Many evangelicals support President Donald Trump, but not all. An emerging moderate group is rising to voice their concern, engage society and reclaim the label “evangelical.”
Columnist Tim Morris rightly identifies how a majority of evangelicals supported Trump in the last election. And yes, many voted for Trump because they could not support the alternative candidates. Some even voted for third-party candidates, even though they may have a consistent voting record as a conservative.
It has only been in recent times that the term “evangelical” has been associated with conservative politics. The Moral Majority with its support of Ronald Reagan was the first such wedding of conservative politics and conservative religious parties. Prominent figures such as Jerry Falwell, and more recently Pastor Robert Jeffress, promoted the idea that to be Christian meant that you were almost obligated to support a conservative in politics, or you weren’t really “saved.”
But the term evangelical has a much broader meaning, and one that historically was critical of politics. “Evangel” simply means “good news” from the biblical context. The term was first used by some Christians in Europe in the 1300s and meant that they wanted to get back to the simple message of Jesus — loving God and loving others.
The earliest evangelicals were quite different than the contemporary, Trump-supporting types. The early evangelicals had a great concern for the poor and outcasts of society. They were the ones in a city that would start orphanages and serve bread lines. More often than not, they were actually critical of political leaders, especially when they saw injustices. In fact, the early evangelicals were often persecuted because they were critical of leaders and rulers and still chose not to be silenced. They had a concern to make sure that religion was not just something one did as good behavior. Rather, religion also was something one believed with a sincere heart because of a belief in the message of Jesus.
The only way the term “evangelical” can be reclaimed is if evangelical churches and individuals will untangle themselves from politics, speak truth to power, and get back to the real message of Jesus.
A version of this piece originally appeared on NOLA.com in “Letters to the Editor” of The Times-Picayune.