Today’s Evangelical Christians Are Neither Evangelical Nor Christian

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

No, that’s not a plank in some Liberal “snowflake” platform, nor is it a principle from a Communist manifesto. That question comes from Scripture, 1 John 3:16–17 (NRSV), to be exact. 

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

At one time evangelical Christians were all about sharing the good news. But lately, from political power grabs to cold and apathetic responses to the plights of others to abject hypocrisy, media whoring, and overt acts of hatred, today’s evangelical Christians are unrecognizable as members of Christ’s flock. And with behavior like that, is it any wonder why the church’s popularity and relevance are at an all-time low?

The Basics

What exactly is an evangelical Christian? I can imagine a large number of hackles springing to a full and upright position–and understandably so. But let’s step back and examine a few words in order to get a working definition of “evangelical Christian.”

  • evangel | noun | from Greek euangelion ‘good news,’ from euangelos ‘bringing good news,’ from eu– ‘well’ + angelein ‘announce.’
  • evangelism | noun | the spreading of the Gospel (the good news — teachings of Christ or Christian religion) by public preaching or personal witness.
  • evangelical | adjective | of or according to the teaching of the Gospel or the Christian religion.
  • Christian | noun | a person has received Christian baptism or is a believer in Christianity.

The term “Christians” originated as a put-down (meaning “little Christs”) for those who followed the risen Lord and didn’t acknowledge the emporer as the Be All, End All authority in ancient times. Early Christians were all about the business of looking out for one another, as well as those in need, even those who didn’t self-identify as a follower of Christ. This was a radical concept. But those first Christians, claimed the intended slur as a badge of honor to be recognized as a follower of Christ. Talk about a clapback — wow!

Mind you, this is a cursory glance at the term “evangelical Christian,” there’s a boatload of exhaustive material out there waiting to be read. If you’re so inclined, knock yourself out and read up on it. But based on the limited definitions above, evangelical Christians could be defined as public advocates of Christ’s teachings. I doubt any communion-taking Christian would argue with that. (Note that political affiliation is mentioned nowhere in that definition as Christ had no interest in political parties. And true faith should supersede the political, in my mind.)

And this begs the question: what in the world were Christ’s teachings?

The Source

I don’t fancy myself to be a Biblical scholar by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve heard a lot of sermons and I don’t recall reading verses or hearing about how Christ came to incite the masses to ovethrow the Roman occupation. Idunno, maybe I missed those sermons and lessons in vacation Bible school.

In addition to his work on the cross — the purpose of which was to reconcile humanity’s relationship with God; Christ came to revolutionize how we relate to one another in every imaginable way. And he did that by teaching people (by example, no less) a new and better way to live with one another … by ministering to the marginalized of his day, the poor, the outcast, those with physical needs and mental issues, and even the reviled.

If memory serves me correctly, Christ took a grassroots approach to beginning his ministry and subsequent outreach. He met people where they were, in their moment of need, and didn’t shine them on with “carry on, be well,” nor did he ply them with flaming hoops of preconditions to jump through before he’d have anything to do with them.

His teachings are all about leveling the playing field … and not by trampling people under foot. His teachings are about helping people better themselves, their circumstances, helping others, and pointing them to his Father. Crazy, huh? You could say a good part of his teachings are about people caring for people.

Today’s Followers

Fast forward two thousand plus years, cross an ocean, and drop yourself in the middle of North America, the current United States of America.

Help me with this, because I really want to understand this. If Christ himself didn’t cozy up to Caesar (a reference to the state or government; not a specific emporer), why should today’s evangelical Christians feel compelled to entreat the favors of those in power? Especially, the favors of one who embodies just about everything that is antithetical to Christ’s teachings. Anyone?

I mean come on now. To use a Stranger Things reference, we are currently living in the upside-down. Just take a look around. Highly notable, self-professed evangelical Christian leaders are acting like Christ in name only and peddling a litany of goods that gives many reason to pause. The fear-mongering, rabid racism masking itself as patriotism, and tribalism on display scream desperation nearly as loudly as neo-Nazis parading proudly down the streets of America. This nation went to war against the Nazis, right? Nazi paraphernalia is still banned in Germany, the country where the movement originated, right? Where’s the good news in that? Where’s Christ to be found in that?

Evangelicals have basically bartered away their legacy for less than fifteen minutes of fame in the most humiliating reality show to ever take place on the world stage.

Next Steps

Dones and Nones, don’t lose heart. While some self-professed Evangelicals may be the most vocal, they are hardly representative of all Christians. You’d be surprised to find that even though we’re not perfect, some of us Christians aren’t so bad after you get to know us. And more of us than you’d think are attempting to be a positive force for the good of all humanity.

What now?

I don’t know.

Our evangelical brothers and sisters could start by looking at the mess they’ve made. And while they’re not solely responsible for the state of our union, they’re the sole subject of this essay. Confession’s always good for the soul. Maybe getting back to their roots and trying to live the tenets Christ died and rose again for might be beneficial.

How about continuing the work Christ began by caring for the homeless, the needy, widows, orphans, and the sick? Granted, few of us can work an instantaneous healing, perhaps that’s the reason God gave us doctors and medicine. Increasing the accessibility of healthcare to everyday people who would otherwise die is very much keeping in line with Christ’s teachings and actions (healing the sick and infirm, and don’t forget Lazarus).

Maybe some anti-racism work? Don’t think Christ had something to say about that? Check out the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Puerto Rico has a few people who could use some serious humanitarian aid. And for goodness’ sake, giving up that crazy talk about a wall to keep the less fortunate out, and while you’re at it outlawing the reprehensible practice of separating children from their parents would be a very good thing. Swapping that whole “I got mine, and that’s all that matters” worldview for a more “do unto others” or “helping the least of these” mindset would be a huge start. The opportunities for tearing down barriers that isolate people from one another are endless.

Evangelicals, you know all of this.

The teachings of Christ have never been about a big show. His teachings are all about doing what you can with whatever you have. It all begins with one-on-one interactions. Meeting one another with a willingness to listen and learn about someone else’s experience is a great place to start. You don’t have to show up with answers. Just show up with a willing heart, and I guarantee you Christ will do far more than you could ever imagine.

If “I” had to sum up the role of Christians — or anyone — in the world today, I’d say it comes down to three words: love one another.

Christ said it first. (See John 13:34.)

Love one another.