somewhat alone and perhaps out of touch. I preached faith and grace in a southern Arkansas church and was once told by one of my elders that one “could hear everything I preach at the local Baptist church.”
That will surprise my friend Os, but people still come out of my past with notes of gratitude at learning of grace from my sermons. I’d love to hear Judge Griffen preach, and if I were younger and stronger, we’d drive to Little Rock for a weekend and do just that.
As a child, I lived on a farm about three miles from town, which was the county seat. The school community was Austin and people met on Sunday to worship in the school building. It was an early ecumenical church with a Baptist preaching one Sunday, a Methodist the next and then the Church of Christ guy. I think the songbooks were small, brown paperback with about 40 songs in them. I recall only the preachers having Bibles. I do not recall Communion.
At times when the Methodist was preaching, the Church of Christ guy would say loudly, “Amen!” My second-grade awareness level interpreted that as “stop,” as in the end of a prayer. Of course, it was in reality a statement of affirmation. I do not recall ever one argument in that church. And I think they were all Democrats — as was all of Arkansas before the present “enlightenment.”
My reading indicates that the Church of Christ is declining — not to my surprise. The Southern Baptist Convention has fallen on hard times, perhaps even more so, with fewer baptisms last year than in the last half century. Their national conventions of late have been far too much about debate on “complementarianism,” the notion that God made men and women equal in Christ, but that women are to be subordinate to men in all things — an obvious serious contradiction but dominant in fundamentalist Baptist circles. The SBC recently expelled Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church for ordaining three women as pastors.
I’ve been a United Methodist now for a bit over 20 years and am purely mortified by the present controversy and division over gay pastors. The Wesleyan Covenant Association, which supported slavery in Civil War days, has formed the breakaway Global Methodist Church, which opposes ordination of gay pastors and even gays as members. Next they will label as sinners people who favor their left hands or whose right eyes are a bit larger than their left eyes!
There seems no end to the narrowness and judgmentalism of many Christians. And the Cross and its message of grace are diminished and even lost in this sad picture.
Sadly, American Christianity is rapidly taking a back seat to Africa, Asia and South America where churches are growing rapidly — especially among the nondenominational and Pentecostal flavors. America’s major denominations have become far too bureaucratic and overburdened with judicial councils and conventions and have lost sight of their primary mission to spread Jesus’ gospel of grace and new beginnings. A recent Pew poll indicates church attendance has not recovered from the COVID troubles but is, in fact, still declining.
As a sociologist, I may note my conviction that much of that is caused by what has been called “suicide by pulpit” — the preaching of topics and issues of little or no interest to Millennials and “Z” generations. We’ve lost relevance to half the American population.
The adoption of Trump as savior by so many white evangelicals has caused much of this and again, it’s largely due to false and ignorant interpretations of the Bible based on the doctrine of literalism and textual infallibility.
The 2021 SBC annual meeting in Nashville proved this completely. Almost 15,000 messengers, in the largest convention in many years, spent their time and energy debating the role of women in marriage and in church life. Their church is on fire, and they are children playing with half-inch garden hoses.
It is my rather Don Quixote fantasy that soon another Billy Graham will rise and speak to tens of thousands in large arenas and welcome hundreds down front to altar calls to repentance and renewed church life. Os and Wendell and Mark would all like that.
Paul Magee, Dallas