I am an Evangelical.
But what does that label even mean anymore?
A few days ago I was sitting around chatting with a few new friends at my Bible College. One of them was a young Canadian and another was a middle aged former soldier in the U.S. Armed forces. As we conversed with each other, we ended up on the topic of politics and how many companies and businesses in the United States give millions to political and social causes and somehow we ended up talking about McDonalds. My USAF friend made the statement that “McDonalds is terrible because it gives millions to causes and organizations that you (speaking of me) directly oppose: LGBTQ Rights Campaigns, Planned Parenthood etc.” I was taken aback by this statement because my new friend simply assumed that because everyone in this conversation was an Evangelical, which meant that we all held a certain set of political ideals and social standards. That for him and for millions of others, Evangelical meant something far more than a theological persuasion. In the midst of this awkward moment, I decided to reveal my identity as a politically progressive/liberal Evangelical which automatically caused an immense amount of tension to arise in our conversation. How could I, a bible-believing Evangelical, possibly support the LGBTQ community’s right to marry? How could I think that Planned Parenthood was doing any good and that President Obama’s plan to rapidly decrease the numbers of abortions in the United States was progress in any way? Let’s just say that the conversation ended on a pretty tense note.
This encounter really caused me to re-reflect on the magnitude that the term Evangelical has been hijacked by political and social agendas over the past decade and how a new generation of Evangelicals is emerging that does not at all identify with any of the social and political baggage that has come to represent Evangelical Christianity. Which brings me back to my original question- What does the label Evangelical even mean anymore?
I can tell you this- it doesn’t mean that I am a Republican. It doesn’t mean that I am pro-life, anti-LGBTQ rights, or pro-guns. It also doesn’t mean that I am a Democrat. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I am pro-immigration reform or pro-socialized medicine.
Evangelical, as a label, has absolutely nothing to do with political affiliation or social agendas. The term literally can be translated, “People of the Good News”. People of the Gospel. That is truly what an Evangelical is. People who believe that Jesus Christ is truly “good news of great joy for all people!” (Luke 2:10) An Evangelical is someone who is committed to the message and methods of Jesus Christ- someone who thinks Jesus’ pronouncement that the Kingdom of God is in our midst is a statement of a growing reality and that we have been commissioned by Jesus to go into the world and proclaim this Good News to everyone we encounter- from the halls of Capitol Hill to the projects of south Los Angeles. During the rise of the Religious Right Movement in the 1960’s, the term “Evangelical” was quite literally hijacked by men like Pat Robertson and Jerry Fallwell to represent a radical political agenda whose mission was to “bring America back to Christ” which, on some level, really just meant bringing America back to a Fundamentalist dominated, far right political persuasion. A little later, many reacted to this hijacking of Evangelicalism by applying to leftist social causes and concerns, though this end of the movement never has gained much traction. Amidst all of this mudslinging and misguided politics done in the name of Jesus, Evangelicals went from being “people of the Good News” to “people of Fox News”.
But a new day is dawning. My generation (the Millennials) no longer identify with the divisive partisan politics of our country that have been done under the guise of “Evangelicalism” for decades. We have seen and heard the long and dirty history of Evangelical Politics. We are not only disenchanted with this “version” of our faith, but also disillusioned. Neither side seems to look at all like Jesus. Both sides of the Evangelical political spectrum seem to have sold out Christ’s commitment to love our neighbor, our enemies, our God, and ourselves and turned radically inward, only desiring to further their own self-interests, no matter how noble or seemingly important they may be. We all know that both the political and religious structures in America are severely damaged. The Millennial Generation is optimistically working reform both. We envision an Evangelicalism that is truly marked by a radical commitment to follow Jesus in every arena of living and to once again be people that live, breathe, and speaking good news of great joy for all people.
We also want to be politically engaged and don’t think that involves removing our faith from our politics but rather allowing our faith to inform every area of our political engagement- not in an attempt to “bring America back to her Christian roots” or to legislate the Bible but rather because we have come to believe that true discipleship requires us to seek to love our neighbors and work for the common good of all people. In the past, mixing faith and politics meant aligning yourself with one party, one set of values, and one political bent. But the new generation of Evangelicals is seeking holistic biblical politics that require us to be pro-life in regards to abortion, yes, and also in regards to war, the death penalty, gun violence, and civil rights. That requires us to be faithful stewards of our personal and corporate finances but also to seek the good of those who find themselves below the poverty line and provide health care to the least of these. One political part cannot encapsulate all of those values and for that reason, our allegiance to individual labels and parties. Whereas political openness in the past has been viewed by our predecessors as watering-down our faith, we understand it to be a sign of great integrity and commitment to the Gospel. Our commitment isn’t to the DNC, RNC, or Liberterarian Party but to Jesus and our neighbor. This is the self-sacrificial love that Jesus calls us to in every aspect of our lives. This is what it means to be a Christian, let alone an Evangelical.
The fear is also that this new generation will be theologically liberal. My friend, upon hearing my confession that I was a Democrat, initially began to run me through the theological ringer. My theology of the Bible was immediately called into question and my friend was stunned to find that in general, our theologies were identical. It is simply a false understanding of the Millennial Generation to think that we are nothing more than theological relativists. In fact, most Millennials are returning to very traditional churches with very orthodox and traditional Christian theology, mainly because of the aloofness of the past three decades of Evangelicalism that generally moved away from deep theological and liturgical tradition and truth to what became known as “seeker sensitive” which offered nothing more than an inspiritation exposition of some random Bible passage. We desire more than that. We desire a faith that isn’t, per se, contemporary, but rooted. We need to know that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. Most of us have very little desire to run to heresy and “new” ideas about God- instead, we want a faith and a tradition that connects us both back towards our ancient lineage as Christians and moves freely forward and is able to adapt and endure the ebbs and flows of our culture.
I really think that a new day is dawning for Evangelicalism in specific and Christianity in general. As my generation rises to the positions of influence and leadership in the Church and world, I believe we are being inspired and motivated to work for the common good of all people, the good news that comes from and through following Jesus Christ. We are moving towards a more Christ like mode of living, one that cares more for the person than their political persuasion or belief about certain issues. While we are going to be increasingly more difficult to nail down with a simple set of theological labels or political propositions, we are increasingly going to be passionate about looking like and living like Jesus. Embodying the good news that he proclaimed. And that is incredibly good news.
I am an Evangelical. No, that isn’t a political label. It’s my life orientation- centered on and motivated by the good news of Jesus Christ. Good news for my friends, my neighbors, my enemies, myself, and my God. May it be so.