I was thrilled when Brazos Press sent me a copy of Jon Ward’s book, Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Failed a Generation. Like many young Christians, I am endlessly trying to understand how the evangelical movement that raised me became what it is today, and Ward’s book resonated deeply with the heartache of this question.
Like Jon Ward, I was also a pastor’s kid, and my parents also converted during the Jesus Movement revival sweeping America in the 70’s. I wasn’t raised in a mega church (Ward grew up in C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Church), but I relate so much to the cultural markers of Ward’s upbringing. “The leaders in my world were true believers whose intensity of belief blinded them to their errors” (p 3). “The seeds of harm were planted with good intentions. The men who shaped my childhood…simply wanted something real” (p 21).
Ward’s career in journalism gave him tools to examine his inherited views from a critical mindset. “It is now the norm to be intolerant of opposing views, to see others as the other, to fear them, to hate them. Black-and-white thinking is everywhere. Nuance is vanishing. Complexity is demonized” (p 4).
In his chapter on evangelical anti-intellectualism, entitled Surrender, Ward states that his “religious upbringing had given [him] lots of training in how to feel and what to believe but very little in how to think” (p 51). “There was no room for nuance. There was no allowance for complexity or shades of grey. You were either all in with what the leaders said to do, which they said was God’s will, or you were out” (p 52). The emphasis on emotional experiences and the necessity of accepting unquestioningly what your leaders taught made critical thinking a threat to your belonging, and it made people ripe for accepting conspiratorial thinking.
An important insight in Ward’s book is the chapter on Gnosticism, entitled Radicalized. “Gnosticism is a centuries-old way of thinking about the world that in its purest form is considered by Christian theologians to be a heresy. Essentially, according to this thinking, the physical world is of little value compared to the spiritual realm. Much of this thinking derives from fundamentalists’ excessive focus on escaping the world by going to heaven rather than being a good neighbor and working for the common good on earth. This Gnosticism is fueled by the evangelical obsession with euphoria, because emotional highs are understood as obedience to God, and it is virtually impossible to live in the real world while riding a wave of spiritual ecstasy” (p 65). Ward explains that it is impossible to follow Christ’s example of being present to the suffering of the world while seeking a constant state of joy.
Ward talks about the Republican use of the Pro-life movement, the music and literature of evangelicalism, the hyper-literalism of evangelical Bible reading, the complementarianism and power hierarchies of evangelical Christianity, the terrible responses of evangelicals to sexual abuse and spiritual abuse, the New Apostolic Reformation’s drift to Christian nationalism, and most movingly, the rise of Trumpism and how Ward’s relationships with evangelical family and friends was fractured by Trump’s rhetoric and presidency. As a journalist, Ward was interviewing conservatives around the nation, and noted their move to increasing fanaticism, tribalism and antiestablishment politics. He witnessed the rise in outrage-bait media and voters’ not knowing much about politics but voting on personality and image. “To me, superficiality is a far greater problem than point-of-view bias because it drives the political debate away from solving real problems, deepens polarization, and erodes trust in government” (p 132).
Overall, this is a powerful testimony to the change that has happened in evangelicalism as it has become more political and less Christ-like. Toward the end of the book, Ward writes that “I was not really shown how to take up my cross and actually follow Christ. The crisis of American Christianity basically boils down to this failure. I still don’t claim to know how to walk the way of the cross or the path of resurrection very well. But I think that the quest to do so is still at the heart of a meaningful faith. What does it look like to live sacrificially but also incarnationally? Christ was God incarnate, made flesh. How do we walk through death to life, here, now?” (pp 225-226).
If you are trying to understand what American Evangelicalism has become over the past few decades, I would highly recommend reading this memoir. Jon Ward distills the issues down concisely and starkly. His journalistic tool box has given him the perfect set of skills to convey this bewildering mixture of culture and politics and faith.
In 2021, I only wrote two posts. The first was my 2020 review and reflections, and then in March, I wrote a resource list of abuse advocates. Somehow, with this sparse contribution, the blog had its highest traffic at 15,571 views (next best was 2018 with 14,774 views). Half of those views came from searches.
Meanwhile, the 2021 Facebook page reach was 15,929,074 I grew from 9k to 22.9k followers in 2021 88.2% women, 11.8% men Largest demographic between the ages 25-44
This post reached 4.3 million people:
When I begin to experience discouragement and doubt about the fruit of TBKW, God always seems to prick my conscience to keep going, often with an encouraging message through my FB page. Thank you to those who have followed, commented, liked, messaged and given me grace when I miss the mark. Most recently, I was reminded to be a “Good Troublemaker” while listening to a podcast. It isn’t always comfortable to confront the patriarchy, white supremacy, economic injustice, etc. But I believe deep in my heart that these issues matter to God and this is not the way God wants his Bride to function.
My overall feeling is gratitude that I have the opportunity to meet so many interesting and brilliant people through this page, and have important conversations. I am always trying to keep an open mind and open heart to what God may have to teach me through your messages and comments. Thank you all for being a part of TBKW community! I love you so much!!
Over the past few years with #churchtoo disclosures and allegations, as well as the tidal wave of prominent pastors’ “deeds of darkness” being exposed, it is clear that the evangelical church has an abuse problem. Perhaps even more tragically, when we respond poorly to abuse, we exacerbate the pain and trauma of the victims and enable the perpetrators, endangering others and harming the witness of the church. It is imperative that we learn how to respond in a way that ministers to victims, holds perpetrators accountable, and creates a safe, healthy environment for our faith communities.
I wanted to make this post as a resource for pastors, lay leaders, and abuse survivors to facilitate abuse education. For each of us, it is not a matter of if we will face abuse in our own community, but when. So I asked The Beautiful Kingdom Warrior Facebook community to help me compile a list of abuse advocates in this comment thread. Below, I have fleshed out our list with links to the advocates’ websites, books, and social media so that you can easily follow them and begin to learn more about the prevalence and dynamics of abuse. Be sure to pass this post along.
To begin, here is a link to a short article I wrote on the dynamics of abuse for my denomination’s digital magazine, and here are some useful images for familiarization with the dynamics of abuse:
Abuse Advocates and Experts (in alphabetical order):
*book links are to my Amazon Affiliate store: thebeautif017-20
Bio: Christian Writer, Speaker, Instructor, and Abuse Victim-Survivor Advocate Website: maureenfgarcia.com Social media: Twitter
Give Her Wings
Mission: We serve, without judgment and with compassion, single mothers who have left abusive relationships. Our goal is to show them the community and body of the Church, when they otherwise are not finding it. Website: giveherwings.com Social media: Facebook, Twitter
GRACE – Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment
Mission: Empowering Christian communities to recognize, prevent, and respond to abuse. Founded in 2004.
“With a combined experience of over 100 years of addressing abuse-related issues, GRACE has accumulated and organized a wealth of resources from mental health experts, former prosecutors, and theologians to give you and your organization a well-rounded, robust, and deep understanding of abuse and how to prevent it. We all can make a difference by learning about abuse, become equipped on how to recognize it, and committing to responding appropriately. Browse the categories below to learn more.”
Bio: Christian Theologian, preacher, & trauma informed soul care provider; Survivor of racial and spiritual abuse Website: kylejhoward.com Social media: Facebook, Twitter
Mariam Ibraheem – Tahrir Alnisa Foundation
Bio: Survivor of Sudanese Prison and Domestic Violence; Director of Global Mobilization and Co-Founder of TAF Website: tahriralnisa.org Mission: “We empower women escaping abuse by assisting with housing, medical care, trauma recovery, and legal fees.” Social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube
Bio: Iranian Church Planter and Domestic Violence Survivor; Executive Director and Co-Founder of TAF Website: tahriralnisa.org Mission: “We empower women escaping abuse by assisting with housing, medical care, trauma recovery, and legal fees.” Social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube
Bio: Blogger, Abuse Advocate and Survivor; “Out of our wounds flow compassion, understanding, & grace. May we all be ‘wounded healers’ who do no harm.“ Website: spiritualsoundingboard.com Social media: Facebook, Twitter
Bio: Registered Kinesiologist and expertise in the protection of people from the ravages of poverty, adverse childhood experience, and interpersonal violence. Survivor of Ravi Zacharias abuse. Website: loriannethompson.com Social media: Twitter
This interview is a must see. Lori Anne articulates the dynamics of abuse so profoundly and carefully with great expertise.
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