I am Evangelical and So Can You!

Trump won and about 81% of white evangelicals helped make that reality. Translation: people who look like me, who share some of my cherished religious beliefs helped put Donald Trump in the White House. This is despite the fact he  was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, his locker-room talk normalized sexual assault, he is currently on trial for fraud, he fat-shamed a beauty pageant contestant, and admitted to going into dressing rooms while contestants were naked. Despite the fact he made fun of people with disabilities and let us not forget about the wall. He ran on a platform of xenophobia, promising to protect us from refugees, devout Muslims, bad hombre Mexicans and other widows, orphans and aliens in the land.

81% of evangelicals. Sigh. I’ve heard  progressive-minded evangelicals, disavow their evangelicalism in the wake of Tuesday’s results. It makes sense. It is easier to stop being evangelical than it is to stop being white or male (61% of white males voted for Trump and 63% of white women). Leaders who denounced Bill Clinton for his moral lapses overlooked Donald John Trump’s. Some for pragmatic reasons (i.e. Supreme Court appointments, pro-life concerns), others out of disdain for Hillary Clinton. I am part of the 19% of white evangelicals which voted the other way. I did so because Trump’s platform, tone and substance struck me as antithetical to the gospel, even if he gave lip-service to faith and pro-life concerns. Hitting a few Christian coalition talking points doesn’t transfer to a Christlike policy.

frabz-you-keep-using-that-word-i-do-not-think-it-means-what-you-think-c96affSo what does being an evangelical actually mean?

The word evangelical is so often, poorly defined. If you ask the mainstream media or the faculty of your local university, you may get the impression that evangelicals are just nicer versions of fundamentalists. Evangelicals may not boycott military funerals, hold up “God Hates Fags” protest signs like Westboro Baptist church or blow-up abortion clinics; yet some think they are cut from the same cloth. Others see ‘evangelical’ as  political speak for being ardently Pro-life and anti-LGBTQ rights.  And yes, the majority of evangelicals uphold traditional marriage definitions and the sanctity of life. None of this gets at the heart of what it means to be an evangelical.

At its heart, evangelicalism is a commitment to the ‘good news.’ (εὐαγγέλιον). This means both the good news about Jesus (John 3:16-17), and the good news he preached, “The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). The Kingdom good news was Jesus’ major theme. He announced God’s reign had come and was coming. Implicit in this was a call to live lives which reflect Christ’s reign and reconciliation:  a right relationship with God, with neighbors and enemies, and with all creation. The good news of Jesus meant good news for poor folks, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, and justice for the oppressed:

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16:21)

It is commitment to good news which provides the identifying marks of evangelicalism. Can you claim to be good news people and capitulate to hate and fear-mongering? Can you follow the one who tore down the dividing wall of hostility and advocate building a wall?

I am Evangelical and So Can You!

I call myself an evangelical because I believe in Jesus’ good news. Not just a little. I am sold out on it, trusting in Him for salvation and wanting to see his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. I won’t give up the label ‘evangelical’ because the good news of Jesus Christ—his life, death & resurrection, his compassionate actions and challenging words—has shaped and is shaping who I am. I believe the Kingdom of God has come and is coming. My trust in Jesus marks me as speak_the_truth_even_if_your_voice_shakes_poster-r94702277266b4e28acece46e4bc383b0_w2y_8byvr_512a good news person. Can we call ourselves evangelicals if we have no good news right now for the frightened, disenfranchised,  the poor, the widowed, the alien and the orphaned?

My tribe didn’t vote the way I voted in this past election. Friends and family voted for Trump, some of them quite happily. Here is the thing: many on the margins are now frightened by the prospect of a Trump presidency. If you call yourself an evangelical, embrace it. Evangelical  become what you are! Because it is good news time! How are you bringing good news to the high school senior who is afraid president Trump will deport her undocumented parents?  What good news do you have for Muslim immigrants who now find this nation less hospitable? How about victims of sexual assault traumatized by this entire election cycle? People of color who fear Trump’s support of stop and frisks? The working man who is afraid he  will lose healthcare for his family when Obamacare gets repealed? It is over. Trump won (had Clinton won we would still be in desperate need of good news). Now is the time to bear good news to those who are struggling.

Half the nation celebrates, the other half mourns, the margins fear. What good news do you have for them? If you voted for Trump or Clinton, or Johnson or Stein there is room at the table.  Good news, people good news. Bring good news!

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8 thoughts on “I am Evangelical and So Can You!”

  1. James,

    As usual, you have written well and wisely. Thanks for your thoughts and I pray that our King is working now to reinvigorate us as Evangelicals to reject the temptation of worldly power and to help us reimagine and work for His Kingdom. I suspect that the near and distant future will be more judgment on us (a Trump presidency plus the likely liberal backlash mean not much good for Evangelicals in this country, except the purifying power of judgment), but that His Kingdom will win in the end. I hope and pray that most Evangelicals will be on board when that ship reaches her destination, though I fear for the souls of many in my tribe.

    Blessings from Boise, as always.


  2. Good article. I agree with Adam. The idea of being “evangelical” has now been so damaged culturally that if we are to have any credible witness at all, I think we have to cut ties to that culture. There are times when unity with evil is damaging.

    1. You may be right and i am more committed to Jesus than any label. But I’m not sure the wider culture would let us shed the evangelical so easily. David Bebbington’s 4 characteristics of evangelicals (experience of new birth, belief in the authority of scripture, the importance of mission and social reform, and the centrality of the cross) still describe the basic shape of my spirituality. I believe in the importance of evangelism. I could deny the term Evangelical but if I walk like a duck and talk like a duck, then others will call me a duck. So I choose to reload evangelical with the good news it should have always been about.

  3. Kingdoms start pretty small. Jesus established the kingdom of God, but it is ours to spread it. I am curious as to how that resonates with your sense of evangelism.

    My complaint with most evangelicals relates to a comment I made to the Catholic contemplative prayer group last week during a discussion of Cor 1:9-17. When we receive love, many of us make the mistake of believing that the gift means that there should be more of our will in the world, rather than that it has been given to us to bring more of God’s. We forget that while the law says “Thou shall not kill,” when Cain killed, God showed him mercy so that Cain might learn to be merciful to others. Evangelicals as a denomination corrupt God’s mercy through their attempts to use government to enforce morality, and in doing so create systems that propagate sorrow to those least able to bear it.

    1. I think you’re right. The will to power is a corrupting influence among evangelicals whereas love and mercy are a little bit of yeast working through the dough. Though I would add, there is no evangelical ‘denomination’ and not all evangelicals are the same in this regard.

  4. I have left variations of this comment on a couple other posts (Ed Stetzer’s and Mark Galli’s at CT and some others.)

    I have a difficult history with the word evangelical. Grew to reject it at Wheaton. I adopted it back again when I was at University of Chicago Divinity School. And I am back to sort of rejecting it again.

    The problem isn’t that others misunderstand it. I don’t expect non-Christians to understand a theological definition. The problem is that Christians seems to reject the theological definition of evangelical in favor of a cultural. on.

    Mark Galli suggested that we should be look for a utopian perfect community before we accept evangelical as a legitimate term. But it does not seem utopian to expect the evangelical church to deal honestly with accurate history. Ed Stetzer argued that we need to hold to a theological definition of evangelical. But if you ask almost any minority evangelical of their acceptance of the theological definition of evangelical has earned them a seat at the table they would most likely say it has not.

    Your seems to be that evangelical is worth fighting for. And I know you have a history of working to help others to understand the theological, historic and cultural background to it. But many others are resistant to a thick understanding of Evangelical and the corresponding complicated history that goes along with it.

    Evangelical is simply not the whole of Christianity. So while I think there is real history and importance there, the fight for it, without repentance seems to be problematic (not that you are suggesting acceptance without repentance, but many others that are saying a similar thing, seem to be.)

    1. Thanks Adam for the thoughtful comment. I would say partly this post was written as catharsis. I have a certain ambivalence to both the word and the evangelical subculture. I started writing this post with considerably more snark, but I figured the evangel part of evangelical is worth some recovery and if the term evangelical is to have any weight, it needs significant retooling. I agree Christianity is bigger than evangelical and need for repentance.

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