My heart and mind reject the American use of the term ‘evangelical’ to describe a segment of U.S. population whose behavior and voice demonstrate racism and bigotry — against those whose skin color are not white; against those outside the Christian religion; and, against those outside the imagined boundaries of a stolen Turtle Island now referred to by the colonizers as the United States of America.
I am having a debate with evangelicals who are mostly white Americans and who are part of my parental family’s Conservative Baptist network. The exchange of arguments started when a couple of them posted memes and political campaign materials on my Facebook page and Messenger to support Trump, despite my request to stop doing it.
I did my best to understand the demographic nuances surrounding the category ‘American evangelicals.’ But the more I listen to the specific individuals with whom I’m currently engaged in this debate, the more I realize that they are not really evangelicals — at least by what I mean when I use the term ‘evangelical.’
Their view of Donald Trump as one who is God’s anointed to restore a Christian America against Muslims and other non-Christian nationalities is a problem to me and my understanding of the Gospel. But then I soon realized that their individual bigotry actually reflect a wider perspective of a segment of American Christian population.
The fact that they see immigrants as a threat to America saddens me. Again, it did not surprise me that my friends’ anti-immigrant view is widespread. Evangelicals of color, according to a report, feel homeless in Trump’s America. Many non-white evangelicals are quietly leaving white evangelical churches.
The attitudes and behaviours of those self-claiming Christians are a big puzzle to me. Then I read an article by John Fea, a professor of American History and chairman of the Department of History at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, PA. His question — “Why do so many evangelicals believe in Donald Trump?” — resonated with me. His answer made me weep for the folks with whom I’m debating: “Because they privilege fear over hope, power over humility, and nostalgia over history.”
How I understand the term ‘evangelical’
‘Evangel’ means Good News. Evangelical Christians are Good News Bearers. The Good News is the reality that God Rules! God rules through Divine Love. God’s rule of love is summarized in the Great Commandment:
1. Love God.
2. Love your neighbours as yourself.
The Great Commandment is exemplified in the life and works of Jesus Christ. All biblical commands hang on this two-pronged Great Commandment.
Jesus is the Good News. Jesus is the Evangel. Jesus is the Gospel.
Jesus is not a crusading warrior hungry for power and wealth under the American flag.
- The baby Jesus was born as a Jewish child, most probably the subject of gossips in a small town because he was conceived by a young woman before marriage;
- The folks from the East who visited him and his family most probably were Arabs;
- His family escaped an insecure, bad-mouthed, lying, self-centered political leader who waged a war against young, unarmed, helpless children;
- He and his family became a trans-continental refugee–from Palestine, west of the Asian continent to Egypt, north of the African continent;
- He earned his living as a carpenter;
- He incarnated Love and Peace and built a community marked by Love;
- He incarnated Unconditional Love to the point of offering his life for others;
- He was executed by the Empire, in collaboration with the religious and political power-players of his own nation, because he proposed an Alternative Reality that debunked the myth of the Empire;
- By the power of the Creator’s Spirit, he transcended death to show that the final reality is Life;
- He commissioned his followers or disciples to make more followers or disciples of the Great Commandment: that is, to love God and to love neighbors as one’s self; and, neighbors include enemies.
Evangelicals, who live in accordance with the Great Commandment of Jesus, reflect the life, character, and work of Jesus in a love-sustained community.
I seek to be a true evangelical Christian. And I pray that, by the power of the Spirit of the God of Love, those white supremacists who are trying to steal the beautiful term ‘evangelical’ or ‘good news bearers’ would turn around 180 degrees, from an unjust and unpeaceful behavior, to The Way of Jesus of Nazareth.