“Evangelical Christians”

I recently saw a post on Facebook about “those Evangelical Christians in Washington, DC.”  I started to reply, but I ultimately erased it. Still, the whole thing bothered me. That’s because more and more I hear this phrase – “Evangelical Christians” – used liberally on all media, and it’s never used in any kind of a good way. The more I think about it, the more I’m disappointed and distressed by the current use of both the words “Evangelical” and “Christian.” So, I want to address each term separately, but then together to indicate how I feel.

I became disillusioned with the term “Christian” many years ago as I noticed how often people would utter it with disgust. At the time, I had to admit that this particular word came with a lot of baggage. Centuries of “Christian” elitism, laws crafted by Christians dictating the acceptable religions of the day, the Crusades, Manifest Destiny, and other atrocities or otherwise immoral acts perpetrated by groups claiming to be Christians tend to cause a repulsive reaction to a word that people think sums things up. My husband grew up in a neighborhood in which his famous neighbor – a self-proclaimed Christian – used to fly flags and banners saying, “God Hates Fags.” You’ve probably heard of him, and there wasn’t an ounce of love inside of him. Yet, everything he did was done in the name of Christianity.

By the way, the term “Christian” (from Christianos – followers of Christ) appears to have been coined fairly early on as a way to designate this new group and differentiate them from other Jews. It’s first seen in the Acts, and gradually replaced what the Christians themselves preferred to be called, which was “saints,” “brethren” or “disciples.” One researcher has noted that the infrequency of the term “Christian” in the New Testament indicates its non-use then, and has surmised that because the word “Christos” and its ties to anointing meant little to outsiders, those outsiders, instead, settled on calling these people descriptors based on the word “Chrestos,” which meant virtuous, good, or moral, and seemed to be an apt description for the people who so often showed a different sort of moralistic, sanctified behavior. His theory is that as the term Chrestos caught on, often with some scorn and perhaps even as a pun, the followers of Christ felt pressured to adopt and emphasize a more accurate word to reflect who they were and who they were following. This should not take away from the fact that Christians, as a group, have been vilified, often due to the message, but just as often through their own behavior. It also means that we aren’t necessarily wedded to the word.

And the baggage continues to pile up today. I’ve seen my share of “Christians” in the public eye not appearing to live according to the words of the Bible. Indeed, we seemed to have reached a fever pitch with this stuff in the last few decades with so many televangelists falling due to their immoral, hypocritical, and often criminal behavior. At its very basic level, a “Christian” should be one who allows the Holy Spirit to tell them when they’ve done something wrong, willingly asks for forgiveness, and then makes serious amends for his or her mistakes. But there have been so many “Christians” that don’t even appear to follow the general thrust or themes of the Bible that I have discarded the name altogether. In my heart, I know that most Christians are not immoral hypocrites, but even a small percentage of people can do a great deal of damage to a label over hundreds of years. Accordingly, while I’m not ashamed of being a Christian, I tell people outwardly that I’m a “follower of Jesus” or a “follower of Christ.”

And by doing so, I’m not doing anything that Jesus might not also have done. When Jesus was with us in the flesh, he continually denounced the hypocrisy of those in the church. Dr. Stanley D. Toussaint of the Dallas Theological Seminary often said that, “The Lord’s strongest words of invective were not against murderers or thieves or sexually immoral people. His strongest words of invective were against hypocrites.” To Dr. Toussaint, hypocrisy is a sin that affects every single person today, but also a sin that is “particularly loathsome to God.” And yet, despite the clear theme (see, e.g., Matt: 23) we see so much hypocrisy today that we take it for granted. In politics, we’ve grown to expect it.

The bottom line is that lots and lots of people have used (and still use) the term “Christian” to describe themselves, and yet they act in overtly non-biblical ways. This, in turn, causes people to stop even seeking God. And stopping someone from seeking God has got to be one of the worst possible things you can do to someone on this Earth.

In addition to “Christian,” the word “Evangelical” is rapidly evolving into a term having at least the same amount of baggage. And, similarly, I find I need to distance myself from what would ordinarily be – and used to be – a great descriptive word.

According to Websters, the definition of “evangelical” is “of, relating to, or being in agreement with the Christian gospel especially as it is presented in the four Gospels.” I once visited the National Association of Evangelical’s website and, in addition to other statements of belief, saw that it said evangelicals are “serious” about the Bible. Unfortunately, I increasingly see people who claim to be evangelicals who are decidedly not serious about the Bible. In fact, and quite unfortunately for me, I consider myself to be an evangelical and so I see lots of social media posts from other so-called evangelicals. And lots of times those posts really upset me. For example, how – and, I’m really serious about this – how in the world can an evangelical post something about God one minute and then turn around and post something showing hatred, judgment, or scorn on someone the next? I actually saw someone post a picture of Jesus and something about love, followed within minutes by a post wanting to kill all “liberal democrats.”

I suppose you can see where this is going. The term “Christian” is a goner for me. It’s got too much baggage and suffers from extreme hypocrisy. I choose the term “follower of Jesus,” because at least then it’s a more direct line toward holding up my behavior to the ultimate moral model. The word “evangelical,” on the other hand, doesn’t have centuries of problems, but it has become a gigantic problem today with so-called evangelicals – people proclaiming to be serious about the Bible – showing so much hypocrisy and politicization that the term itself is almost uniformly uttered with scorn. Again, like Christian hypocrites, evangelical hypocrites do more to harm the Kingdom of God than anything else of which I can think. How do you stop a child from wondering about God and perhaps beginning a search toward finding God? The best way (likely devised by Satan himself) is to show him or her various vocal “Christians” or “Evangelicals” who simply do not follow the Bible. Show the child an “evangelical Christian” who hates people. That’ll do it. I think God hates hypocrisy so much because it keeps people from even beginning the journey that might lead to his Kingdom.

Today, we unfortunately hear the two words together: “Evangelical Christian.” Two perfectly good words – indeed, words that used to fully describe me – ruined by hypocrisy and politics. Whenever you hear them together you can hear the scorn and disgust. And, you can almost assuredly envision some child somewhere saying, “Well, whoever they are, I’m not going to be like them when I grow up.”

Of course the world hates “Christians.” Of course it hates “evangelicals.” Who wouldn’t, given some of the things I’ve seen? But being scorned for hypocrisy is a whole lot different than being scorned for righteousness. Personally, I hate the fact that I can’t even use these two words anymore. Moreover, the world doesn’t hate these labels because all Christians and evangelicals are bad. Nope, the people of the world simply do what is entirely human to do, which is to watch those who identify with the labels most vocally as they behave in a decidedly un-Biblical manner, and then brush off the whole lot. And I don’t blame them. As a one-time evangelical Christian, I’m just sorry about the whole thing.

So, what do we do? Well, in my case I tell people I’m a follower of Jesus and that I have a Biblical worldview. But I do more than that. I now go out of my way to say, “Please realize that I am nothing like those people who claim to be evangelical Christians but who demonstrate hatred, judgment and immorality.  If my introduction to people were in the form of a document, it means that I’ve added a paragraph – an aside – to try to distance myself from a group that I call “political Christians,” a group that, sadly, keeps people from God because it has pushed a world agenda ahead of God. If it weren’t so sad, it would be ironically funny – evangelical Christians, the group who would tell you (these days quite vocally and with some amount of political fervor) that they’re only trying to bring more people to Christ – are actually driving people away from Christ. More and more each day.

Still, there’s always hope for the world and even hope for the most hypocritical and politicized members of our churches. But it means taking a hard look at how far we might have moved away from God. If we hear someone talk about God, and the first thing we think about is the Supreme Court, then we should realize that we need to get back to basics. God is real. Satan is real. God hates hypocrisy. Satan will try to turn you into a hypocrite. It’s a battle for good and evil that we’re losing, and in losing we’re actually dissuading other people from seeking God. And, by the way, if people hear this warning and don’t heed  it, then they shouldn’t be surprised when they’re called to account for willingly turning people away from God for some short-term, often political but always worldly, gain.

Now, of course, hated of the followers of Christ has been foretold, and people will occasionally try to justify their unbiblical actions by claiming that the public’s scorn is just a part of the overall persecution of Christians predicted in the Bible. Even Jesus said, “Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved,” and “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.”  (Mark 13:13; Luke 6:22). But – and this is really big – Jesus did not mean, “They’ll hate you when say you follow me but act in a completely opposite, worldly manner.” No, he meant “they’ll hate you for doing exactly what I have told you to do, acting exactly as I have told you to act. And I told you to love God and love others as yourself.”

There will be some who, on their last day, will say, “But, Lord, I’ve been a Christian all of my life. In fact, I’m an Evangelical Christian.” And on that day, the words of Scripture will truly come true, and just has he said he would, Jesus will reply, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).

“I never knew you.” (Matt 7:22-23).

Seek God. Follow Christ. Read the Word. Remember the commands. Focus on love for God and others.

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