Molly Worthen – How to Escape From Roy Moore’s Evangelicalism

Molly Worthen

Molly Worthen (born 1981), is a historian of American religion and a liberal journalist. She is assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the author of an exceptional book, which every evangelical should absolutely read: Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism. In this article, published by The New York Times, she reflects on the profound crisis on American evangelicalism, in the light of the current Roy Moore ethics scandal. Here are just a few excerpts.

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…a new ritual has superseded Sunday worship and weeknight Bible studies: a profane devotional practice, with immense power to shape evangelicals’ beliefs. This “liturgy” is the nightly consumption of conservative cable news.

When I sought out conservative and progressive critics of white evangelical politics and asked them how to best understand it, this was their answer: pay attention to worship, both inside and outside of church, because the church is not doing its job. Humans thrive on ritual and collective acts of devotion. And the way we worship has political consequences. It shapes our response to evil and our reaction to people different from ourselves.

The philosopher James K. A. Smith, who teaches at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., has argued that our lives are shot through with unconscious acts of worship, whether we genuflect at the Apple Store or wake up whispering prayers for our child’s admission to the Ivy League. “We are, ultimately, liturgical animals because we are fundamentally desiring creatures,” he writes in his book “Desiring the Kingdom.” “We are what we love.”

When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observed that 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America, he was acknowledging the special power that ritual and community have to stoke or weaken both love and hatred. There is no substitute for sharing the bread and wine — the climax of the Christian liturgy — with people unlike yourself, Ms. Schiess said. She called for fighting false idols with right worship: “Fox News forms a fear, a caricature of other people; if communion were done in churches with diverse populations, it would counteract that fear.”

f you’re wondering what the future of not-so-organized religion looks like, look to the community that has grown up around “The Liturgists,” a podcast hosted by Michael Gungor, a musician, and Mike McHargue, a science writer (both are former evangelicals).
When they began the podcast in 2014, “we started it out of a sense of existential loneliness,” Mr. Gungor told me. They broadcast liturgical music, meditations and interviews with theologians and activists. The podcast has nurtured a community with a life of its own. Listeners find one another through social media, and the co-hosts travel the country to convene events where fans eat, drink and worship together — groups that often continue meeting after Mr. Gungor and Mr. McHargue leave town.
“As America deinstitutionalizes and moves away from religion, people — especially millennials — have lost something. Their community becomes primarily virtual, they’re seeing people through a screen and not flesh and blood, and there’s great data that this leads them to loneliness and depression,” Mr. McHargue said. “The core of every podcast is, ‘you’re not alone,’ and that draws people in, but we can’t stay there. We have to draw them into some kind of communal practice.”

All these people have one thing in common: the instinct that worship should be an act of humility, not hubris. It should be a discomfiting experience, not a doubling down on what’s easy and familiar. The battle for the soul of evangelicalism, the struggle to disentangle it from white supremacy, from misogyny — and from the instinct to defend politicians like Roy Moore — demands sound arguments grounded in evidence. But the effort must also advance at the precognitive level, in the habits and relationships of worshiping communities. Fellowship has the power to refashion angry gut feelings and instead form meek hearts and bounden duty.

(Read HERE the entire article.)