This kind of stark self-righteous insensitivity makes nonreligious people despise Christians. I should know. I became a Christian more than 25 years ago, grew up as the son of a prominent evangelical pastor, graduated from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, and spent years as a Southern Baptist pastor in Georgia. I’ve witnessed every religious affectation imaginable, but I never thought I’d see the day when my alma mater, Liberty University, would endanger the lives of its students by partially reopening its doors in the middle of a pandemic, perhaps to make a political statement. Is this what it looks like to be “pro-life” now?
Over the years, I’ve seen wealthy megachurch pastors shaking change from cash-strapped parishioners, and I’ve beheld toothy evangelists emotionally manipulating crowds to coerce conversions. I’ve seen pious politicians cherry-pick the Holy Bible in order to snatch the moral high ground from their enemies across the aisle, and I’m no longer surprised when trolls I encounter on Twitter include a saccharine religious identifier like “Christ follower” in their profile. But I’d never predicted that I would witness prominent Christian leaders dismissing death.
A prominent church in Texas recently paid for a billboard to ask commuters: “Is the coronavirus a judgment from God?” But that’s not as bad as Ralph Drollinger, the Christian minister who leads a Bible study for members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, who answered the question in the affirmative. In a series of blog posts, he argued that the disease is “God’s consequential wrath on our nation,” warning that “whenever an individual or corporate group of individuals violate the inviolate precepts of God’s Word, he, she, they or the institution will suffer the respective consequences.” Robert Jeffress, another Christian minister close to Trump, echoed this idea by warning, “All natural disasters can ultimately be traced back to sin.” Their interpretation of recent events is not as uncommon as you might assume. One recent poll reports that some 44 percent of Americans say the pandemic is a “wake-up call” from God and “signs of coming judgment.”
Ironically, the choice to emphasize these sorts of judgmental messages, instead of stressing love and caring, is costing the religion dearly. According to LifeWay Research, 70 percent of Protestants stop attending church for at least a year from the ages of 18 to 22. Why do they leave? Twenty-six percent said it was because church members were judgmental or hypocritical, and an additional 15 percent said it was due to church members being unfriendly and unwelcoming. Christians’ bad behavior has propped open their churches’ back doors.
Peter Wehner: The deepening crisis in evangelical Christianity
Additionally, many nonbelievers are too frustrated with the way Christians behave to give their churches a try. The Barna Group, one of America’s leading polling organizations focused on religion, conducted a sweeping survey of non-Christians aged 16 to 29 in 2007. It found that a new generation had grown skeptical of and frustrated with the Christian faith because of negative personal experience with Christians whose words and actions seemingly misrepresent Christ. A shockingly high number of respondents said they perceived present-day Christianity as judgmental (87 percent), hypocritical (85 percent), and anti-homosexual (91 percent). The study concluded that a concerning number of young non-Christians believe that Christians are, well, “unchristian.”