Evangelical has become a bad word. The word brings terror to those who remember the fire and brimstone words that pushed them into the margins. It brings images of hateful peoples screaming judgments to anyone who doesn't fall into their normative understanding of a Christian life. The white evangelical church at best has ignored the nationalism and bigotry that clings to its congregations, and at worst has fostered hate and systematic racism.
Evangelical is a term so fraught with negative stereotypes that those of us that identify as evangelical are often ashamed of the word itself or ashamed of others evangelicals The desire to distance myself from the hateful stereotypes of evangelicals has caused me to wonder if I could just drop the label of evangelical. Evangelical means "pertaining to or in keeping with the gospel and its teachings." I try to live my life according to the teachings of Jesus Christ. And while I often fall short of bringing good news, hope, and peace to others, I rely on the grace that Jesus Christ offers me. I cannot abandon the term because I am, by definition, an evangelical.
If I cannot abandon the label, can I redefine it? Could those of us that see Jesus' teaching as an invitation to love the world possibly recapture the word from hateful bigots? Can I distance myself from "those evangelicals"? Because of laziness, pride, and unwillingness to trust God, I focus more on how people perceive me as an evangelical than being a disciple of Jesus.
I am constantly surprised by the laziness of the church. Some churches seem to prefer to create fun messages in a pretty package rather than helping their congregations become disciples.
Refusing to teach and encourage Christians to read scripture is a prime example of the laziness that impacts our faith. Because most Christians do not read scripture – according to Barnum, 14% of Millennials, 20% of Gen X, 24% of Boomers and 27% of Elders consider themselves engaged in scripture- the church is held captive by whatever bible teacher is currently trending. As a community, we don't have the tools to say, "Wait, that doesn't sound right…" because of biblical illiteracy. The laziness to train disciples to think for themselves and to study the Bible has left the church ill-equipped to deal with lousy teaching giving an opening for some to pervert the Bible into a hateful message. Laziness encourages us to distance ourselves from "those" evangelicals. It is far easier to use qualifiers than to live a life that testifies to the good news of the gospel. If Evangelicals are to be disciples, then the term evangelical would not have been co-opted. Rather than focusing on distancing ourselves from evangelicals, we should instead do the hard work of actually following Jesus. Imagine the difference Evangelicals could make in the world if we just took the Sermon on the Mount seriously.
Pride Pride makes people blind to their sin, leading them to scream about other people's sin while standing on the street corner rather than notice how they fall short of God's commands to love their neighbor. Pride is also what causes me to want to distance myself from "those evangelicals." I believe the lie that I am somehow better than others because I'm woke, or that I'm more biblically literate. Even those of us who strive to love our neighbors are failing. Our country's pain stands as a testament to our shortcomings of loving one another. It's not just "those" evangelicals who fail to love; it is me who fails to love. Critiques about evangelicals should be taken seriously. Maybe I'm not as racist as "those evangelicals," but I struggle to battle the racism inside me. It's worth looking in the mirror and asking, how can I do better? While I may not consider myself homophobic, there is always room to learn how to love the LGBTQ community better. Whether criticisms about loving the poor, fighting for justice, or bringing good news to the world, peoples' criticisms of the evangelical church are valid. When we distance ourselves from those critiques, we are focusing on our brothers' and sisters' sins while being blind to our own.
Not Believing Jesus I'm flabbergasted by the Church's desire to legislate morality. Don't we believe that Jesus will win people's heart? Even the evangelical right is falling into the trap that they need to build a Christian country because it's too afraid to trust that Jesus is capable of bringing his kingdom here. But I also don't trust Jesus to accomplish his goals on his own. I don't always believe him when he says my kingdom is here. I don't trust him when he says that they will know you by how you love each other. I don't believe him when he says it only matters how I see you. If I believed any of that, I wouldn't feel the need to redefine the term evangelical because I would trust that it doesn't matter how others label me. I can trust that Jesus loves me, regardless of any label I identify with. I can also believe him that others cannot thwart his plans. I can trust that all I need to do is follow him by loving God with my heart and loving my neighbors.
While it's tempting to focus on the label of evangelical, I think my efforts would be better served if I focused on following Jesus.