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Evangelicals Should Confront Identity Crisis, New NAE President Says

The Rev. Walter Kim, inaugurated as the new president of the National Association of Evangelicals, called on its members to address questions about their identity with a commitment to the common good. 

“This movement is confronting an identity crisis and it’s not just the mild sort of growing pains,” said the Asian American theologian, noting the country’s deep divides, because of which people on opposite poles of the political spectrum sometimes can’t even talk to each other. 

“The challenges are real and they have to be confronted with honesty,” he said during the Wednesday (March 4) inauguration speech in the nation’s capital, “but not with fear.” 

Kim was chosen in October as the successor to Leith Anderson, who had been NAE’s president since 2006. In addition to the inauguration, the ceremony at the Capital Turnaround venue owned by National Community Church featured the installation of new NAE officers. John Jenkins, the African American senior pastor of Maryland’s First Baptist Church of Glenarden, is its chair; and former Wesleyan Church General Superintendent Jo Anne Lyon is its vice chair. 

“Leith had a vision that the evangelical movement would reflect the diversity of the church in heaven — ethnic diversity, gender diversity, theological diversity,” outgoing NAE Board Chair Roy Taylor told Jenkins and Lyon. “And it was at Leith’s initiative that you were added to the board.” 

The ceremony included worship music led by singers of Jenkins’ black megachurch and a benediction from the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. 

Kim, who is a minister of both the Presbyterian Church in America and the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, is the former lead minister at Park Street Church, a Boston congregation that was influential in the founding of the NAE. He will retain his current pastorate at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, as he serves in the presidential role. 

He cited words from Jesus in the Gospel of Luke and a speech by President Abraham Lincoln near the close of the Civil War — given 155 years to the day before Kim’s inauguration — in an address in which he spoke of proclaiming the gospel and bridging divides. 

“We evangelicals, we are those who have our eyes fastened onto Jesus, our ears attentive to the proclamation that ‘this day the Scripture has been fulfilled,’ and in our hearts we say ‘Hallelujah’ if we’re Pentecostal, ‘Thanks be to God,’ if we’re Presbyterian,” Kim said, drawing laughter from the audience of about 350 people. 

Taylor was also recognized by Wheaton College President Philip Ryken of Illinois as the NAE’s longest-serving board chair, and one who early on had to deal with the sudden departure of Ted Haggard, who was caught in a sex and drug scandal involving a male escort. 

“It took a lot of courage, wisdom, vision for the future to navigate those stormy waters, to bring Leith Anderson back for a second term as president of the NAE,” said Ryken about the decision to replace Haggard with his predecessor. “I’ve heard Roy mention a couple of times that Dr. Anderson saved the NAE twice. He couldn’t have done it without a holy accomplice.” 

Now, Kim, an NAE board member since 2013, takes the helm of the organization, reminding the organization with 40 member denominations that it remains committed to “gospel truth and gospel justice” as they work together. 

“We are good news people compelled to transform, by God’s grace, our national narrative of racism into the gospel narrative of reconciliation,” he said. “We are gospel people who believe that the good news is still good news. May the Lord permit the NAE to play some small part in that.” 

Adelle Banks

Adelle M. Banks is a senior production editor and national reporter for the Religion News Service, where she has worked since 1995. She previously served as the religion reporter at The Orlando Sentinel as well as a reporter in Providence, Binghamton, and Syracuse, and her work has appeared in USA Today, The Huffington Post, and Jet magazine. Banks won the 2014 Wilbur Award for digital communications and multimedia for her work on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and she has twice been honored by the Religion Newswriters Association.