It wasn’t even intentional on my part. I just noticed a few weeks ago that I had stopped describing myself to people as an “evangelical.” I had begun, subconsciously, to say that I am a “gospel Christian.” When I caught myself doing this, I wondered why and the answer wasn’t long in coming.
The word “evangelical” has become almost meaningless this year, and in many ways the word itself is at the moment subverting the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Part of the problem is that more secular people have for a long time misunderstood the meaning of “evangelical,” seeing us almost exclusively in terms of election-year voting blocs or our most buffoonish television personalities. That’s especially true when media don’t distinguish in election exit polls between churchgoers and those who merely self-identify as “born again” or “evangelical.”
Many of those who tell pollsters they are “evangelical” may well be drunk right now, and haven’t been into a church since someone invited them to Vacation Bible School sometime back when Seinfeld was in first-run episodes.
The other problem is the behavior of some evangelical leaders. I have watched as some of these who gave stem-winding speeches about “character” in office during the Clinton administration now minimize the spewing of profanities in campaign speeches, race-baiting and courting white supremacists, boasting of adulterous affairs, debauching public morality and justice through the casino and pornography industries.
I watched one evangelical leader pronounce a candidate a Christian, though he explicitly states that he has never repented of sin, because he displays the fruit of the Spirit in job creation. That’s not a political problem; it’s a gospel problem.
Why are many evangelical leaders, including some who pontificate on nearly everything else, scared silent as evangelicalism is associated with everything from authoritarianism and bigotry to violations of religious freedom? How can they look the other way in silence when politicians praise Planned Parenthood and demur about white supremacists and neo-Nazis?
Worst of all, what happens when evangelicalism is no longer even clear about what it takes to be saved: repentance from sin and personal trust in Jesus Christ?
For years, secular progressives have said that evangelical social action in America is not about religious conviction but all about power. They have implied that the goal of the Religious Right is to cynically use the “moral” to get to the “majority,” not the other way around.
This year, a group of high-profile old-guard evangelicals has proven these critics right. But thank God, that’s not the whole story.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post