For over forty years I considered myself part of the evangelical movement. I appreciated the evangelical agenda of evangelism, international missions, healthy congregations, and the authority of scripture. I no longer call myself an evangelical. Two events of the past week are indicative of my growing unease with evangelical leaders and their followers.
On Sunday afternoon I listened to a CBC Radio interview with Katharine Hayhoe on the program Tapestry. Hayhoe is a leading climate change scientist and a committed Christian. Her father is a professor at Tyndale University College in Toronto – a Christian centre for higher learning. Her husband is a pastor and theologian. In answer to a question, Hayhoe stated that she receives constant hate mail from climate change deniers. Most of them are evangelical Christians. To a lesser degree, I have occasionally experienced animosity and often a profound disinterest in discussions of environmental issues in conservative congregations. I have the impression that evangelicals reject science when it warns about the danger of excessive consumption and the burning of fossil fuels – issues that require us to change our attitudes and lifestyles. Apparently hate mail is an acceptable protest against scientists and politicians – even when they are from the household of faith.
The second event was the speech given by Donald Trump to an evangelical audience at the Values Voter Summit in Washington D.C. earlier this week. Trump promised to defend America’s Christian heritage and live by the teachings of the faith. The listeners erupted in applause. I presume his agenda and policies can, therefore, be understood as ways to protect Christian heritage and live out the moral teachings of the Bible. Trump’s positions are clear on building walls along borders, defending the right to bear automatic weapons, closing doors to desperate refugees, rescinding legislation that protects the environment, condoning torture, and using the military to deal with complex social issues. I admit that it is difficult for any national leader to live by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7). But Trump does not even wrestle with sayings about honesty, generosity, non-violence, love for enemies and the neighbours in our communities, and seeking first the kingdom of God. These “teachings of the faith” similarly seemed to hold little importance for his evangelical audience.
My friend Rupen Das brought a more positive perspective in a conversation about Christians in Europe. Rupen works with the European Baptist Federation as a development specialist and missiologist. (He is author of the book Compassion and the Mission of God). He told me about Baptist churches in Turkey and the Middle East that sacrificially care for refugees that have fled to their countries. Churches in the Ukraine, with limited resources, have gained recognition for their actions of mercy on behalf of people displaced by violence. Throughout Europe, Baptist and Pentecostal congregations are speaking out against rising right-wing nationalism and enmity against people of other ethnic groups. These churches are caring for visible minorities, welcoming diversity, and witnessing remarkable conversions to the faith.
I no longer wish to be known as an evangelical. I prefer to describe myself as a fragile and fallible person that tries to live by the teaching of Jesus.