Evangelicalism as the Gates of Hell?

I’ve told this story before, but in light of the election of Donald Trump and the new legitimacy that has been claimed by white supremacist ideology during the U.S. election, this story takes on a new, and perhaps disturbing meaning.

It happened when the Klan moved into the Riverdale area of Toronto.

Yep, in the early 80’s the KKK set up a house in our neighbourhood.
So we did what any self-respecting Christian community would do.

We organized a “Ban the Klan” march
and demonstrated a certain kind of NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard),
that I remain proud to have been part of.

And during the rally in a local park,
after lots of speeches by folks from different groups,
we finally had a member of the church communities,

indeed, we finally had a member of the African-Canadian community,
invited to the stage to address the crowd.

I don’t remember her name or the name of the church,
but it was something like “Sister Bernadette”
from the “Apostolic, Holy Spirit, Church of the Holy Prophets, for the Last Times.”

Something like that.

And I was nervous.
What was this wacky black preacher lady going to say?

And I can tell you, all these years later,
exactly what she said.

It was a sermon of incredible power and amazing brevity.
Maybe took three minutes.

Using your own imagination to reconstruct
the rhetorical flourish and delivery style, 
here it is:

When Jesus came to Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,

“Who do men say I am?”

And they replied, “some say John the Baptist, and others that you are a prophet.”

“And who do you say I am? “

“You are the Christ, the Messiah of God,” answered Peter.

And Jesus said,

“Peter, the Holy Spirit has revealed this to you. And you will be the rock upon which I will build my church. And the GATES OF HELL WILL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST!”

Sister Bernadette, then looked out at the crowd in that park and said,

“And I’m here to tell you that the Klu Klux Klan is the gates of hell and they will not prevail against the church of Jesus Christ.”

Sister Bernadette walked off the stage.

That is plain and simply one of the best sermons I have ever heard.
What an incredible proclamation of the gospel!
The gates of hell will not prevail against the church of Jesus Christ.

I have taken great comfort and courage in that sermon over the years.
But now … well now, the sermon creates a painfully disquieting thought.

What if the church is the Gates of Hell?

What if the church in the United States is no longer raiding the gates of hell,
but have easily walked in?

What if the church in the United States is now so apostate,
that the Gates of Hell have indeed prevailed against the church?

Or maybe I should be more careful in what I am saying.

Maybe we should not identify the whole church of Jesus Christ
with the evangelical subculture in America.

Maybe we should be more specific.

Maybe the question is …

What if the white evangelical church in the United States is the Gates of Hell?

How else can we make sense out of 80% of evangelicals voting
for a racist?

How else can we make sense out of 80% of evangelicals voting
in solidarity with the KKK?

How else can we make sense of evangelical leaders
endorsing a misogynist and racist?

Some American evangelicals are insisting on redeeming the name.

Some folks who I deeply respect,
are insisting on reclaiming the name “evangelical.”

I’m not so sure.

If the betrayal of the gospel has gone this deep,
if the apostasy has taken such a hold on the evangelical church,
if the church is now the Gates of Hell,
then maybe we need to come out of her.

Maybe this Post Evangelical Traumatic Stress Disorder
thing that we’ve been talking about,
has just moved into something else.

Maybe American evangelicalism is in a terminal condition.
And maybe the PETSD of so many of us has now got so much worse.

From where I sit as a campus pastor,
we have a deeply pastoral crisis before us.
And, paradoxically, evangelicals (people of the gospel)
have created an evangelistic crisis.
The gospel that is embedded in their name,
has come into serious disrepute.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is entitled Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination.

One Response to “Evangelicalism as the Gates of Hell?”

  1. Avani

    Wow!! Well said!

    Reply

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