Winning souls for Christ. Taking back America for God. Standing in the Gap.
Anyone who has spent time among white evangelical Christians has heard some of those phrases. The evangelical subculture is filled with militaristic rhetoric that depicts conservative Christians trying to “take back America” for God from the secular forces of evil.
But what happens when one of the nation’s most famous evangelical leaders declares that “saving America is not the mission of the church?” When he says that loving people takes precedence over loving country? Or when he says that Christianity is not about winning, but “losing on purpose, with a purpose?”
Andy Stanley, pastor of one of the nation’s largest megachurches, is about to find out. This is part of the message he shares in his provocative new book, “Not In It To Win It: Why Choosing Sides Sidelines the Church.” In the book, Stanley recounts what happened to him and his church when they confronted three recent challenges: the pandemic, the George Floyd protests and the 2020 presidential election.
Stanley, who describes himself as “right-leaning politically,” says some members left his church when he canceled in-person services during the height of the pandemic. Others accused him of embracing a “woke, left-wing Marxist agenda” when he talked about confronting racism One pastor told him on Twitter, “Sir, with all due respect, you’re a false prophet from Satan’s hell.”
This is nothing new for Stanley – with prominence comes criticism. He is one of the most influential evangelical leaders in the US. Stanley is pastor of North Point Community Church in suburban Atlanta, a nondenominational evangelical congregation that draws more than 38,000 people to its Sunday services at eight locations in Georgia. He reaches an even larger audience with his books on leadership, YouTube sermons and podcasts, such as a recent venture with Adam Grant, the best-selling author and organizational psychologist.
“The moment our love for or concern for country takes precedence over our love for people in our country we are off mission. “When saving America diverts energy, focus and reputation away from saving Americans, we no longer qualify as the ekklesia [church]. We’re merely political tools. A manipulated voting demographic. A photo op… We give up the moral and ethical high ground.”
Not isolated. I don’t think I’ll ever be isolated. I might be. But then I look at the life and impact of the teachings of Jesus had on Western civilization, I know it’s the right approach, but it’s the long game. I’m a hypocrite if I do otherwise. That’s not to say there’s not hypocrisy in me or I’ll flinch or lose my nerve in certain moments. I’m not above that. But I don’t fear that.
Maybe it’s confidence or arrogance, but I’m so convinced that if I’m not right, I’m closer to right than what I see on the far right or what I see on the far left.