About 50 top leaders of major evangelical institutions will attend an invitation-only gathering next week to discuss the future and the “soul” of evangelicalism at a time when many of them are concerned their faith group has become tainted by its association with divisive politics under President Trump.
The diverse group, which includes nationally known pastors such as Tim Keller and A.R. Bernard, is expected to include leaders of major ministries, denominations, colleges and seminaries. The gathering will take place at Wheaton College, an evangelical college outside of Chicago, according to organizer Doug Birdsall, honorary chair of Lausanne, an international movement of evangelicals.
The gathering, which has been in the works for several months and was discussed at evangelist Billy Graham’s funeral last month, will take place before the expected meeting of a separate group of evangelicals who advise, defend and praise Trump. Those leaders, which include members of Trump’s informal advisory council, are considering convening at Trump International Hotel in Washington in June.
The purpose of the Wheaton meeting is to try to shift the conversation back to core questions of the faith, and Trump as an individual will not be the focus of discussion, Birdsall said. Nonetheless, the president will be the “elephant in the room,” he said, because under his leadership the term “evangelical” has become negatively associated in the minds of many Americans with regard to topics such as racism and nationalism.
While the organizers said they are not trying to build a new coalition or launch a counter political agenda, the gathering shows how many key leaders of major institutions are wringing their hands over the state of evangelicalism.
“When you Google evangelicals, you get Trump,” Birdsall said. “When people say what does it mean to be an evangelical, people don’t say evangelism or the gospel. There’s a grotesque caricature of what it means to be an evangelical.”
Those gathered will not necessarily oppose Trump and some may even be friendly to some of his policies, said Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary, who is also helping to organize the event. But organizers said evangelicals need to return their focus to the term’s true definition: a person who believes in the authority of the Bible, salvation through Jesus’ work on the cross, personal conversion and the need for evangelism.
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