• Scott Watkins

Disunity Among Evangelicals And What To Do About It

I don’t recall experiencing a time of greater cultural divisiveness than right now. I have read about periods of unrest in our countries’ history, but the current climate is as bad as I’ve experienced. National division is cyclical, and our country is in a tumultuous phase of the cycle. Fallout from the pandemic, social unrest and political upheaval have widened existing fissures.

Most unsettling to me though is the divisiveness I feel in the church, among people I consider my people. I wonder if you’ve felt it too.

By ‘my people’ I mean evangelical Christians. Though divisions aren’t new within the evangelical movement (think various denominational and ethnic expressions) the fractures we are seeing today are along new lines. Differing ideas about masks, vaccines, riots, protests, racism, politics and voting, just to name a few, are separating people who once considered themselves part of a common tribe.

Timothy Dalrymple proposes one cause for the present challenge: historically, the evangelical movement was united not only by common theology and morality but also by a common worldview. Evangelicals got their information and interpreted it more uniformly. They had the same “informational world”. Over the last two decades, and over the last two years especially, this has changed.

The spread of the internet has produced a dramatic increase in the amount of media content being created. Making matters worse, the worldviews being advocated are increasingly divergent and hostile towards one another.

When evangelical Christians choose their tribes based on cultural or political factors instead of theological or moral ones, pathways for unifying culturally diverse Christians vanish and division solidifies.

One way to combat this trend is to move back to a common informational world. The challenge with this (and perhaps a contributing factor to begin with) is that according to Dalrymple, the main sources of information for evangelical Christians, secular media, religious authorities and Christian community are in crisis in America.

The media peddle anger, cynicism and hatred to Christians who are spending more time on social media than reading the Bible. New, young, evangelical leaders are struggling to rise above the ideological battles of our time. And for many Christians, their once active faith communities have been upended by the pandemic, and replaced with shallow, digital communities of people who prioritize common social and political views.

So, is this trend the new reality for American evangelicalism, or can we find greater unity again? The answer lies, in part, in how we respond to these disrupting forces. If we prioritize meditating on the truth of God’s word over secular media, rally behind leaders rising above cultural and political ideology and seek to rebuild genuine community with fellow believers, bridges to Christian unity can be discovered again.