Don’t Blame the Evangelicals

Hot topic of the week: North Carolina votes to forbid same-sex marriages in their state, and President Obama publicly states that he is in favor of full recognition of marriage for those same couples. And, of course, people are all hot and bothered — for one reason or the other.

Some see the passage of Amendment 1 in North Carolina as yet another nail in the coffin of the evangelical church and its relevance to the under-30 crowd. A bunch of old, white men fighting a losing battle over issues no one younger even cares about. Nothing new here; religious people have been bemoaning this for decades: Church in danger of losing the current generation.

But my gut reaction is “don’t blame the evangelicals.” Or better put, don’t equate conservative, inflexible, irrelevant religious people with evangelicalism. The very word “evangelical” comes from the Greek word for “Good News”. Guess what? The Good News isn’t stale. It isn’t rigid. It doesn’t rise up to impose its own way. It doesn’t oppress people or take things away from them. It isn’t political. It doesn’t rise or fall with the turning generations. It isn’t even fixed in black and white on the pages of Scripture. Well, the Good News is, but everything the church as linked to it is not. Here is the Good News: God loves the world, and he sent his Son to reconcile the world to him. Those who believe it are reconciled. They are now his children. Done deal. That’s all there is to it. All that other stuff is unrelated.

Those people who become alarmed at the “war on marriage” or the “war on American traditional values” (as though those were handed down from Mt. Sinai), they have little to do with what being an evangelical is all about.

Being an evangelical means I’m concerned about people being separated from God. It means I believe Jesus came to re-unite them with the Father. It means I care that they hurt. It means I try to treat them as I want to be treated. It means that if God’s love lives in me, I must extend that love to others. And I want to see those others brought into the same loving relationship with God through Jesus that I have.

Hooting and hollering on TV and talk-radio, voting knee-jerk reaction measures in Congress or the state legislatures, rousing the troops to get out the vote for the next election … all irrelevant. Politics and voting belong in the civic arena. Faith and relationship with God is the domain of evangelicalism. “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” — and let’s not confuse the two.

People of genuine faith are gonna have disagreements about social and political issues. We’re human. It’s automatic. But let’s not let intractable, angry, or even frightened people equate their actions with being a good Christian, defending the faith — or of being evangelical. Those actions do not represent Jesus nor his Church. They’re just the behavior of scared people. Let true evangelicals stand up and say, “we don’t care who you are, or who you love, who you vote for, or what you’ve done. That is not our concern. We just want you to know that God loves you.” And all that other stuff has nothing to do with us.

5 Replies to “Don’t Blame the Evangelicals”

  1. Excellent, as always, Steve. As I pointed out on my wall, one of cornerstones of this country is the Doctrine of Separation of Church and State. We do NOT have a state religion. Religious decisions belong in the church, and not in the government. Civic/Legal decisions belong to the government, not to religion. Seems pretty clear to me. [via Facebook]

  2. Steve, not to start an argument, but yes, evangelicals do have a lot to answer to on this issue. Not all evangelicals, of course. But as an evangelical, I do wrestle with self-loathing because of the acceptance of the authority of Scripture. If I could have just cast off that authority then I would have come out long ago! Thank God, that newer scholarship (some of which is evangelical) is teaching us to read the Bible through the lens of Jesus and the others lens of love and grace (three lenses? sigh….).

  3. Obama is for gay marriage in states that voted for it, he is not for a federal amendment and he only wants to celebrate with those who can, the rest, 30 states that have passed laws against it. he is sad by it but will do nothing to change it. So is he really for gay marriage?????

  4. Steve, I quite agree, and yet the greatest work to be done to help others see Scripture as advocating a faith walk which is inclusive, loving, humble, and, in short, like Jesus still lies ahead of us. So many times we are still quibbling over pentecostal v. non-pentecostal; arminian v. calvinistic; symbolic sacraments v….etc., when we are missing the people right in front of us. And what evangelicals don’t see is that most younger people will absolutly not tolerate bigotry and exclusion! So evangelicals will begin to experience the loss of whole generations of hungry people who need the real Jesus, the heart of God! Selah, brother.

  5. that’s exactly it, Jon. We don’t have to throw out accepting the authority of Scripture, we just have to read it the same way Jesus did. I love what he said in Luke 10:26 (a very Jewish/rabbinic hermeneutic): “What is written, and how do you read it?” This is the key to everything. Scripture was NEVER meant to be imposed on us as black and white law. Jesus read Torah through the eyes of God’s love and grace — and in doing so, brought out the true meaning: the heart of God. So why don’t we, when we’re reading Torah or Paul’s Epistles?

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