The Future of U.S. Evangelical Christianity

April 22, 2021

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The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was the recent subject of national controversy related to racial and gender inclusivity in the denomination, the largest evangelical community in the United States. In December 2020, the convention made headlines when Southern Baptist seminary presidents issued a statement saying that critical race theory is incompatible with SBC teachings. The move—made by a denomination founded as the church of Southern slaveholders—encouraged a number of prominent Black pastors to leave the SBC and further highlighted anti-Black racism within the convention. In March 2021, the convention was back in the news, when prominent Southern Baptist Beth Moore announced she was splitting from the denomination. Moore explained the decision to leave in terms of what she saw as worrying trends in SBC culture: sexual abuse, misogyny, and support for former president Donald Trump. Reflecting on the role of race and gender in SBC thought and practice can be an important next step, especially as evangelicals chart how to engage in public life under the Biden administration.

Many Americans see the new administration as less friendly to U.S. evangelicals in comparison to the Trump administration. In general, the evangelical community enjoyed a close relationship with the former president, who pushed for policy changes seen as favorable to conservative Christians. Other evangelical leaders, however, have been outspoken critics of Trump, especially in the wake of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. The Capitol violence—supported by white Christian nationalists—has sparked calls for an evangelical reckoning on Trump. As the evangelical Christian community deals with these and other challenges, the Berkley Forum invites scholars and practitioners to reflect on the future of U.S. evangelicalism.

This week the Berkley Forum asks: What might recent controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention suggest about the future of U.S. evangelical Christianity? What theological, biblical, or ethical resources could inspire a more inclusive or prophetic evangelicalism going forward? How does the recent move by Beth Moore to leave the SBC relate to other issues surrounding gender in American evangelicalism? In what ways does continued debate on critical race theory overlay broader discussions on religion and racial justice, as well as white supremacy in the church? How might lessons from the history of race and gender in the evangelical community find resonance in the current moment? What are the challenges and possibilities of evangelical engagement in American public life during the Biden administration? 

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