I’m an evangelical
Updated: May 4, 2020
I’m an evangelical Christian. I have no doubt that at the mention of those words, some will break out in a cold, nervous sweat – especially if you’ve followed US politics or watched The Family on Netflix.
There are other terms I would use to describe my faith like contemplative, orthodox etc, but it has taken me a long time to accept using the term ‘evangelical’ of myself, and I still go through times when it doesn’t sit well with me, but that’s mostly because of how others perceive it.
Based on recent commentary you would be forgiven for thinking I am some sort of shadowy figure who meets with others in dark rooms to plot political takeovers, that I’m someone who wants to take full control of other people’s lives in a manner akin to Margaret Atwood’s vision in The Handmaid’s Tale, that I’d like to dictate what everyone gets up to in their bedroom, that’ll I’ll happily fleece every man, woman, and child for every cent they have, and that my voting preference sits somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan.
Of course, much of that reaction can be blamed on the activities of some who call themselves ‘evangelical’ – namely a sizeable group in the United States who align themselves closely to the Republican Party and have been vocally supportive of President Trump, excusing everything he says and does. It’s highly likely that if you struggle with that, then we’re probably aligned on a number of things.
The result being that whenever a person in a position of influence is tarred as being ‘evangelical’, the righteous anger of some rises to vociferously claim that religion has no place in politics.
‘Ban them all!’ ‘Tax them till their eyeballs bleed!’ ‘Lock them all up!’ I see that on social media regularly with oblivious echoes of Stalin’s Russia.
The more benevolent will say that someone in politics adhering to a religion is fine as long as it’s kept in the private realm and doesn’t influence their decision making.
The word ‘evangel’ in evangelicalism traces its way back to an ancient Greek word that means ‘good news.’ At our most basic, an evangelical should be someone who takes the Bible seriously (and treats its nuance carefully), believes in the ‘good news’ as it relates to Jesus, seeks to live accordingly, and wants to share it with others.
There’s a huge difference between sharing and forcing, and that’s where the problem comes in the world of politics, since politics is often seen as a realm of power, force, and coercion. It’s also where many evangelicals have tripped up – trying to bend society to their will.
The fundamentals of evangelicalism, when understood well, are not overly prescriptive.
The Bible, while taken seriously, is understood in many different ways. What our churches look like and what we do on Sundays can vary significantly. How we choose to follow Jesus can look vastly different. How we choose to share it with the world around us can also look quite diverse, meaning that in the world of politics you can find us across the spectrum.
We evangelicals are a big, diverse group. We can’t be treated and talked of as one, big, homogenous group akin to Star Trek’s Borg. Therefore, if you choose to talk about us, doing some solid research is worthwhile.
The idea that our political opinions should not be influenced by our worldview makes no sense. Everyone’s political opinions are shaped by their underlying worldview, whether you be christian, muslim, atheist, agnostic, or anything else.
Allow me to give you an example as it relates to my own Christian faith.
I am a person who fundamentally believes that all people are created in the image of a good God – this is the story of creation that opens the Bible. Therefore all people are endowed with dignity and inalienable rights. We need to treat everyone, friend and enemy alike, accordingly.
The same goes for the planet itself. I believe it is a gift given to us by a good, creative God, and therefore it needs to be treated and cared for as a gift – a gift we share with one another, other creatures, and that we draw life from.
I believe there’s an element where the goodness of creation and the relationships within it are broken and therefore there are many things that degrade and push against that dignity and value of all people and the planet. To a degree we all play a part in perpetuating that brokenness.
Poverty, environmental abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, racial division, abuses of power, war, violence, starvation when there is plenty of food to go around – all these are evidence of that human brokenness. Yet I believe in a story that compels us towards better.
You see, whatever you believe about Christianity, and I know there’s lots to pick at, I and many others see within it a compulsion towards healing, restoration, reconciliation, and all things being made right. Good news.
I’m a hopeful realist in that I see the beauty and the brokenness as it truly is, but I relentlessly hope for better. The story of Jesus is about God acting towards that and calling us into that hope. It requires us to own our part in what we are and what the world currently is for better and for worse, turn towards a better way, and get on with the work of healing, restoring, and reconciling. Flowing from that, my politics seeks to combat poverty, restore dignity, challenge all that undercuts and works against that dignity, celebrate life, heal the ravages of abuse, give voice to those who are needlessly silenced, and care for creation. How I do that is very much influenced by the life of Jesus. I look at who he was and how he lived, and I seek to emulate that.
For instance, there’s a story of a blind beggar that Jesus healed. Crowds were following Jesus and the blind man repeatedly yelled out to Jesus to have mercy on him.
The crowd tried to shut the blind beggar up – they were focused on Jesus, and the blind man was an annoying inconvenience. Jesus heard him and asked his followers to bring the blind man to him. In so doing he turned the attention of those around him to the blind man. He made the blind man the most important person in the moment. Then he asked the blind man a simple question – ‘What do you want me to do for you?’
Anyone with a saviour mentality would merely assume that the man wanted to see and would go about getting it done with little thought to what he might actually want, but Jesus gave him the dignity of asking. Sight is what he asked for, and Jesus healed him.
The focus for many, skeptic and believer alike, would be on arguing for or against the miracle, but the more intriguing part of the story is Jesus honouring the dignity of the blind man and giving him agency in the situation.
How would that story speak to how we treat current topics like the situation of beneficiaries, or gang members seeking to change etc?
Or how about the Christian belief that Jesus is somehow the embodiment of God? We call it the incarnation. Surely that can’t and shouldn’t influence politics.
But think about it – God, the all powerful, doesn’t stand at a distance. Rather, God entered the world as one of us in the form of a person – stepped into the neighbourhood and took up residence; not in a castle, but in the streets and alleyways, giving attention to those others wanted to ignore. He was acused of being the ‘friend of sinners.’
How could that speak to those in politics? Rather than staying in lofty towers, a politician following that worldview has something to emulate – to step among the people, to be truly WITH them and allow that to shape their decision making – to ultimately live their life for the sake of others, especially for the sake of those whom wider society kicks to the curb.
To ask a Christian politician to not let their decision making be influenced by their religion is to let them off the hook; to not take up the challenge of the Jesus who turned power upside-down. Trust me, you want your politicans challenged by that, and you want to allow people like myself to offer that challenge rather than drive us all into an individual, private realm.
History and present reality demonstrate an evangelicalism that has, at various points, embodied that challenge well. It informed Christian abolitionists who fought against the slave trade. It fuelled those in the UK who sought to educate poor, working children. It challenged the rich who identify with it and have, over time, poured millions of dollars of their wealth into community initiatives – many of them are the backbone of our own nation’s charitable sector.
Christian politicians need to make their case in a secular society without appealing to ‘God said’ because if it’s true, there should be ways for it to make sense without that appeal. And when those arguments are made, they’re always open for debate. Logically though, to deny that a religious worldview should be able to play a part, denies all worldviews, and that doesn’t make sense.
Democracy thrives on diverse thinking.
What politicians should not be doing is proseltysing from their public political platform.
I look forward to more politicians of all worldviews, more confidently telling us how their worldview shapes their decision making, and I look forward to a society that has the ability, nuance and maturity to allow it.
Note: Here’s a snippet of how I describe myself in the About page on my website:
“I’m a Jesus loving, scripture adoring evangelical who feels most at home with liturgy, silence and ritual (I feel right at home in big, old cathedrals). I have a broad love of the beliefs and ideas of others. I love interacting with and learning from people of other religions (or non-religions). I get a kick out of candles, icons, incense and prayer kneelers. I reckon any idea of salvation that’s just about my soul going to heaven is too small. I want to experience the Divine and engage in practices that open me up to God moving, transforming and shaping me so that I can better participate in the divine story of healing and reconciling all of creation.”