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Friday, November 25, 2016

So what the heck is evangelical Christianity?

So what is evangelical Christianity? There are the basics, or five fundamentals (or more depending on your particular denominational flavor): Biblical inspiration and the impossibility of error within scripture; the virgin birth; Jesus' atonement for sin; bodily resurrection of Jesus; belief in Jesus' miracles.

Okay, so that is a beginning.

But at some time, not sure when but probably around the mid-century, something else happened, something that created a sub-set of fundamentalism: the evangelical movement. They still liked the five F's but seemed squishy regarding other non-fundamentalists, more likely to reach out, as Billy Graham did, to the youth. Youth for Life and like-minded organizations sought out the young with rock concerts (Christian rock concerts, but still) and Bibles that emphasized paraphrastic interpretations, emphasized form over content one might say. In his book, The Rise and Fall of the Bible, Timothy Beal, a professor of religion at Case Western Reserve Univ at the time of the publication of his book, shows that there has been a definite slippery slope toward the promotion of the Bible over the sanctity of the Bible.

Evangelicals also emphasized the "born again" experience, and the relationship with Jesus. They were true Lutherans in the original sense, believing stridently in salvation through faith by the grace of God's gift of Jesus' death and resurrection. There is a strong attraction to end times (we are always, it seems, living in the end times...until we aren't) and dispensationalism. There is also a strong tendency to judge: Gays have not been known to flock to evangelical churches (neither have any LGBTQ people).

The term, however, is difficult to really pin down. Mainline Christian churches such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church and even the Catholic Church (decidedly looked askance at by evangelicals) have the appellation "evangelical." Evangelicals will use the term, at least in the US, to differentiate themselves from other mainline churches, and Catholics.

There is a cultural difference, too, it seems to me. Evangelicals are largely white, and fervent nationalists, fervent capitalists, Republicans all (I am aware of something called Progressive Evangelical Christianity but it seems so far afield from what I experience in the evangelical world that I do not speak of it here), and also largely of the Tea Party/Libertarian sort.They are chiefly set in the South. But inroads have been made even in New England where an evangelical college has been started, the New England Baptist College and the Southern Baptist Association has helped to plant churches all through New England but mostly Vermont, seen as a bellwether of insidious liberalism (if they can grow churches in Vermont, one can hear them say, they can grow them anywhere).

Evangelicals love football, sports of all kinds, hunting, conservative politics, and prayer. Prayer is a biggy. Not the sort of prayer that Kierkegaard spoke of (The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays) or squishy meditation, but healing prayer, prayer that changes the lives of others and even the world. It is said often that the most important thing we can do for the nation, for the planet, for one's neighbor, for one's church, is to pray. God is always in control, you see? Nothing happens without the hand of God in it. But what of disease, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamies, war, torture, starvation, injustice... but why ask these pesky questions. God is in control!

Revival is a popular topic. Waiting and praying for revival. End times, as I previously mentioned, is another.

Climate change is not really a concern to evangelicals. Why would it be if we are living in the end times, if the new kingdom of God is just around the corner. Heck, all of politics is pretty much just a forerunner to the coming of Jesus--some even think that we can egg on God to get this going faster by pricking the Israel-Palestine conflict. Get that temple built!

All this comes at a cost. The kind of society that Jesus was teaching us about, caring for one's neighbors, peaceful but progressive change, helping the homeless the poor, widows, orphans, children, making sure everyone has healthcare, treating everyone equally and with respect, all these problems have solutions; but these solutions are not seen as necessary if we have another New Kingdom coming around the corner. Why bother changing the world if Jesus is coming tomorrow?

This is why I see evangelical Christianity as something to be fought against, something to be argued against, something to be at war with. It is one thing to believe prayer can alter the course of the universe by convincing the Creator that, Hey, that girl with diabetes should really be treated better don't you think? Those being tortured by ISIS can use a helping hand 'cause apparently you forgot about them; it is one thing to think that scripture was written by God's hand (or his inspiration whatever that truly means); it is one thing to think Jesus is coming in glory tomorrow; but it is quite another to ignore the present danger of climate warming that will destroy the lives of billions. It is quite another to ignore inequality that takes food from the mouths of children. It is quite a different thing altogether to be pro-birth but care not one wit about children drinking lead and other poisons and breathing in mercury from coal stacks, or starving, or just plain dying because their parent don't have any health insurance.

Evangelicals have also aligned themselves so fervently with the GOP that they voted (more than 81%) for Donald Trump, who cannot even be described as a Christian, let alone an evangelical. They previously voted for Romney, a Mormon, a religion evangelicals do no even consider Christian. It does not matter that Trump proved a liar, a philanderer, a man of no morals, a cheater, a xenophobe, a sexual predator. Didn't matter that his wife posed naked for a lesbian photo-shoot (I personally have no problem with the photos; but evangelicals show their hypocrisy when they don't). Didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was the "R" next to his name. It should be scarlet, and it should have been a "P" for Power.

And this is why I will no long ever consider myself an evangelical Christian.

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