Editor’s Note: The following is the official announcement shared by executive director Nikki Toyama-Szeto of the newly renamed Christians for Social Action. Find out more information at Christiansforsocialaction.org .
As of September 15, 2020 Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) has changed their name to Christians for Social Action instead. For a season, it would suffice to say that ESA represented “a different kind of evangelical.” But as “evangelical” and “Trump supporter” grow more synonymous to the average American, many individuals and organizations have been pushed to weigh whether the baggage associated with that term is worth carrying any longer.
“It was the right name—for a time. But the social environment is so different,” says Ron Sider, Founder and President-emeritus. In the wake of the Trump presidency, ‘evangelical’ has become increasingly conflated with certain political movements that don’t accurately reflect the values ESA was founded upon and has held for almost 50 years.
“We are excited with this new change,” our executive director Nikki Toyama-Szeto explains. “Jesus Christ is the fuel for the social justice work we do. We have the same mission, working with the same people, led by the same leaders, but we’ve noticed that what our people are calling themselves has changed—especially as our presence is growing in communities of color.”
A bulk of CSA’s members identify themselves as Christians but are moving away from the evangelical label.
“This name-change by ESA makes a world of sense,” offers Mark Labberton, President of Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA. “The primary goal is to clarify the identity of the organization. This new name does this so well—centered in Jesus Christ for the sake of justice in the world. The secondary goal is to clarify any confusion over identity. Again, with the current roiling semantics over the world ‘evangelical,’ it can lead to confusion over what this organization is or isn’t affirming.”
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JoAnn Lyon, General Superintendent Emerita of the Wesleyan Church and Vice-Chair of Board of NAE, in affirming the change, “This is not a recent discussion but one in which I personally have been involved for the past 30 years. I am happy to say the name may have changed, but the mission is as strong if not stronger in the same manner as the founding in 1974 of which I was a part. I am honored to continue to affirm the ministry of Christians for Social Action.”
Labberton continues, “Nikki Toyama-Szeto, the Executive Director, has led her team with wisdom, humility, and honor through a thicket of words and associations to the better light of a new name: Christians for Social Action.”
ESA was founded by scholar-activist Ron Sider in 1973 after convening a group of social justice-oriented Christian leaders to issue the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Concern. Sider led the organization until 2013, and he retired from teaching in 2019. He continues to serve as the co-chair of the board of CSA. Nikki Toyama-Szeto promises that, although the name has changed, the organization will continue building upon Sider’s legacy. “Our mission, working towards a fuller expression of Christian faithfulness, and a more just society is reflected and re-affirmed in the name. Our Christian faith fuels our social action.”