One of the disorienting effects of the last several years has been the shattering of friendships and alliances as reactions first to Trump and later to COVID (and to a myriad of other things in between) have broken apart many conservative Christian coalitions of people. Any time you experience something as seismic and transformative as the last several years, there can be a temptation to question yourself, to wonder if you have changed or, perhaps, why you have changed so much. This can be especially the case if you find yourself ostracized from a church community or a group of friends you once were close to.
If that’s where you find yourself, perhaps this can be an encouragement: You probably haven’t changed that much. The times have changed. Probably your church has changed. But I’m increasingly of the view that if you analyze the rifts in conservative Christian circles over the past seven years, the ones who have changed most are the most loudly reactionary figures on the right and those of us who occasionally land in their crosshairs are likely simply maintaining the commitments we have held all along, proving our faith, as it were, by enduring through many trials.
I can only speak for myself, of course, but in many ways my intellectual life was pretty well-formed by the beginning of the current moment: I’d known what I thought about race and colonialism since around 2008 when I first began talking to Sudanese refugees in Lincoln and hearing about what was happening to their country and then, as a result of those conversations, began to read more broadly on racial issues and colonial history. By the time I finished my undergrad thesis on the African socialist Kwame Nkrumah in 2010, those convictions had solidified, like concrete that needed time to settle before becoming firm. My fondness and admiration for Martin Bucer, likewise, established itself in college via an independent study course I was able to take with Dr. Amy Nelson Burnett, a leading Bucer scholar who, providentially, taught at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where I was studying. Whatever economic leftism I hold to also emerged at this time, as a product of both my encounter with Nkrumah (and with the first-generation African revolutionaries more generally, such as Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, and Kenneth Kaunda) and with Bucer, whose own economic views aren’t really left wing, but also run into almost constant conflict with the economic right.
The things that took shape slightly later were actually things like being committed to the overturn of Roe as part of my pro-life convictions (that came via conversations with Matt Anderson in the early 2010s), my opposition to legally recognized gay marriage (ditto), my commitment to what I guess we might still call complementarian beliefs about church offices (through discussion with my old RUF pastor in 2010 and 11 and a close personal friend I’d gone to college with), and my commitment to the Protestant Reformation, which came about thanks to Steven Wedgeworth, Alastair Roberts, and a few other friends and which really became solid in 2013.
I’m writing that personal history out partly for myself and partly for any readers who have, perhaps, found themselves more and more on the outs with their Christian communities and being made to feel as if they have somehow embraced some sort of radical leftist shift. While I don’t doubt that some really have done such a thing under the weight of the Trump years and COVID years, I don’t think anyone prominently associated with Mere Orthodoxy has, even as both Matt and I have become more and more objects of ire and hostility for many to our right.
For both of us, at least, our convictions have actually stayed remarkably stable for many years. What has changed are the times. Indeed, one of the things that is so disorienting is that while we were still fighting for marriage in 2015 only days before the Obergefell decision, First Things published a document giving up the fight in 2014 that received public backing from a number of figures, some of whom now likely regard us as being the progressives.
And what’s so funny and sad about this is that I spent decades listening to conservative evangelicals talk about the importance of staying true to one’s Christian commitments no matter the opposition one might face, no matter the challenges, no matter how the world changed. What I didn’t expect is that the people who would change so dramatically are the ones who first called me to faithful perseverance.