We’ve been hearing a lot over the years about the “evangelical bloc” and the “evangelical voters.” Every time I hear that, I am tempted to grind my teeth, because the term “evangelical” is being misused.
We have evangelical in our congregation’s name, Elim Evangelical Lutheran Church. We have evangelical in our denomination’s name, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. When the press talks about evangelical voters, are we included?
Harold Chilstrom, who was the ELCA’s first presiding bishop, wrote about this in his March 14, 2012, Living Lutheran article, “Recapturing ‘Evangelical.’” He wrote
“Ask most anyone on the street to define “evangelical” and they will tell you that it represents someone who is opposed to gun control, abortion and birth control; someone who favors tight immigration restrictions and prayer in the public schools.”
In a Google search, I found this definition of evangelical on Patheos Press: “…a White Protestant who opposes legal abortion and civil rights for LGBT people.”
But those definitions of evangelical are just plain wrong, I find it likely that there are members of Elim and the ELCA who hold some of those views, but I find it equally likely that there are others who do not. Political positions do not make you evangelical.
In March 2006, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hansen wrote this in a letter to the voting members at ELCA’s Synod Assemblies:
Evangelical: We name, proclaim, and believe the Good News of Jesus Christ. As people in an evangelizing church we are called to talk about the love of God in Christ Jesus and bear witness to the signs of the inbreaking of God’s reign of justice, mercy, and peace in our world.
Being evangelical is not agreeing to a set of conservative social positions. Being evangelical means, at its simplest, that we believe in Jesus Christ. Being evangelical means that we proclaim Christ to the world.
We are being truly evangelical when we say, “Jesus is Lord!” Have whatever political positions you feel are correct, but it is when you spread the Good News of Jesus Christ that you are being truly evangelical.
15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Mark 16:15 (NIV)
Note: A slightly different version of this article appeared in the newsletter of Elim Lutheran Church, “The Elim Scribe,” Volume 62, Issue 8, August 2012
References, and for further reading: