I was having an conversation with someone the other day about the word ‘Evangelical’ and how it is perceived by people. In my experience, perceptions and responses to the word ‘Evangelical’, especially from those outside the church, are almost entirely negative.
The context I hear these comments are often people saying to me things like ‘Oh, you’re not one of those Evangelical Christians are you?’ This is often said in a tone which is clearly suggesting that being Evangelical equals being judgemental/happy-clappy/right-wing/homophobic/bonkers (delete as appropriate).
Consequently, I use the word rarely and answer carefully when someone asks me that question…
And it seems I am not the only one. A few years ago I did some research on Evangelical perspectives on social injusticeand I interviewed a number of high profile church leaders. I was surprised that Nicky Gumbel, the author of the Alpha course, turned me down for an interview on the specific basis that he does not consider himself an Evangelical Christian. He was very clear with me that he finds the label unhelpful.
Of course, the word ‘Evangelical’ gets used loads in church arguments and you could do endless blog posts on the technical and political uses of the word. But I am not concerned so much with those kind of internal debates. What interests me more is how the term is perceived by those outside the church.
A key factor is the profile of US Evangelicalism which unlike its British counterpart, has an overt role in mainstream politics and is perceived as almost entirely right-wing. By contrast, in the UK we never hear the media talk about politicians ‘chasing the Evangelical vote’.
But the profile and nature of US Evangelicalism affects people’s perceptions of Evangelicals generally. I wonder whether the word Evangelical has become so encrusted with negative associations that it is beyond redemption.
Energy and commitment
It is not that I think the underlying beliefs of an evangelical faith be jettisoned. The passion, energy and commitment to Jesus and seeing his love transform people are all strengths of many evangelical churches. If anything, these beliefs and commitments need to be emphasised more within the Church. But as a label, I wonder if the word Evangelical comes with too much baggage.
But what do you think?
Remember the question is not about what you believe, or whether you would consider yourself an Evangelical or not. The question is what is your response when you hear the word ‘Evangelical’?
And please leave a comment below about why you voted as you did!