What’s an Evangelical Today?

When I went to seminary in 1957, the Episcopal Church Evangelism Society gave me a scholarship because I was going into the mission field to share Jesus’s concept of agape love and to teach people how to fish, not just give them a fish.

About thirty years ago, I learned that the word evangelical had become a code word for fundamentalist. Most fundamentalist churches don’t use the word fundamental in describing who they are. They seem to like the “e” word. I wonder why. I go to the Irvine United Congregational Church, and we very pointedly tell folks that we are Progressive Christians, which means we can ask hard questions and openly discuss our core beliefs. We’re proud to tell people that.

Why don’t fundamentalist churches tell people that they are fundamentalists? Could it be that many people look upon that word negatively? We all know that there are fundamentalists who are bad dudes, who love to kill anyone and everyone who doesn’t think exactly the way they do.

I wonder if fundamentalists avoid the word because it connotes rigidity. One has to read the Bible literally, as history. There is only one correct answer for whatever question one might ask. There is no wiggle room. They have lists, rather long, of those who are not welcome. If one steps out of line, he or she is excommunicated. If you don’t vote the way they tell you, you are shunned—not only out of the church but maybe even the community.

Many of the beliefs held by fundamentalists stem from how life was lived as long as four thousand years ago. Even though there have been humongous changes in society since then, if the Old Testament says that gays were not acceptable back then, then today, gays are not acceptable to fundamentalists. It seems that no amount of scientific evidence is ever good enough to change their thinking.

I can only speculate as to why so many fundamentalists want to become involved in politics. I suspect it’s because politicians have great power; they can change laws and directions of established institutions. If only fundamentalists get elected, they could change all the laws to match their worldview. Evolution would be banned. Women would become second-class citizens, obedient to men. No abortions would be allowed. Gays would be executed, and everyone would have to go to church on Sundays and Wednesday evenings.

During the 2016 presidential election, Vice President Mike Pence, who is a fundamentalist, totally supported the presidential candidate who was and is a racist, sexist, Islamophobic misogynist. Trump had publicly bragged about his sexual abuse of women and his cleverness in tax evasion, and he had no problem insulting war heroes, a man with a disability, Gold Star parents, Muslims, Mexicans, and African Americans, to mention a few of his victims. So here we have fundamentalists, who consider themselves the moral police of our country, endorsing a man who seems to have no moral rudder. I heard a figure that 80 percent of fundamentalists voted for Trump.

It has occurred to me in my private moments that the fundamentalists in this country simply seem to be another political party hiding behind the word Christian to support their rather narrow approach to life. To make matters worse, they kidnapped the word evangelical because it sounds so much nicer than the “f” word.

Bottom line: please don’t ever call me an evangelical—no longer does it mean what it did sixty years ago. It now means something I would never want to be. Instead, please call me a “Follower,” because I follow a man diametrically opposed to what most fundamentalists/evangelicals believe.

What do you want to be called?


Image courtesy of Samuel Peters. CC by 2.0

2 thoughts on “What’s an Evangelical Today?”

  1. I find it useful as a frame of reference. If you’re a Mormon, I have a general understand of who you are. If you’re a Jew, I better understand you and on-and-on


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