Evangelicals in America

With the start of the school year, my time available for writing has plummeted. In order to keep the political thinking going, I’ve decided to occasionally write shorter thoughts and share articles, books, and resources I’ve found meaningful lately.

What does “evangelical” mean in the US today?

I’ve always identified as evangelical, and understood it as defined here: “Evangelicals are born-again Protestants who cherish the Bible as the Word of God and who emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit,” (Thomas Kidd, Who Is an Evangelical? The History of a Movement in Crisis, quoted here). The past few years have found me wondering just what “evangelical” means to Americans at large and also to my fellow Christians. Conversations I’ve had regarding the term have shown I’m not alone in growing concerned about how the label is understood, especially on the national stage.

In his article “Evangelical Has Lost Its Meaning“, Alan Jacobs (professor of humanities at Baylor University) gives insight into the history of the evangelicalism in this country, and also the crisis of the term—questioning whether it remains meaningful as a descriptor vital to our faith or has become a term laden with political agenda.

Is the American Church God’s Primary Tool to Reach the World for Christ?

I’ve had a few encounters in recent years where I’ve heard people assert America’s primary role in converting the world for Christ; that we are the torchbearers of faith over and against the crumbling churches of the rest of the world. Nationalism, however, has no place in conversations about God’s kingdom and his spreading of the Gospel. We may be coming off of an era where many of the resources to send missionaries have come from the West—and most recently the US—but that is not the full historical picture of God’s work. As a tongue-in-cheek matter-of-fact: America obviously didn’t send missionaries to itself and the Christian faith didn’t start in the West … last time I checked Jesus wasn’t born in the good ol’ US of A.

God sends whom he will send, and he chooses from where and to where he sends—missions aren’t a solely American endeavor [and our missions trends, while doing much for His kingdom have also done a plenty of damage, as chronicled in books such as When Helping Hurts, Toxic Charity, and recent articles such as Is Your Trip Tourism or Missions? and I’d Probably Still Cancel Your Short-Term Missions Trip.]

Growing up in Austria I remember people coming from a variety of countries to Austria to do God’s work, and Austrians sending out people to a variety of countries. My American missionary parents ministered alongside Austrian national pastors as well as Dutch, British, and German missionaries and others from countries I do not now recall. It was clear to me that God uses people sent from everywhere to everywhere to do his work.

The article “What Majority-World Missions Really Looks Like” by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun in Christianity Today paints a beautiful picture of all of God’s people being sent out to share the Good News. (For more on the Global South, I highly recommend Philip Jenkin’s book, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity).

Evangelical Support for President Trump?

It’s widely been reported that around 80% of white evangelicals voted for President Trump in the 2016 election. Recent polls have indicated that this support has remained mostly unwavering throughout his presidency. A constant stream of articles on the evangelical vote has been published since the election.

I’ve spoken to evangelicals who see President Trump as an excellent leader for our country who praise his presidency and believe he is chosen by God and doing God’s good work. I’ve spoken to evangelicals who voted for him reluctantly in 2016 and who view President’s Trumps leadership as an example of God using a corrupt leader to do his work, as seen in the Old Testament. And I’ve spoken to evangelicals who didn’t and don’t support President Trump; who find him to be a troubling figure on many accounts; who believe they cannot with good conscience and faith support a man of such immorality and chaos.

I want to highlight several articles on the issue. Each article has an interesting take on the matter and gives fresh insight into the evangelical identity as it relates to politics.

Christianity Today — “Why Evangelicals Voted Trump: Debunking the 81%”

This article caught my eye in 2018. It digs into statistics gathered by Billy Graham Center Institute at Wheaton College and LifeWay Research. It gives a nuanced picture of the evangelical vote (was it really 81% support?) and unpacks motivations and trends.

This article looks at two new books on evangelicals and politics. The first is Who Is an Evangelical?: The History of a Movement in Crisis by Thomas S. Kidd, Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University (I quoted Kidd’s definition of Evangelical in my first part of this article). The second is The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values by author Ben Howe. Both authors give analysis on what it means for evangelicals to have elected Trump, each from his own perspective. I have yet to read more than excerpts from either book, but I look forward to digging into their analysis of our current political landscape.

The Gospel Coalition — “Why Evangelicals Are Divided over Trump”

This article was published in October 2016, before President Trump was elected. Its analysis on the two differing approaches Christians have taken in their response to Trump is insightful in its simplicity.

The Atlantic — “Evangelical Fear Elected Trump”

John Fea (professor of American history at Messiah College) challenges evangelicals to look at their underlying motivations as they vote, while also giving historical insight into how evangelicals have influenced past political moments. His opinion may be discomforting—no one wants to be told they are acting out of fear—but I believe it deserves consideration.

Photo by Amaury Gutierrez on Unsplash