Until recently, I identified as evangelical. I am not a conservative Republican; I’m a queer Democrat. I don’t want to defund Planned Parenthood, and I don’t want to see Obergefell v. Hodges overturned. Yet I was raised to be evangelical, and I went to an evangelical college. This was my tradition, my family—even if we disagreed on politics or theology.
But I find the conservative political policies that have become so interwoven with the evangelical Gospel to be disconcerting. As I’ve watched the election season unfold, I’ve questioned how I could grasp to the label of “evangelical” when the actions of those who represent it publicly seem to have almost nothing to do with the life and teachings of Jesus.
In a day when a man as blatantly immoral and unfaithful as Donald Trump is lauded by many evangelicals as the candidate who represents evangelical values, I’ve been forced to ask: Is there anything about evangelicalism worth salvaging?
Presidential candidates’ desire to appeal to evangelicals is understandable. According to the Pew Forums 2014 Survey on the religious landscape of America, 25.4% of the American population identify as evangelical Christians, making it the largest religious group in the U.S. According to another Pew survey, about 70% of white evangelicals identify as politically conservative.
But “evangelical” shouldn’t be about politics; it should be about religion.
Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, penned an op-ed in the Washington Post last week in which he claimed that he has stopped describing himself as an “evangelical,” because “the word ‘evangelical’ has become almost meaningless.” He criticized evangelical leaders for a litany of hypocritical behaviors, including supporting “race-baiting and courting white supremacists.”
I agree with Moore’s sentiment, but I question his authenticity. Organizations like Moore’s that promote right-wing efforts—from supporting bills that would defund Planned Parenthood to effectively supporting Republican presidential candidates—all while preaching an explicitly conservative political agenda, are the driving force behind the politicization of the Gospel.
If being an evangelical is truly about the good news of Jesus for sinners, why don’t we focus all of our efforts on healing the sick or funding missionary efforts around the world? Why is it that some evangelicals are focused on creating political messages rather than reaching out to those on the margins? This seems radically opposed to the example of Jesus.
As long as political special interest groups disguised as religious institutions continue to perpetuate a politicized Gospel under the guise of the term “evangelical,” I don’t believe there is any hope for the word or the movement. I don’t know where this leaves me religiously. I still love the evangelical tradition and theology. But when it comes to being aligned with conservative politics and power, I simply cannot, in good conscience, remained aligned with the modern manifestation of this movement.