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The New Evangelicals: God on the Ground

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Identifying an Evangelical Christian is no longer as simple as finding the nearest Republican or dropping by Planned Parenthood to see who’s picketing out front. Nowadays, we have wide-ranging views on everything from politics to fashion. In fact, we fight more with each other than we do anybody else. If you think we get rowdy with secular folk on issues like abortion and school prayer, you should see us throw down over whether the church pews should be cushioned. Most of the time, however, our reputation for zealotry is exaggerated. The media gives the loudmouths and the freaks the most airtime, while quiet Evangelicals leading a simple Christian life are ignored.           

A new breed of Evangelical is emerging. The right wing standard-bearers remain in power, but a paradigm shift is occurring behind the bluster of the old guard. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ve assembled the guide below. It should clear up any confusion over why all Evangelicals don’t talk and act the same anymore. It might even prevent you from fleeing when you meet one of us. 

We’re not all Republicans anymore.
We might not be Democrats, either, but we despise the notion of one political party holding us captive. Our faith transcends politics. We find things in the Bible that support both Democratic and Republican principles, as well as things that both parties get wrong. Some of us register as Democrats just because we’re tired of the Republicans taking us for granted. The line between Republican policy and Evangelical theology has become too blurry, and we want our identity back. Most of us are still pro-life, but we’ve realized that a lot of pro-choice folks are just as interested in reducing the number of abortions as we are. The new breed of Evangelical thinks that working to lower the number of abortions by improving social services is more effective than trying to make abortion illegal. Ironically, Republicans often oppose social programs that would reduce abortions. 

Social justice is a top priority.
Despite what you hear on Christian radio, more and more of us are tired of the grandstanding about abortion, evolution, and gay marriage. That last one, in particular, makes a lot of us bonkers. Depending how you interpret the Bible, there are between six and eight verses about homosexuality. Compare that to over two thousand about poverty. Regardless of your theology on homosexuality, it’s pretty obvious that helping the poor is more important. Yet, a lot of Evangelicals lose their minds at the prospect of gay folks getting hitched, hailing it as the downfall of society. I’ll go out on a limb and say that 25,000 children dying from famine and disease every day is a bigger red flag for civilization. Most Evangelicals get this nowadays. We still care about the hot button political issues, but we see much bigger crises that need our attention. 

Legalism is alive, but not kicking.
You might find that more of us drink and swear. In fact, our only real hang-up is what you think of us when we do. Nothing makes an Evangelical feel guilty faster than the possibility of being a bad “witness” or a “stumbling block” to a non-Christian. If you see us drinking a beer or uttering a naughty noun, we worry that you might decide not to become a Christian as a result. We forget that just as many of you might realize that being a Christian is about much bigger things than swearing or drinking. We were raised to believe that saying “shit” is just as bad as letting someone starve. Most of us are still trying to figure out how to let go of legalism. We grew up in churches that chastised us for things like listening to rock and roll, playing cards, and wearing shorts. It’s hard for us to relax, so please be patient. 

We’re as suspicious of religion as you are. Maybe more.
Though we think it’s crucial to attend church, it’s a tough gig for a lot of us. Many of us have been burned by religion. When I was in high school, one of the youth leaders tried to cast demons out of me because I got my palm read at an amusement park (my head didn’t spin around, but the issue is still in question). We’ve seen too many of our leaders fall in disgrace. Religion that’s insincere, anti-intellectual, mean, or just silly has soured our spiritual taste buds. Christians like me have a lot of cynicism to overcome. We want our religion to be better, but we’re not sure what that looks like yet. 

We still believe.
We still believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. We believe that he came into the world to preach justice, peace, and love. We believe he died on a cross for our sins, rose from the dead, and will return some day to redeem all creation (though we fight a lot about the details of that last one). We believe that God will forgive the sins and enter the heart of anyone who asks. We believe that having a relationship with Christ is the most important thing in the world and that life is incomplete without it. We’re not so sure about who’s going to hell anymore, but we’re confident that faith in Jesus Christ leads to heaven. We still believe a lot of things that piss off a lot of people, but we can’t help it. We might be fed up with Christianity, but we’re still in love with Christ. 

Evangelicals still want everyone to know the joy of having a relationship with God. We’re trying to learn how to share the good news of God’s love without being annoying. We respect people who don’t share our beliefs. We want to be fun, reliable friends to the atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Pastafarians in our lives, but it’s hard for us to keep quiet about something so transforming and essential. Thanks for your patience as we try, yet again, to figure out what it means to follow Christ. 

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