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Dear Timothy and Junia,

Right now I want you to do some careful thinking about the role that the institutional church will play in your lives. Many young Evangelicals are a bit leery of getting too involved in the life of a local congregation. Some can tell painful stories of bad experiences with institutionalized Christianity.

In America, Evangelical churches have often been bastions of conservatism, providing support for the status quo. For example, many of our leaders were reluctant to lend their support to the civil-rights movement when their help was desperately needed. More recently, some of our leaders have allowed male chauvinism to continue unchallenged. Unfortunately, these kinds of lapses have earned Evangelical churches a reputation for being reactionary and even contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ. When secularists are asked about Evangelical churches, they often say that they consider our churches and other Evangelical institutions to be anti-gay and sexist.

It is certainly true that our congregations have, at times compromised the radical requirements of discipleship prescribed by Christ, and you may find yourself put off by the church because of its failure to be faithful to his teachings. But I would urge you to consider this fully, and to think about the words of St. Augustine: "The church is a whore, but she's my mother." That statement brilliantly conveys how I feel about church. It is easy for me, like so many of the young Evangelicals I know, to note the ways the church been unfaithful as the bride of Christ. You don't have to look too hard to see that the Evangelical church in America has a great propensity for reducing Christianity to a validation of our society's middle-class way of life. Unquestionably, ...

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