Did leading evangelicals pointedly ignore the sermon preached at Saturday’s royal wedding, by Episcopal Church presiding bishop Michael Curry? One religion reporter thought so, at least based on some quick social media research:
Now, that didn’t square with how I read evangelical Twitter over the weekend. First, there was evangelical criticism of Curry’s sermon, mostly from Gospel Coalition and other Reformed types who thought that Curry — given the chance to proclaim the Gospel to billions — may have said too much about love and not enough about sin. Plus conservative Anglicans who simply regard Curry as apostate for his embrace of same-sex marriage.
But actually, I was more struck just how many people I’d regard as both evangelical and influential responded enthusiastically to Curry. For example, I’m pretty sure that Graves-Fitzsimmons’ list of Twitter accounts didn’t include the one for the president of the evangelical Council for Christian Colleges & Universities:
And she was retweeting the evangelical who convened this spring’s Red Letter Revival in Lynchburg, Virginia:
Does Lisa Sharon Harper not count as an influential evangelical?
Or Jen Hatmaker?
Or the evangelical who is primate of the Church of England and head of the Anglican Communion? (Graves-Fitzsimmons didn’t specify American evangelicals, after all.)
Then there was this response from Carey Nieuwhof, a Canadian megachurch pastor whose leadership blog and podcast are popular among evangelicals:
It was, by many accounts—including mine—just a fantastic message on the Gospel. It grabbed headlines in England and around the world and the media can’t stop talking about it…
Question: when was the last time you heard a sermon talked about like that? No…I can’t remember either.
Or consider this blog post from John Fea, by any measure one of the most prominent evangelical scholars on the Internet:
The message itself was not particularly groundbreaking, but the occasion made it more powerful than it would have been if Curry preached the same sermon at his church in the United States… And I am also glad that a billion people around the world got to hear a sermon about the redemptive power of love….
Curry stole the show with his authenticity in this setting.
No doubt, other leading evangelicals were conspicuously silent. To pull two names out of the hat, I don’t think Russell Moore or Tim Keller tweeted anything about Curry. And while some conservatives castigated Beth Moore for endorsing Curry, I can’t actually find her tweeting directly about the sermon. (Maybe that’s based on some of her conversations with followers.)
So does Graves-Fitzsimmons have a point?
As a general rule, I don’t think we ever ought to construct too strong an argument from silence, however conspicuous it may seem. You can’t expect even those busy on social media to comment on everything (especially over a weekend). And some people just really couldn’t care less about royal weddings, or are averse to hopping on bandwagons.
(For that matter, I’d vastly prefer a non-response to “It was so entertaining!” condescension coming from some secular media outlets.)
But whether he’s right or wrong in his tweet, I think it points to a couple of challenges:
First, that it’s just hard to be a religion reporter in the digital age. Apart from conducting interviews and research, just keeping track of various social media accounts and blogs seems like a full-time job. So it’s natural that such journalists would have some go-to follows.
But that’s especially problematic when it comes to evangelicalism, which seems harder and harder to define — in part because its leadership is increasingly diffuse. In his own editorial celebrating Curry’s sermon as epitomizing progressive Christianity, Graves-Fitzsimmons connected Curry to William Barber, the politically progressive preacher and activist… who has identified himself as evangelical. And how do we define who is most “influential” within a religious tradition whose ecclesiology and ethos have often tended to decentralize power and detach influence from authority? All the more so when when we take the longstanding evangelical interest in mass media but update it to an age when one doesn’t need access to expensive TV, radio, or print networks in order to reach a wide number of fellow evangelicals.