I was in a conversation the other day with an editor friend about the usefulness of the term “evangelical.” While we both agreed that there’s not on the table any term that serves us better, there is no doubt that many of us know — some fear it — the term has lost its moorings in meaningfulness.
It is embraced, say, by The Gospel Coalition and by Christianity Today but many pronounce the term “evangelical” with a snarl or a wish that another term were at hand.
As part of our conversation came the term WASP and then a suggestion and I have edited the editor’s suggestion.
From that “infallible” guide called Wikipedia:
White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) is an informal term for a closed social group of high-status and influential white Americans of British Protestant ancestry. It can be used as a disparaging term by critics who attack their control of disproportionate financial, political and social power in the United States.
Scholars agree that the group’s influence has waned since 1945, with the growing influence of other ethnic groups. The term is also used in Australia and Canada for similar elites. The term is occasionally used by sociologists to include all Americans of Northern European ancestry regardless of their class or power.People rarely call themselves WASPs, except humorously. The acronym is typically used by “non-WASPs”.
Much of the Christian culture in the USA was formed in the WASP days by WASP leaders and was very much mainline-ish (hence, “W” sometimes meant “Wealthy” as well as “White”). Historically WASP meant Republican, it meant high levels of education and deep influence in politics and culture. It meant the combination of religious and political influence, and one thinks of the Niebuhrs (not so Anglo-Saxon though as they had a German heritage). Anyway, they spoke for WASP.Somehow WASP shifted as the mainline declined. I see two elements in the shift: first, many WASPers became after 1964 Democrats and, second, many evangelicals — think Jerry Falwell and James Dobson and James Kennedy — took on the mantle of wannabe WASPers in influencing politics and culture. (For a good study of the story, see George Marsden’s still very helpful Fundamentalism and American Culture. Also Randy Balmer, Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism)
The shift leads — as the editor suggested to me — to WARP. The wannabe influencers are not WASP — white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. They are White, for sure; they are Americans but their connection to Anglo-Saxon culture is all but disappeared; they are Protestants in some ways.
The R? Republican.
The old WASP mantle has been assumed by wannabe White, American, Republican, Protestants.
They are, however, not upper class as were the WASPers but populist, so I suggest we call them not Protestants but Populists:
The old WASP vision can be found in WARP, and the latter influenced this election but their days are numbered.
If WARPers would go back to being evangelicals and forget being WASP wannabes, they’d do much better.
But right now for many the word evangelical is WARP and hence is WARPed.