I am an evangelical.
As an evangelical, I believe that the Bible is “God’s revelation of Himself for man,” authored by God, and therefore “without any mixture of error,” as voiced in the Baptist Faith and Message. I believe in humankind’s complete inability to earn God’s favor and in Christ’s finished work on the cross on our behalf. I believe that all people will experience eternity with or without God, and that Christ’s resurrection demands evangelism of the unreached.
These beliefs are not, however, what most people, especially those outside of the South, think when they hear the term “evangelical.”
That’s because non-evangelicals typically only hear about us when a) a pastor gets in trouble or b) they observe our politics.
Evangelicals used to do politics differently. Sure, we wanted political power, but we achieved it through supporting candidates like Ronald Reagan who responded to personal attacks with grace, not malice.
Recent politics, however, has been detrimental to our public image. 81% of evangelicals who voted in 2016, according to exit polls, voted for a thrice married braggart who claims to be a Christian but doesn’t think he’s ever asked God for forgiveness.
Likewise, 80% of voting evangelicals in the 2017 Alabama Special Election for U.S. Senate voted for a man credibly accused by multiple women of pedophilia and inappropriate sexual behavior.
To be clear, I am not saying support for these candidates by evangelicals was completely absurd. They were, perhaps most importantly in many evangelical minds, running against pro-choice candidates. It is important to understand, however, that, no matter the reason, evangelical support for them largely defines and gives credibility to accusations of hypocrisy and political opportunism.
It’s therefore not surprising when the non-evangelical world calls evangelicals “America’s Biggest Hypocrites”, considers us simply political conservatives who use religion as a “veneer”, or believes we would “vote against Jesus Christ himself if he ran as anything but a Republican.”
Here an appropriate question to ask might be “Who cares?” Who cares what they think of us if we’re achieving our political goals? Indeed, I hear this question often and it usually goes unanswered.
We should care about our image – what others think about us – not simply out of a selfish desire to remain credible, but because the image of evangelicals directly impacts the work of evangelism.
Evangelism is hard. Our politics is making it harder. Harder to “make disciples of all nations” because the 5 billion non-Christians that we believe are on a fast track towards eternity without God now have another reason to reject the Gospel.
How many Europeans, for whom Christianity’s time has come and gone, will see what they’ve come to expect – self-centered hypocritical Christians – and reject the Gospel? How many people in the Middle East will look missionaries in the face and say, “You are no different. You Christians use religion for power, too”?
If just one person deems our questionable political behavior as reason to discount the Gospel, we have reason to lament. If, and this is more likely, innumerable people stumble over this unnecessary hurdle, this additional obstacle we’ve put in front of them, we have reason to fear God’s righteous anger.
Why? Because instead of prioritizing the Gospel over politics, we have exchanged the eternity of others for our own temporary political power. We’ve made a trade, an abominable decision to pursue our kingdom over God’s kingdom, and it is infinitely not worth it.
Unfortunately, we cannot do anything about our recent past. Evangelicals, therefore, must repent of our short-sightedness and purpose in our hearts to remember that we are on this earth not to secure power for ourselves, but to secure eternity for others.