11 February 2017

Time to Retire "Evangelical"

I'm using "evangelical" in the American sense. As I wrote here
By the turn of nineteenth century with the institutional rise of Unitarianism and then the Second Great Awakening, we see strands of American Christian spirituality that stand in marked contrast to the confessional standards that had informed their forebears. What Christian Smith describes a "moral, therapeutic deism" (see here and here) has more and more come to describe virtually the entirety of the American Evangelical experience of God.
Or here:
The willing co-optation of American evangelicals by the Republican Party is embarrassing at best and syncretistic at worst. From what I can see, the typical evangelical (at least those over 40) believes in American capitalism and property rights with every bit as much [now read: "more than"] fervor as he or she believes in the Trinity.
"Evangelicalism" in America is little more than a watered-down version of Protestant Christianity adapted to and subsisting in the market economy. But enough about me.

Go here to read an account in The Atlantic of the problems some Millennials have had keeping their jobs in the Evangelical subculture. In short, they complain, if you aren't on board with current Republican politics, and if you let your views be known, you're out of a job at places like Focus on the Family or you're no longer getting gigs at Evangelical churches.

Well, duh. Religion in service of social policy is what Evangelical has meant since the 1820s. (By way of an example, you can download my article The Missing Piece of the Puzzle: Perspectives on the Wage Priority in Bankruptcy here in which I briefly describe the Evangelical impetus for passage of the Bankruptcy Act of 1841).

In any event, do these folks think they would have had any fewer problems at Christian Prog-Left organization had they "come out" as Trumpistas? Focus and other conservative as well as progressive businesses ministries exist to promote a particular product vision. Why would anyone expect them to permit an employee to market a competing vision? And once a non-confessional "evangelical" exaltation of policy above all bleeds back into the churches, why should anyone be surprised that churches exercise the same sort of "discernment" with respect to who gets to "share the stage" or promote his or her books or music?

The shelf-life of the label "Evangelical" (and even "Christian," apart from a person or the Church) has passed.

But let me be clear: I believe that the involvement of Christians qua Christians in matters of social and political policy is fine and appropriate. My conclusions are only that:

(1) You cannot expect that a subset of Christians who are organizationally united around certain social and policy goals should, as an organization, encourage or even permit their employees to advocate other goals or to offend those whose financial support is needed to accomplish those goals.

(2) Those Christians who organize around social and political goals should drop the label "Christian" or "Evangelical." Leave those adjectives to the Church and avoid using them as marketing tools.

(3) Churches should stick to their core mission of ministering the grace of God via Word and Sacrament and out of the policy business.

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