Why Not Give Up Being Evangelical?

Why Not Give Up Being Evangelical? February 4, 2016

James Bratt thinks the evangelical brand has lost its usefulness, thanks in part to all the service the word “evangelical” is having to do during the Republic primaries. Go figure that Democrats don’t have to worry about or court born-again Protestants (white ones that is). Bratt proposes a few alternatives:

One nominee surely ought to be “Amerikanische Christen,” in memory of those good Germans who soldered the faith so fast to fascist ideology in the 1930s that the church there has never recovered. Plus people who care about real Christianity have an epochal answer ready for use from Karl Barth.

How about “Christiany,” in the spirit of Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness”—in this case denoting a hyper-nationalistic, xenophobic, patriarchal rage that nonetheless hums along fondly to those good ol’ gospel tunes that Mama used to sing. (So sweet, isn’t it, that a family gospel band hied itself over from Kansas to provide spiritual solace to the vigilantes occupying the federal wildlife sanctuary in Oregon.)

Consider also “Christianist,” á la “Islamist” (see also “terrorist;” “jihadist, militant”), designating people who have colonized the terminology of a world religion while acting in diametric opposition to its core message and values. As in: welcome not the stranger, it’s not the Christianist thing to do. Or: I’ll carpet-bomb those jihadis wherever they are and turn the desert sands into a sea of glass; it is the Christianist thing to do. Oh, there might be some innocent civilians in the area? Well of course, the bombs won’t kill them. (See: ignorance, innate or incorrigible. See also Ben Carson, erstwhile “evangelical” favorite, deemed ineducable in these matters by his own foreign policy advisers.)

And yet, at the very same time that pollsters are heaving the word and hitting any number of right-leaning Americans (remember H. L. Mencken’s 1925 quip, “Heave an egg out of a Pullman window, and you will hit a Fundamentalist almost anywhere in the United States today”), Daniel Kirk persists in self-applying the evangelical label. Why would a guy so progressive on homosexuality and gay marriage be so wedded to a term affixed to the party of all things intolerant:

I’m an evangelical because the Bible will always haunt me as the authoritative articulation of the word of God we hold in our hands. But I’m a progressive because Jesus, not the Bible, is the ultimate authority to whom I must bow as a Christian—and I do not believe that the final, liberating word has yet been spoken, that the final, liberating action of God has yet been taken.

So a commitment to the Jesus I meet on the pages of the Bible means that I must continue to enact the progressive ministry of Jesus and those who followed him.

Go back a century and you’ll find Protestants like Harry Emerson Fosdick saying similar things. Those guys identified themselves as modernists. Progressivists might also work. Taking a page from Bratt, perhaps a better label is Obamangelical.

Image By Luis Quiroz

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