taking the words of Jesus seriously

I’m a 33-year-old woman, a wife and a mom of two, and I’ve given five years of my life to working in ordained ministry as a Lutheran pastor, following a career in sports writing.

I’ve also spent the past eight months traveling the country, interviewing Christians in red counties about politics and faith.

Sometimes Christians who are more conservative than me question my faith bona fides, and sometimes Christians more liberal than me say we have to “change our language” and find new ways to describe our commitment to Jesus.

I’m tired of being told I’m not Evangelical simply because I don’t check all the cultural boxes, or because Evangelical means conservative.

My job and my life is filled with Evangelical moments, possible only by the power of an active and alive Holy Spirit — the Good News of the resurrection of my Savior, Jesus.

Sometimes I hug the mom of a toddler who was just baptized, and in her face I see reflected the glory of the Holy Spirit that was just unleashed again — through the water that became holy in the words and in the deeds and in the love that surrounded that place. And what once felt archaic — church and baptism and water and promises — is again made new through the promise of resurrection, love, and new life in living water.

Sometimes I hold the hand of a mom who, like me, has two kids under 7: full of attitude and spite and emotion and unfailing love. She tells me about kindergarten and about working from home; and she tells me about cancer and about how everything was normal until it wasn’t and suddenly they’re talking about options and hospitals and timelines and fear  — and the things we held onto without realizing we held them seemed to slip away.

Sometimes I see the love of a couple, old or young. The quiet strength of a man who loves his family; a stoic strength and selflessness that does not have to be faked or forced, it simply is, and then he lets me see the way he loves them, and it is priceless and perfect.

I see the unstoppable force that is a mother’s love. The undeserved forgiveness from a child who had to endure. The unendurable pain of loving and losing.

I realize in these moments — the highs and the lows — how desperately I must cling to Jesus. To humble me when I grow haughty or intolerant; to lift me up when despair and depression beckon; to give me hope in the face of unremitting sin and sadness.

And I do cling desperately to Jesus.

I do pray for miracles and believe they are possible. I do believe Jesus is essential, no, imperative for every single person in the world. I believe the Holy Spirit is alive and active and present, and working in our midst for goodness, love, and grace.

I believe Jesus was crucified on the cross, died, and rose again three days later.

I believe He will come again to save the living and the dead.

With this desperation I cling to Jesus, knowing that it is only the gospel of resurrection that can save a world too far turned away, too dead in too many places, and dying in others.

Still, I am told sometimes in this America, that I cannot be Evangelical. That we must use a different word because that one has become compromised. That it means a cultural subset that is against abortion and gay marriage, and that often believes men are the only ones gifted to preach and lead congregations.

I am told that to be Evangelical is to be Republican and, most likely, to vote for Donald Trump.

I’m told that there are categories, you see, and God or God’s Bible does not mean as much as skin color, party affiliation, social values, or human interpretation of scripture.

I reject this limited and binary thinking.

The word Evangelical is a Gospel word. It comes from biblical Greek, from the gospels themselves, from the root verb εὐαγγελίζω which means to share the Good News.

The original meaning, then, of Evangelical, was one who would share the Good News of Jesus.

Somewhere along the line the Gospel was stolen. The Good News about Jesus was changed into Bad News for anyone who didn’t fit into a prescribed American cultural construct. Just because I believe my gay brothers and sisters are saved, too; just because I believe that the best way to end abortion is not to legislate against women; just because I think women can be pastors and lead churches, too — I am suddenly not allowed to claim the very name the Bible gave the Christians who wanted to tell the story of Jesus.

Of course I don’t hear all that much about Jesus anymore. I hear more about culture wars, about who God is going to condemn rather than who God is going to save. I hear more about winners and losers, about red states and blue states, and all the reasons we can’t occupy the same spaces anymore.

I reject it.

I reject your decadent patriarchy; your limited view of God; your stranglehold on God’s sovereignty, your exclusive claim to religion; your smugness; your fear of evangelism; your willingness to shed the label Evangelical that has lived with Christians for nearly 2,000 years, and turn it into a political wedge.

I reject the idea that simply because I believe it is God’s grace that saves, rather than a prayer I prayed in the front row of church one Sunday, that I cannot lay claim to the very same Gospels that assert Jesus — not ourselves and our own faith — as the only way to salvation.

How dare you tell me I’m not Evangelical?

And how dare we lay waste to a word that once created a global Church?

This article originally appeared on Angela’s blog

About The Author


Angela Denker is a Lutheran pastor and veteran journalist. She's written for many publications, including Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, and Sojourners. She is the author of "Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters Who Elected Donald Trump" (Fortress Press).

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