We’re living in volatile times, and the division keeps running deeper. It’s slicing even Christian families and churches right down the middle.
Red-state parents send their kids off to deep-blue colleges, and the kids come back home armed with slogans and statistics proving how systemically racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and imperialistic the USA is. Parents respond that, sure, it’s an imperfect country with some unfortunate history, but compare it to the rest of the world! We should be grateful for the good things we enjoy in this great land we have built.
“You mean stolen,” replies the student. “We’re living on land stolen from the native inhabitants. Anything of substance we’ve built was done on stolen land through slave labor. Even capitalism is racist,” continues the student, who goes on to describe the virtues of a socialist system. This prompts the parent to offer to buy their kid a one-way ticket to Venezuela, one of the trodden trophies of socialism. The conversation’s getting really heated even as the food on the plates is getting really cold.
Spencer & Amber in Your Church
Many of our churches and many families in our churches are deeply divided. And to make matters worse, there are two people in your church that aren’t helping. I’m going to call them “Spencer” and “Amber”: Spencer the Specifist and Amber the Ambiguist.
If you’re the preacher at your church, Spencer the Specifist wants to schedule a meeting with you to tell you how you need to preach a more specific gospel—a gospel that really lays into those progressives who are trying to redefine marriage and confuse gender.
“Okay, I get it,” you say. “I sometimes preach about what the Bible says about sexuality and gender.”
“Yeah, you should be preaching about that every Sunday. And for another thing, you need to start preaching against the evils of socialism. And you need to preach about the need for a wall, so we can have a sovereign nation. And you need to preach about how the liberals are going to keep driving up the national debt until the Republicans get back in charge.”
That’s Spencer the Specifist. He wants your preaching to get more and more specific.
But you’ve also got Amber the Ambiguist in your church, and Amber wants you to be more ambiguous in your preaching. “You know,” she says, “Jesus didn’t directly talk about homosexuality. So, you probably shouldn’t either. And you know what? All this talk about Jesus being the only way to the Father—to be more kind and Christlike, you should probably tone that down. There are probably additional paths to God that are equally transformative. And really, when it comes to doctrine,” she continues. “Believe this, don’t believe that? That’s not what Jesus came to give us. He mainly just wanted us to love each other, serve the poor, and be nonjudgmental.”
“To make matters worse, there are two people in your church that aren’t helping any.”
In all these ways, Amber the Ambiguist is trying to get you to be more ambiguous in your preaching, allowing for more viewpoints.
And when the Spencers and Ambers are fighting each other? Yeah. Churches can split. Families divide right down the middle.
So, which side is preaching the true gospel?
Part of One Kingdom, in Theory
The French Revolution from 1789-1799 aimed to level everybody to the equal status of Citizen. In this, it meant to abolish the aristocracy, state religion, and monarchy. Yet, for the first three of those Revolutionary years, King Louis XVI was still king.
How did Louis manage to stay in the favor of the revolutionaries for that long into the Revolution? Well, he was indecisive and desired very much to be loved by the people, so he went along to get along with the revolutionaries as best as he could. He submitted to the newly formed constitution and became a constitutional monarch.
The Revolutionaries began wearing a red “liberty cap,” which looked like a stocking cap. Soon it was the fashionable thing to wear for anyone wanting to show solidarity with the movement. During public executions within the two years known as the “Reign of Terror,” women would sit beside the guillotines and knit liberty caps.
When Louis was still king at least in name, revolutionaries stormed his palace one evening, with one insurgent approaching him and holding out a liberty cap perched atop a sword. Louis dutifully took the cap, put it on, and the crowd cheered.
The royal crown replaced by the liberty cap.
“When Louis was still king at least in name, revolutionaries stormed his palace one evening, with one insurgent approaching him and holding out a liberty cap perched atop a sword.”
It’s totally possible to be part of one kingdom in theory. But all the while, you’re really owned by a political party.
A Ready-Made Red Cap
In our day, we’re being offered a red cap or a blue cap: easy, ready-made, prepackaged versions of the gospels. Those “gospels” take a lot less digging into what Jesus taught and a lot more listening to talk shows and checking social media in order to learn what Jesus really cares about.
This temptation has been going on for a while. I’m going to tell you a quick story in four parts. See if you can figure out who this story is about.
- When he came to power, he rescued the church from a season of persecution and began to bless the church with special favors.
- The church began to look at this man as their protector, even something of a savior. They had nothing but good to say about him, and nothing but bad to say about his political enemies.
- He began to use the church as a way of unifying his realm, and so when he saw disunity within the church, he brought the church together to resolve the issue and reunify.
- When this man died and his son came to power, the son used his influence within the church to try to force the church to adopt beliefs that weren’t based in the Bible.
Which guy am I talking about? It’s the Roman Emperor Constantine. He came to power in the year A.D. 306, ended the persecution against the church, and himself converted to Christianity. The church responded by showering him with praise as their protector. The church denounced his political enemies as being the enemies of God.
“The church denounced his political enemies as being the enemies of God.”
Constantine used the church to try to bring unity into his empire, which had been divided into Eastern and Western halves. When Emperor Constantine died, and his son Constantius became emperor, Constantius saw in Arianism, a heretical version of Christianity, an even more efficient way of unifying the empire. Because Arianism taught that Jesus wasn’t quite God, it was easier for pagans to accept than orthodox Christianity. Thus, Constantius tried to force the bishops to accept Arianism.
When I think about the ready-made red cap being presented to the American church, I’m reminded of the story of Constantine. When I think about the red cap being offered to the church—as a ready-made, prepackaged version of the gospel—it’s got the vibes of the story of Constantine all over again:
- Rightist politicians can be quick to offer to rescue churches from persecution by giving them religious freedom and blessing churches with special favor.
- Churches can begin to look at rightist politicians as their protector, even something of a savior. If our churches choose the red cap, we can find ourselves having nothing but good to say about our favorite rightist politicians and nothing but bad to say about leftist politicians.
- Rightist politicians can begin to use the church as a way of unifying their constituency and giving spiritual validity to their platform.
- When they have established their influence within churches, just like Constantius, they can try to force the church to adopt beliefs that aren’t based in the Bible.
Thus, we end up taking our cues more from political talk shows than from the New Testament, and we end up becoming one hand clapping. We end up feeling nothing but contempt for the other side of the aisle, because, we might reason, on this side, we’re right. On this side, we’ve got morals. We end up believing that, if only our side could win back power, then we’ve finally got hope.
“If our churches choose the red cap, we can find ourselves having nothing but good to say about our favorite rightist politicians and nothing but bad to say about leftist politicians.”
Leaning to the right in one’s politics is one thing. The problem lies in accepting the red cap and embracing its easy, ready-made version of the gospel. That is not how the gospel works.
A lot of young Christians have seen churches seemingly take the red cap. They’ve grown up in a church that communicates, “We’re right. We have the right beliefs. We have the right views. And we’re good. We care about family values. We care about moral absolutes. We don’t do sexual deviance. We don’t do abortion. We don’t believe Marxism and paganism and feminism and all the isms. We’re right. We’re good. God smiles down on us.”
Having grown up in that kind of religiosity, many young people have concluded, “You say you care about Jesus and about reaching lost people. You really just care about yourself. Yours is a gospel of JUST US.” So they decide to leave that version of Christianity behind. “You may be all about JUST US. We’re going to be all about JUSTICE.”
And as they’re making that transition, guess who meets them with a smile? It’s somebody offering them a blue cap.
A Ready-Made Blue Cap
There’s a leftist ready-made version of the gospel too. And as Christians put on the blue cap, they may not know it yet, but a whole lot more is about to change than just their view about politics.
In the modern Western world, we are being conditioned to move from a worldview centered on God to a worldview centered on oppressed people. It’s a worldview in which what’s true and good and just are rooted not in the teachings of Scripture, but in the lived experienced of oppressed people.
The blue cap worldview I’m going to describe here goes by various names, but the most accurate name I’ve found is “intersectional feminism.” I’ve been a student of intersectional feminism since 2016, and I realized back then that a tsunami was coming. It’s here.
A disclaimer: I’m not saying that there are no insights to be learned from intersectional feminism. There are insights we can learn from listening to intersectional feminists as with any worldview. But I’m going to be describing intersectional feminism as a worldview, and as a worldview, it directly challenges many of the claims of historic Christianity. I believe that if you want to understand the modern Western world, you need to understand intersectional feminism.
Intersectional feminism starts by recognizing that certain groups have privilege and power. Accordingly, people who are white, heterosexual, cisgender, male, and Christian have enjoyed unearned privilege in Western culture. Society has been structured to prioritize these groups’ interests and marginalize the interests of non-privileged people. As a result, these privileged groups enjoy power over others, and their decisions are motivated by maintaining that power, even when cloaked in the guise of “I’m just teaching the truth.”
“Intersectional feminism starts by recognizing that certain groups have privilege and power.”
On the other hand, there are also groups who live at the “intersections” of oppression. There are people who are racial and religious minorities (so, for example, a Latino Wiccan). There are people who are gender and sexual orientation minorities (for example, a bisexual woman). They have been victimized by privileged people in power. When somebody’s identity is rooted at these intersections, they have a unique perspective on justice and truth which privileged people are unable to understand as fully.
So, when does intersectional feminism go from describing power dynamics to challenging claims of Christianity? According to intersectional feminism, any group with unearned power and privilege in Western civilization is to be viewed with suspicion. And since Christianity helped build Western civilization, intersectional feminism conditions people to view Christianity with a mood of deep cynicism. When it comes to Christian claims of what’s true and false or right and wrong, it’s all meant to maintain power and marginalize the opposition. And when Christians are told they’re privileged and obsessed with power, if they overreact and get angry, it just reinforces the narrative: they’re all about maintaining power.
So, if you’re an intersectional feminist, how do you decide what’s true and false? Right and wrong? Just and unjust? It’s all grounded in the lived experience of oppressed people.
Let’s say I’m a Christian and I start to embrace intersectional feminism. Does anything change? Quite a bit, in fact.
“Since Christianity helped build Western civilization, intersectional feminism conditions people to view Christianity with a mood of deep cynicism.”
If I’m an intersectional feminist, eventually I’ve got to stop asking what the Bible says about what it means to be male or female, and I’ve got to ask what oppressed people, transgender people in particular, say it means to be male or female. I’ve got to stop focusing on what the Bible teaches about marriage and sexuality, and I’ve got to ask what oppressed people, in particular homosexuals and bisexuals, say about marriage and sexuality. I’ve got to stop caring so much about what the Bible says concerning forgiveness, and I’ve got to ask what oppressed people say about who should and shouldn’t be forgiven.
This ready-made version of Christianity is about taking claims about what’s true and good out of the hands of the God of the Bible and rooting our beliefs of truth and ethics in the lived experiences of oppressed people.
The more people around you who begin thinking like intersectional feminists, the more pressure you will face to change many of your Christian beliefs, or at least go quiet about them. If you’re a church leader, the more people in your church who embrace intersectional feminism, the more pressure you will feel to soften your church’s tone about Christian beliefs and eventually change those beliefs all together. As Bryan Laughlin and Doug Ponder describe it, the trajectory when it comes to changing our view about difficult doctrines is first, silence, then complexification, and then capitulation. If you’ve been pressured into silence about your biblical views about, say, sexual ethics, then you’re likely on your way.
So, how do you navigate an election year without losing the gospel? You’ve got to realize that you’re being offered the red cap and its easy, ready-made, prepackaged version of the gospel. And you’re being offered the blue cap, with its easy, ready-made version of the gospel.
There’s the gospel of JUST US. We’re right. We’re good. God loves us.
There’s the gospel of JUSTICE—so that all the people that Christians have shoved to the side are now brought to the center and handed the gavel.
And then there’s the gospel of JESUS.
Yes, please vote. Engage as a citizen. Care about what happens on election day. Even grieve if your nation chooses chaos and corruption over peace and well-being. But the ultimate way you lose is if you lose the gospel in the political process. We navigate an election year faithfully by reaffirming Jesus as the risen, saving King. And by seeing THAT as the best possible news.
 I first heard the expression “just us” (as opposed to “justice”) from sociologist Os Guinness.
 Bryan Laughlin and Doug Ponder, “Christianity and Functional Liberalism (or How Evangelicalism Denies the Faith),” Sola Ecclesia, November 8, 2023, https://solaecclesia.org/articles/christianity-and-functional-liberalism/.