A growing divide in evangelicalism surfaced again this week, even as one group sought to discuss its future at Wheaton College, alma mater of Rev. Billy Graham.
Although a stated focus of the meeting was to be more about the faith and not President Trump, that goal wasn't fully met. Not only did evangelical advisors to the president push back for not being invited, some in attendance also pushed back against those affiliated with the president.
Mark Labberton, the president of Fuller Seminary, denounced so-called Trump evangelicals saying "an evangelical dance with political power, the Religious Right, the tea party and now Trump....is central to our failure. Winning power was Judas's goal, not Jesus's."
Evangelical writer and meeting attender Katelyn Beaty live tweeted that Bishop Claude Alexander specifically called out white evangelicals who voted for Trump. "How could white Christians mourn the deaths of the Charleston Nine but politically support a presidential candidate who appeals to the ideology held by the Charleston murderer?" he said.
Alexander and Doug Birdsall, the former head of the Lausanne Movement, were two of the key organizers of the Wheaton gathering. Ironically, the two also pushed a show of evangelical support for the country's new president on the morning of the 2016 election.
On Nov. 8th, 2016, just hours before the polls closed, they asked a large group of faith leaders to sign a letter that called on the country "to unite around the election of the new President in recognition, acceptance and support of the same."
The letter continued "we collectively believe it is time to put partisan politics aside and end the toxic gridlock. It is time for men and women of goodwill to work together towards finding solutions to the many challenges that confront the American people."
They obtained 165 signatures, mainly from centrist and left-learning evangelical leaders.
This week, some of the president's evangelical advisors not invited to the meeting told CBN News that they did not appreciate being left out. Such inner turmoil shows the cracks within the church that spilled out during the meeting.
Beaty says pastor Tim Keller told the group "as the country has become more polarized the church has become more polarized and that's because the church is not different enough from America or from modernity. There's now a red and blue evangelicalism."
Still, meeting organizer Gabriel Salguero told CBN News that he did not regard the gathering as political or partisan. "Rather, it was a broad conversation about our Christian witness as evangelicals in America," he said, "we had a broad range--theologically, culturally and politically of US evangelical men and women; black, white, Hispanic, Asian and Native American."
Beaty also told CBN News that the meeting was not political, despite the comments by Labberton and Alexander. She said she saw Alexander’s comment as more about race than politics. “That quote was coming from a black pastor,” she said, “I think as white Christians we need to start from a posture of listening.”
Meeting organizer Jenny Yang told CBN News that the gathering included many who supported the President. CBN News was unable to obtain a roster of those who attended. CBN News also reached out to both Birdsall and Alexander but neither have responded.