Pastor Gene gives up the word "evangelical"
during the election season. Here's why:
During this season of days leading to the death of Jesus and the celebration of resurrection, it is good form to think deeply about what is holding back your devotion to Living God, and then give it up. While sacrifices can be hard to make and keep in a culture of pain-free living, when one sees the reward--a breakout of Living God in our life and living--it is not overly hard to give up something for Lent.
One thing I have decided to give up for Lent is the word "evangelical" as a way of defining my spirituality and faith. Do not misinterpret what I have said--I have not given up my faith. I am decidedly Christian, growing in love with Jesus and the gospel of Jesus. But I can no longer use the phrase "evangelical Christian" to define my loyalty to Jesus. A better word for me would be "gospel Christian," first used by Russell Moore. Here is why:
It is apparent that the word "evangelical" has lost all theological and faith content during this election season. For years, evangelicals, including me, yearned for better character in high offices in our country. We mourned when we saw clear loss of moral content and fiber in our culture. We shook our heads in disgust about the brazen lack of decency that marked offices of power whether in politics or in business.
I guess that meant nothing to evangelical Christians. In a matter of a few months evangelicals have gathered around, and behind, a candidate, Donald Trump, whose stump speeches and debates are full of profanity, demeaning slurs, and bullying, who engages in race-baiting, disrespects women, courts white supremacists, shows no support for the first amendment, and who has spent a life preying off of others weaknesses in the debauched industry of casinos and their slimy, perverted underbelly.
It was shocking and disappointing to see the same evangelicals who have long deservedly decried the life-aborting practices of Planned Parenthood look the other way and voice no moral outrage when Mr. Trump failed to denounce the KKK, the most hateful, violent and virulent form of domestic terrorism ever birthed in this country.
It was embarrassing to hear an evangelical leader announce that Mr. Trump is an evangelical even though this candidate has said he has never repented of sin and sees no reason to do so.
It was an indictment on evangelicals when Mr. Trump said recently, with pride, "Evangelicals understand me better than anybody."
I will take ownership for my feelings and ideas: I cannot, for now, use that word. I cannot, during this cycle, associate with the degradation of a word that is being co-opted and used by a group that seems to care nothing for the actual content of that word.
For those who have forgotten, the word "evangelical" is not a political word. For those who have forgotten, It is not a word to describe a voting-bloc. For those who have forgotten, It is a gospel word. It is a word with specific content about salvation and lifestyle and values. It is a word rooted in the first century message of Jesus that showed this is how a sinner, by repentance and faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, experienced full atonement. It was a word used by the first Christians to say there is another king in the world, and it is Jesus, not the emperor of first century Rome, not the person elected to the office of President of the United States, not Hollywood elites, and not cultural power brokers. It was a word used to describe the shakeup of values that would turn the world upside down. Those values? Respect of women. Disintegration of segregation and prejudice. Protection of the vulnerable. Humility. Decency.
For those who have forgotten, it is a good word. It has long been associated with the Reformation cries of "Scripture alone" and "Christ alone." It has been associated with high-character and honorable leaders like Billy Graham. It may be worth debating whether those who call themselves evangelical as reported by the news are truly evangelicals. In another time, maybe there will be a time to dust off this good word. But for now, in this cycle when evangelical Christians are coalescing behind a candidate--the now likely presidential nominee of the Republican Party--whose very candidacy is marked by race-baiting, bullying, profanity, casino-connections, courting of white supremacy, disrespecting of women, lack of decency, clear narcissism, and lack of support for first amendment rights for all religious groups in America, I no longer am willing to be identified by this label. I will give this word up for Lent.
If I am giving up the word "evangelical" for Lent, then what can you call me? You can call me a follower of Jesus. You can say that I am in love with Jesus. You can say that I am attempting to advance the gospel of Jesus in my life, my church, my town and this world. The one title that best captures all of this for me is this simple one: gospel Christian. I am at peace with this. You can say I am a gospel Christian.