Farewell Evangelical

Like a shooting star the term “Evangelical” grabbed our attention, then it died. I remember the first time I saw a shooting star, it was amazing, it seemed as though there was a party in the sky and I had glimpsed part of it. I was equally amazed when I found out that stars are much older than humans and that a shooting star is actually our glimpse at the death of a star that may have existed over 1,000 years. While the term “evangelical” has become popular in modern media, the term dates back the first century A.D. Evangelical derives from the Greek word euangelion meaning “gospel” or “good news” of Jesus in contrast the news announcements of the Roman Empire.[1] Since the time of Jesus’ resurrection the term evangelical has held importance for Christians. During the Great Awakening of the 18th and 19th century the influence preachers as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield caused many to view evangelicalism as Christians who were passionate about converting sinners. Evangelism became the moral hinge upon which American society swung.

In 1976 the term evangelical began its long blaze across the sky and grabbed mainstream attention. It was the year that Democrat, Jimmy Carter became the first U.S. President to call himself a “born again” evangelical Christian and Newsweek called it the “year of the evangelical.”[2] Evangelicals were no longer a group of Christians simply interested in converting sinners; they were now a major voting bloc. Feeling as though Carter and the Democrats were taking the country in the wrong direction, in 1979 Jerry Falwell, Sr. formed an evangelical political action group called the Moral Majority to influence public policy. Evangelical had been freed from its Christians roots and was glowing bright as it shot across a mainstream sky. Falwell said, “What’s happened to America is that the wicked are bearing rule. We have to lead the nation back to the moral stance that made America great…we need to wield influence on those who govern us.”[3] Falwell and the Moral Majority hitched themselves to Ronald Regan and the Republican ticket with the hope of returning America to greatness. The Moral Majority helped redefine evangelical, it no longer simply meant the good news or persons interested in converting sinners, it became synonymous with republican voter. In his book The End of White Christian America Robert Jones says, “The White Christian conservative movement dominated the American political and cultural consciousness in the 1980s, 1990s and even into the mid-2000s.”[4] While conservative evangelicals were exerting political influence, they were becoming further detached from the first century A.D. meaning of “evangelical” and headed towards a moral death.

After the election of Barack Obama, America’s first African American president, and the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage, evangelicals lost their political and moral high ground. 75% of Mr. Trump’s supporters expressed on concerns that the country had gotten worse for them over the past 50 years. Contending that the economy was bad and that immigrants were a burden to the county. [5] The country was changing and many evangelicals wanted their country and political power back.

While some evangelical leaders such as R. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Russell Moore, President of ERLC (the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention) tried to appeal to evangelical’s Christian convictions, others did not. Describing the evangelical civil war in response to the 2016 presidential election Russell Moore told Bloomberg News, “To some degree it’s a pre-existing condition. In that respect, the divide will continue. I think this election across the board has been incredibly divisive and hurtful to probably most Americans. I’m looking beyond this election to recovering the witness of the church, when it comes to the important questions. The most important being: What is the gospel?”[6]  Rather than turning to Christian values, evangelicals sought to take their country back politically. Following in the footsteps of his father, Jerry Falwell, Jr., President of Liberty University, rejected Moore’s perspective stating that Moore was, “The rank-and-file evangelicals are strongly behind Trump, and Russell Moore is nothing but an employee of the Southern Baptist Convention for their public policy whatever, liaison, whatever it is.”[7]

On November 4, 2016 America watched evangelical as a Christian term disappear as 81% of white evangelicals cast their vote in favor of Donald Trump.[8] Rose Aller a member of an evangelical church told the Washington Post that during the campaign she felt comfortable with Trump only while at church but remained silent publically because, “You’re judged for your beliefs…Our media branded you a racist, a bigot, a homophobe if you were Republican.”[9] An overwhelming majority of evangelicals voted for Mr. Trump who publically stated that he had never prayed for forgiveness, owns a casino and strip club, has been divorced twice and married three times and made horrible comments about women and minorities. Their choice in candidate shows that evangelical has ceased functioning as a Christian term and is now solely political. It’s now time for American Christians to bid farewell to evangelism and look elsewhere for a moral hinge. While evangelical has ceased to exist as a Christian star there is another that still shines bright and it’s found on the continent of Africa. If American Christians are willing to break free of our bondage to Western thought and its value of the individual over community, there’s hope. Ujamaa is a term that describes African communalism. Ujamaa was demonstrated in Acts 4:32-35 when there was sharing amongst believers. This is also what the Apostle Paul called for in Ephesians 4 when he encouraged Christians to unite as one and not to be drawn from the gospel by human trickery. Concerning communalism Julius Nyerere writes, “Both the ‘rich’ and the ‘poor’ individual were completely secure in African society. Natural catastrophe brought famine, but it brought famine to everyone—‘poor’ and ‘rich.’ Nobody starved, either of food or human dignity, because he lacked personal wealth; he could depend on the wealth possessed by the community of which he was a member.”[10] Some will reject the idea of Ujamaa as un-American and search in the dark for a past American greatness that never existed. As Christians we must now search for a beloved community that isn’t tided to a political party but centered on Biblical principles that benefit all. The light of evangelism has gone out but we, as Christians must still shine. Because I am, we are, Ujamma

[1] http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/12/evangelical-christian/418236/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Eileen Oginitz, “Evangelicals Seek Political Clout,” Chicago Tribune, January 3, 1980.

[4] Jones, Robert, The End of White Christian America. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016) p.37.

[5] http://www.people-press.org/2016/03/31/campaign-exposes-fissures-over-issues-values-and-how-life-has-changed-in-the-u-s/

[6] https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-10-09/the-evangelical-civil-war-an-interview-with-russell-moore

[7] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/the-evangelical-reckoning-on-trump/507161/?utm_source=fbb

[8] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/how-the-faithful-voted-a-preliminary-2016-analysis/

[9] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/11/15/hopeful-and-relieved-evangelicals-see-trumps-win-as-their-own/

[10] Nyerere, Julius K., Ujamaa: Essays on Socialism (Nairobi: Oxford, 1968),7.

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