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Bishop Robert Stearns needs to reinvent evangelicalism with out leaving it behind

(RNS) — Within the Trump years, white evangelical Christians deepened their affiliation with political energy and doubled down on their social conservatism, at the same time as — and a few observers would say due to — a “precipitous drop” of their total numbers. Evangelicalism’s 23% share of the American inhabitants in 2006 shrank to 14% in 2020.

Regardless of this decline, evangelicals comprise a big and outstanding phase of the inhabitants — one too massive to be static or monolithic. The make-up of this group has been shifting, and as youthful generations take up management roles, they’ve grappled with how one can reconcile the tendency towards right-wing politics with extra progressive approaches to social points.


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Now, a rising cohort of evangelical pastors is trying past partisan politics and messaging primarily based on worry of straying from a narrowly outlined path. Bishop Robert Stearns is a part of this shift. The pastor of The Full Gospel Tabernacle, a thriving Assemblies of God church in Orchard Park, New York, close to Buffalo, Stearns stated in an interview late final 12 months that evangelicals are waking as much as the truth that “the bottom beneath their ft has shifted.”

“Youthful evangelicals are simply leaving the church,” stated Stearns. “They could nonetheless name themselves non secular, they may nonetheless have an actual affinity for Jesus and his teachings, however there are facets of evangelicalism which have disillusioned them and that they now not belief.”

That mistrust was sown partially by evangelicalism’s emergence on the nationwide stage. “The Eighties and Nineteen Nineties was the period of institutional evangelicalism,” he stated, pointing to the rise of “The 700 Membership,” Regent College, Liberty College and different organizations that presupposed to characterize and converse for evangelicals. Not everybody within the motion preferred what they noticed.

Then social media got here alongside and challenged the Goliaths. “It empowers the charismatic particular person to have large affect,” Stearns stated. “It gave a platform to people who heretofore wouldn’t have had that type of attain.” 

One other transformation that was aided by expertise is the expansion of what was the very small liberal arm of evangelicalism. Earlier than, he stated, “to be evangelical meant you have been right-wing on an entire host of points, so that you didn’t must have dialog or exploration. Now you’ve gotten many, many various voices.”

And although many individuals are leaving the church, those that keep “are viewing problems with local weather change, human sexuality and the politicization of faith in America … by a extra essential lens.”


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The query now, Stearns stated, is: “Will the true evangelical please rise up?”

Bishop Robert Stearns. Photograph courtesy of Eagles’ Wings

The reply is dependent upon how the youthful generations take into consideration what they imagine. “The massive pivot that we have to make is in how we specific our theology,” he stated. 

Stearns has discovered success in rearticulating evangelical theology for this new period, by which many evangelicals really feel the should be extra open and embracing. “If evangelicalism is something, it’s about incarnation — that God grew to become incarnate in humanity. We’ve to come back inside tradition, we have now to come back and produce God inside humanity.”

Stearns can be open to encountering the knowledge of different religion traditions, notably Judaism. “I don’t assume you possibly can perceive Christianity aside from Judaism,” he stated.

Stearns, who graduated from the College of Valley Forge at 20, rose to prominence as a Christian Zionist. Right now he’s the founding govt director of Eagles’ Wings, a corporation that brings Christian pastors to Israel. On the Tabernacle, he runs a weekly research session on the identical Torah portion that Jews learn every week in synagogue and has a podcast known as “The Bishop and the Rabbi,” by which he talks with rabbis as his weekly friends.

“My Christianity has been so profoundly knowledgeable by my relationship with Jewish folks and with Judaism,” he stated. In finding out the Jewish roots of Christianity, he has found a deep connection in how the 2 faiths regard humanity.

“It’s troublesome to have a look at human historical past or humanity right this moment and never say that there’s something very damaged throughout the human situation. However Judaism, and I might argue biblical Christianity, says that earlier than you get to the brokenness of humanity, you could begin with the picture of God.”

The proposition that “God breathed the breath of life … (into) Adam and that God mystically breathes the breath of life into every one among us — that … tells me each human being is sacred, and that I need to view them by that lens.” 


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Stearns’ concentrate on the picture of God additionally has profound implications for the way he approaches younger folks in his church who’re wrestling with gender identities or sexual orientations. “It doesn’t matter your political background or your spiritual background or the human points that we stroll with. God is the God of all of us,” he stated. 

Whereas he leads with an openness which may have been, in his phrases, “unthinkable” in an evangelical pastor just a few a long time in the past, he has a deep respect and love for evangelicals. “Some folks and a few media intentionally mischaracterize evangelicals as bigoted and horrible folks. I do know evangelical leaders all throughout this nation who’re loving, variety, good-hearted, tolerant, open-minded folks,” he stated.

Stearns explains how evangelicals are charitable and care deeply concerning the society by which they reside. Even with profound adjustments afoot within the evangelical motion, he stated, “Their humanity and humane actions give me hope for the way forward for our religion.”

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