Is “Evangelical” the New “Jewish”?

Is “Evangelical” the New “Jewish”? January 19, 2012

In light of last week’s gathering of evangelical leaders, in which they threw their support behind Rick Santorum, David Neff of Christianity Today wrote a sensible essay called, “Why Last Saturday’s Political Conclave of Evangelical Leaders Was Dangerous: Brothers and sisters, we are neither kingmakers nor powerbrokers.” He’s smart to distance himself from that group in Texas — in fact, he admits that he wasn’t invited.

He also cops to being at the center of the group that in 2008 published “An Evangelical Manifesto,” a piece of rhetoric that was meant to unify evangelicals around a few core theological and moral concerns. But the real reason for the Manifesto in that election year was to tell the mainstream media, “We’re not all crazy, right-wing reactionaries.”

Based on the coverage of the Texas conclave, I don’t think the lamestream* media got the message.

I had a similar experience last week. I was on the phone with a journalist who’s writing a story on “younger evangelicals.” But, as she listed her litany of personalities in the article, I stopped her and said, “Those people aren’t really evangelical, at least not culturally speaking. They’re post-evangelical.”

But, of course, that’s Inside Baseball, and it won’t make it in her article.

The thing is, you and I think of “evangelical” primarily as a theological demarcation. That’s why I can be listed in the evangelical portal at Patheos and Jim Wallis can call himself an evangelical on the dustjacket of his latest book. But outside of our circles, “evangelical” is a cultural category — not a theographic, but a psychographic.

It all gets me to wondering if “evangelical” might be more like “Jewish” than it is like “Presbyterian.” That is, “Jewish” is a cultural/ethic referent, not necessarily a confessional one. I know Orthodox Jews, and I know atheistic Jews. But they’re all Jews, and they don’t fight over the word or attempt to excommunicate other Jews (in that way, evangelicals aren’t really like Jews).

My point is, “Jewish” doesn’t really say much of anything about one’s theology; it is, instead, about who is your tribe. And it seems to me that “evangelical” is becoming more and more this way.

I’ve spilled lots of pixels here on


*© Stephen T. Colbert, MFA

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