Is Evangelicalism Due for a Hundred-Year Schism?

Our divisions are markedly political, and they echo religious controversies of the past.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment,’” Jesus told the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount. “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. … You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’” he continued. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28). He goes on to set a higher standard in other aspects of life, too, a standard where even private intentions matter to God.

The future of American evangelicalism—particularly white evangelicalism, a part often wrongly mistaken for the whole—has been subject to intense scrutiny for at least half a decade, and this year’s departures of Russell Moore (who has begun a public theology project here at CT) and Beth Moore (no relation to Russell) from the Southern Baptist Convention have revealed just how deep those divisions are.

As I’ve browsed reporting on the Moores’ decisions and read analyses on whether the US evangelical movement is heading for a schism—a complete and formal break in fellowship—Jesus’ words about murder and adultery keep coming to mind: If intentions matter so much, have we split already?

Widened and embittered division in the movement is certainly impossible to deny. The specific issues are many, some comparatively new (critical race theory, former President Donald Trump), some all too familiar (racism and race relations beyond the one theory, roles of women, sexual ethics, Christian nationalism, church handling …

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