On Being Evangelical
Once, pinning the “Evangelical Christian” tag was a badge of honor. These days, I am not so sure. My existential doubt morphs puissance slowly. My denomination talked about a kind of “spiritual lethargy” among the congregants. A kind of malaise that slouched towards collective passivity and personal impiety. Some vital signs of vibrant church life have experienced decline, like baptism, church attendance and financial giving. Beyond my faith community, this precipice seems evident in the larger Evangelical fellowship as well.* Studies show that there is little difference in lifestyle values and practices between ‘born again’ Christians and non-Christians.
The irony is that while a spiritual lethargy pervaded some churches, a political effusion among Evangelicals entered last year’s presidential election. An overwhelming majority of born-again Christians raucously supported the Republican candidate. These two disparities leave me dismayed, demoralized and diffidence. Across the religious and political spectrum, many concur that this president is temperamentally unstable and narcissistic, profoundly amoral and unethical, and politically and professionally inept. How did the Evangelicals stumble into this apparent bathos?
David Brooks of the New York Times explains that the religious right is suffering from a “under seized” mentality. It perceives the hostility of political left as a form of religious persecution. These last decades have witnessed a noxious stripping away of protestant values in American life. This under seized pessimism persists that things are getting apocalyptically worse. R. Marie Griffith’s Moral Combat traces how social issues – birth control, abortion, homosexuality and same-sex marriage – have become a cultural war in the political process. And the religious right has lost the war. When religious survival is at stake, the president’s personal character and competence are of little concern. As long as he, and other politicians, promise to make our country ‘godly’ again, the Evangelicals are prodigiously amendable to complicit ungodliness in our leaders. The end will have to justify the means.
Of this incredulous bathos, Mark Galli, Christianity Today editor, concludes recently that Evangelicalism’s integrity has been severely tarnished. Evangelicals are laughable jokes to some and hypocrites to others. The blemished image of the political conservative Christians maybe beyond reformation. The way forward for Evangelicalism as a movement is tenuous with uncertainties. How apropos that this is also the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Perhaps the church is due for another radical reform. Meanwhile, when asked about my religious affiliation, I am embarrassingly hesitant to call myself an Evangelical.
*Since the Protestant Reformation, Evangelicalism is a religious movement of Christians of diverse worship liturgy who adhere to these basic theological tenets of faith: lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience of faith in Christ Jesus; active proclamation of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts; adherence to the Bible as the Word of God.