Defining Evangelicals…

I have had a Sojourners membership for a number of years now and enjoy the monthly magazine. One reason is that it shows me that I am not alone out there in believing what I do about Christianity.  Jim Wallis, who is the editor-in-chief of the magazine always has an editorial at the beginning of each issue.  This month is was about how the word “evangelical” means to the world in general.  In the editorial Jim opens with the following words:

Here we go again. Presidential elections are coming, and the role of ‘evangelicals’ is predictably becoming a hot political story. Voices on both the Religious Right and secular Left describe evangelicals as zealous members of the ultra-conservative political base.

Why? Perhaps because some conservative Republicans want to claim a religious legitimacy and constituency for their ideological agenda, and some political liberals seem determined to portray religious people as intellectually flawed, right-wing crazies with dangerous plans for the country.

He goes on to say that while there are evangelicals as described above they do not define the overall evangelical community.  He has been stating this view for many years. But from a personal experience I, like many others in this world,  have trouble getting the secular view of evangelicals out of my head.  For a couple of decades I was a member of an evangelical church and for the most part the majority of its members held radical right political beliefs. I always felt like the odd-man-out in our weekly bible studies especially when the discussions turned political in nature. It seems to me that the “social conservative” values of the these right wing political groups runs very counter to what I read in my bible?  I knew a few others in those studies felt as I did about being my brother’s keeper and doing good works but for the most part they sat silently while the majority, among many other topics, ranted about  personal responsibility and those lazy “freeloaders” who just need to get a job.

So, while I want to believe what Jim says I just saw very little evidence of it in the Christian world immediately around me. This is one of the reasons I have divorced myself from that group and no longer call myself a Christian but instead say I am just a follower of Jesus Christ.  I seem to be more attuned around the following message by Susan Isaacs (her message here also came from another Sojourners source)

While I may detect a difference between “evangelical Christian” (theological connotation) and “evangelical” (political connotation), a person outside the faith may not. Tell an agnostic you’re an evangelical — meaning you believe in the words of the Apostle’s creed — and he may assume you’re anti-gay, anti-Obama and pro-British Petroleum….I don’t know if we’ll ever divest “evangelical” of its political connotation. We might have to ban the word the way Germany outlawed Hitler as a surname. Which is sad, because the Greek root, evangel, means “good news.” – Susan Isaacs 

I like Susan think maybe it is time to ban using the word “evangelical” in a theological mode. It has just been too polluted by the political sphere and that is a terrible shame as the word actually means “good news”.  The words “evangelical” and “Christian” just don’t seem to mix together anymore. They are like oil and vinegar.