Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. (Mark 16:15). This is what is referred to as The Great Commission. It is a command – given by Jesus Christ himself during his brief sojourn on this planet. It is what I have called the Christian's prime directive, as it is the single most important concept that sets Christianity apart from Judaism and most other of the world's religions. It is what makes the faith a true “missionary religion”. It is what has motivated the church - as a world wide body - for centuries, and what compelled me to go forth to preach, teach and baptize for years. But it is largely gone now … a thing of the past in Evangelical churches in America and around the world.
What happened? Well, the Evangelical Fundamentalist people (mostly in the USA) have lost their way. They have abandoned their prime directive in favor of struggle against what they perceive as “the evils of this world”. We have called them the “fightin' fundies” for years, and they have certainly lived up to that moniker. They have chosen to fight rather than to evangelize.
I remember when I noticed it the first time. It was 1973 and I was living in Frankfurt, Germany, working for a para‑church organization called Teen Challenge. This outfit had originally been created out of thin air by a divinely motivated rural pastor-turned-evangelist named David Wilkerson. He had written a book entitled: The Cross and the Switchblade. That book had motivated thousands of young people of the time, like me, to indeed “go into all the world”. We did. But the message began to change.
Something big had happened in 1968. That was the dawn of the gay liberation movement. At least that was what it was called then. Brother Dave, as we called him, was so shocked and overwhelmed by the sight of ten thousand screaming homosexuals marching down Broadway in Manhattan in 1970 (the first ever gay pride parade) that he nearly had a cardiac infarction. He freaked out. He flipped his lid. He was outraged. He was infuriated. He was royally pissed. So he moved to Dallas, Texas and made a movie! It was a shockumentary film entitled: Return to Sodom, and I saw it before it was released and was shocked myself – albeit in a most different way.
I have always pointed to that moment in my personal life when I began to realize that I did not trust Brother Dave any more. The film was not designed to preach the gospel, but to scare people – especially white Protestant Evangelical Christians. It did what it was intended to do. It scared American church goers to action. Not to go forth and make an effort to reach these wayward sinners, but to stop them! They have been on that tangent for the past thirty some years now, and don't show any signs of resetting themselves; returning to the prime objective.
Likewise, the subject of evolution has freaked out the fundies to the point of abrogating their mission to preach, teach and baptize. They have spent the past thirty years fighting the notion that mankind evolved from lower life forms. It is seen by them as a direct challenge to the Bible, and therefore to them personally. And they have not taken it lying down. They have fought in the schools, they have fought in city governments, they have fought in the courts, they have fought in the media. They have been righteously pissed off about this “theory” since Darwin first published The Origin of Species in 1859! Wow, are they ever ticked off!
Abortion is another subject that sets their Christian heads spinning. In that year, 1973, a famous piece of legislation was passed in the US Congress. It was simply referred to as: Roe v. Wade and it legalized the medical procedure of clinical abortion in the United States. It was at this point that this, and the evolution debate, and the notion that gay people should have equal rights all coalesced to inspire the entire Evangelical movement in the US to change course. Evangelism – the Great Commission – had to be put on hold. It became more important to fight than to preach.
Did Jesus command his followers to rise up and oppose Roman rule? No. Did he tell them to go into the world and preach against the Jews, the Samaritans, the other wicked sinful people of the day? Did he ever teach to “oppose” anything? No. Modern Evangelical Christians have lost the original message – the original concept. Theirs is not to oppose anything, take political stands on contemporary issues of the day or fight against anybody. Their prime directive has always been to go, preach, teach, baptize and make disciples. But they don't do that any more, do they? Well, I sure don't see it.
We face a presidential election cycle in America every four years, and the same battles ensue. This round is already well under way, and true to form, the “Fightin' Fundies” are at it again; but this time with a bit fewer numbers. Why? Well, their demographics are changing and they aren't really noticing. But I am. By ignoring their prime directive, they have been failing to propagate. They steal sheep – mostly Catholic sheep. They are really not much about reaching out to the lost and creating new converts like I was. In the last thirty years since I left the church and the ministry, no one anywhere or at any time has attempted to “witness” to me; to share the gospel message, to tell me about that great guy, the carpenter king from Galilee. Why not? They have been too busy fighting against abortion, evolution and gay rights. That takes up a lot of time and energy. In the end, it appears that they are just too exhausted, wasted and tuckered out to preach the gospel as instructed. They just don't have the wherewithal to follow the prime directive any more.