The missing faces of evangelicals

Evangelicalism, as Scott Lessing stated, is “truly a wide and disparate movement made up of people from varied and diverse backgrounds.” But I wish his photo essay, “The Many Faces of Evangelicals” [Jan. 28 Xpress] reflected that a bit better. The two-page spread gave us stock imagery of white, clean-cut, contempo-Baptist, sloganized, mall-church Christianity. The attempt at exception was of couple Latinos up in the corner. And a cowboy.

Mr. Lessing gets an A for effort (I will assume the feature was just a small slice of his work), but the “wide and disparate” movement is much wider and more disparate than the pictures chosen for the article reflected. In fact, it is in the pangs of major crisis and rebirth, largely because of a rebellion against the kind of Christianity illustrated in the Xpress feature. I want to know: Does anyone ever notice the throngs of evangelicals who are desperately swimming against the relentless tide of Christian Cheez Whiz flowing out of America’s profit-driven ministry rackets? Does anyone know that we do not want God-themed knick-knacks, but Jesus-shaped lives?

Here’s what local readers should know, and what most media isn’t telling anyone: Asheville and the nation are teeming with simple, unpretentious Jesus-followers who are no longer interested in trite Christian-parody T-shirts about hell, arrogant white men, and church services that are the spiritual equivalent of Hostess Ding Dongs. Millions of us see—and seek a way out of—the swelling crisis of apathetic TV religion and the de facto denial of Jesus’ work and words by a “JesUSAves” culture that has atrophied American minds, Christian and non-, against the raw power of the Gospel. Asheville itself has a vital network of these transforming agents (for anyone’s study of the local face of faith) from a wide array of lifestyles and social classes, colors and races, personal histories and struggles. But you won’t see us if you buy the stereotype. We do not have famous ministries, and we don’t want to. We are not in glitzed-out McChurches on Sundays. We are not gimmick-driven and image-obsessed. Our faith is not well stated in more teen pop music from the rawkin’ praise band. We invent new art forms. We host pancake breakfasts. We are concerned for the Earth’s health and humanity’s freedom. We are devastated that millions starve as a few gorge themselves. We befriend ne’er-do-wells. We repair clothing. We think consumer faith is unbiblical. We are repenting for our culture’s sins of greed, hatred, war, lust and idolatry. We are not afraid of poverty and we are not afraid of death. Asheville and America need to know this. We simply believe the evangelion of Christ crucified and risen, and we follow him.

— Nate Spencer

Photographer Scott Lessing responds: In documenting the evangelical community, I’ve met and photographed people from varied ethnic groups. There is more more of my work in a slideshow on the Xpress Web site ( with additional images not in the print article, including images of two Asian women at a Bible study and a biker who most certainly defies “clean cut.” The cowboy in the photo and the parishoners in attendance most certainly were cowboys as many are involved in rodeos and own ranches. All the photos document evangelicals from several churches of various sizes from thousands of members to hundreds to one with only a few dozen. Each church or ministry had its own flair and style, but in the end came across with the same message—just in a different package. I think, when looking at the images in print along with the slideshow, you really do get a wide look at how disparate this group is.

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One thought on “The missing faces of evangelicals

  1. Pearly Soames

    Nate, I was a little late getting around to reading the Express this week, but I just want to say that I thought you did a great job with this letter. Maybe you and Scott Lessing could get together to do a follow-up story?

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