Friday, June 29, 2007

What goes around comes around...

I have been involved in several conversations lately which have been about the deconstruction of, redefinition of, or lament about the word "evangelical." It seems to have picked up some baggage along the way, as all words do, really, and it is not always seen as a positive label, even among Christians.

Once upon a time, declaring yourself an "evangelical Christian" was a way to say that you were about a faith that was your own, that wasn't just your family heritage, and that being a Christian was more to you than going to church on Sunday. Keith Green's thing about the fact that "going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald's makes you a hamburger" was part of the idea of "evangelicalism." It meant that you took the Bible seriously.

To many of us twenty-five or thirty years ago, the "evangelical movement" was the answer to the "problem" of being what one might call a "cultural" Christian, where you were considered a Christian if you went to church on Sunday.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, that word gained all kinds of subtext, much of which was a result, or maybe a cause, for it being usurped by a political agenda. Now, when someone uses the word "evangelical" it means "pro-life, pro-capital punishment, anti-welfare-loving, Republican." It means you are part of some weird churchy subculture, full of people that thought life was better in the 50's and wouldn't it be great if we could go back there. It means that your faith is little more than the answer to the question, "Do you know for sure you'll go to heaven when you die," a form of eternal fire insurance.

Too bad, because etymologically doesn't it actually mean something about bring a message of good news?

I think the original point of the evangelical movement was that our faith is supposed to permeate all areas of our lives. And that we are supposed to try to live like we are citizens of the kingdom, thereby doing something to bring a little of the kingdom of God to this earth. Now.

So what went around once is coming around again.

I go back and forth on this. I, too, am frustrated with the reputation which the "evangelical movement" has gained in the world. But I am equally frustrated by those that seem to want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and sit back criticizing "the church" and taking pot shots at "the church" instead of becoming part of the solution for the church.

There is a balance to be had. I believe I am in a place that has achieved some measure of that balance.

But the best thing would be if we would all stop looking at what's wrong and just focus on moving forward into what's right, learning from what's gone before but pressing on into what's ahead, exchanging small minds for big hearts.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, Sue.

    After reading this, I'm forced to reflect on how wise our Founding Fathers really were.

    It is a common misconception that the idea of "church-state separation" was a notion meant to protect government from religion; when, in fact, it was meant to accomplish the opposite - keep government out of religious affairs.

    The term "usurped" is apt. Politicians have campaigned to the Evangelicals so long, and so hard that their affiliation has become so inextricably linked that the general populous cannot separate the message of God from the political stump speech of a hardliner compaigning to their base.

    Partisan politics, with all their negative connotation, can be a positive force in our national discourse. There are times when bi-partisan compromise is NOT a good thing. (Do ANY of us wish there had been a compromise with the slave states rather than fighting for what was truly right?) However, when the very complicated ideas of God and religion are boiled down to a bumper sticker for a campaign, it hurts both the political discourse ("You're either with me, or against God") and, more importantly, religion.

    Politicians are great at taking complicated ideas and simplifying them for general consumption in a campaign. It was once said that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. As far as poetry and religion goes, I'd happily leave that to John Donne, rather than George Bush.