Since the 2016 election, the word “evangelical” has seemingly become ubiquitous in the media. While this term is typically used to refer to a conservative white voting bloc, there is a lot more to evangelicalism than a racial or political identity. “Evangelical,” at its root, is a religious identifier, not a political one, and evangelical Christians in America span the full political spectrum.
In her research on evangelicals of color, Janelle S. Wong cites interviews with several nonwhite evangelical voters in America. There is a less clear trend in political views and beliefs within the nonwhite evangelical population than the white. Consider Luis, a 60-year-old Puerto Rican man. While Luis opposes same-sex marriage and abortion, he supports the Democratic Party because of what he perceives as their commitment to “helping people.” Luis, like many others in this study, “expressed a mix of conservative and progressive viewpoints that can partly be explained by the convergence of spiritual and racial identities.”
The New York Times recently published an article which features six young evangelicals from diverse backgrounds who hold a variety of political views. The conclusion drawn from these young people’s insights along with hundreds of others is:
“Young evangelicals are questioning the typical ties between evangelicalism and Republican politics. Many said it had caused schisms within their families. And many described a real struggle with an administration they see as hostile to immigrants, Muslims, L.G.B.T.Q. people, and the poor. They feel it reflects a loss of humanity, which conflicts with their spiritual call. Plenty of young evangelicals believe Mr. Trump has helped to achieve their biggest goals, like curbing abortion rights and advancing religious liberties. But they are sensitive to other issues. Many feel politically independent, or politically homeless. There is a fight for what the term ‘evangelical’ even means, and they are living it.”
The concern expressed both by young evangelicals and evangelicals of color regarding “helping people” and a “spiritual call” toward humanity is a common trend in American evangelicalism. In October, a group of evangelicals recommitted themselves to certain social values reflected in the 1973 Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Concern. Thirty nine evangelical leaders from a variety of backgrounds signed the declaration, committing to a gospel of good news to the poor and freedom for the oppressed, biblical justice, affirming the sacredness and dignity of all human life, care for the earth, resisting racism and sexism, affirming the dignity and leadership of women, and defending the dignity and rights of all people and celebrating the increasing racial diversity in the United States.
The release and signing of this updated commitment were organized in part by Sojourner’s, a social-justice oriented evangelical institution. Sojourner’s “began at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, in the early 1970s when a handful of students began meeting to discuss the relationship between their faith and political issues, particularly the Vietnam War.” It has grown to include publications and campaigns and projects dedicated to social justice activism.
Clearly, evangelicalism in America is not a clearly defined or static movement, but rather diverse, complex, and continuously changing. How, then, should this movement be understood? What values can American evangelicals unite around?
The word “evangelical” is derived from the Latin root “evangel,” which refers simply to “the good tidings of the redemption of the world through Jesus Christ.” While this term has evolved over time, shifting meanings and gaining new connotations, it is my goal to remain true to the nature of this word not as it is often used in the news, but at its very root. It is my goal to remain committed to the gospel and the redemption of the world through Jesus Christ.
That is something all Christians should be able to unite around regardless of age, race, denomination, or political affiliation.