This past spring, John Buckeridge, editor of the U.K. magazine Christianity, struck a nerve among many evangelicals when he wrote, "I worry that the tide has gone out on the E-word."

He confessed personal reluctance at times to "own up" that he is an evangelical. In addition, a British Evangelical Alliance/Premier Radio poll found, among those people surveyed who described themselves as evangelical, only 59 percent were willing to reveal their evangelical identity to others.

In America, there is no similar survey. But the American public's understanding of evangelicals on the whole has rarely been more misshapen. "The public perception is that we are mean and negative," commented "Mr. Southern Baptist" Jimmy Draper to the Boston Globe last year. The recently retired president of Lifeway Christian Resources was referring to the unsuccessful Southern Baptist boycott of Disney. But many evangelicals feel their movement has been tarred unfairly with the same "mean and negative" brush.

Several misperceptions are distorting the meaning of the word evangelical, including:

We are defined in the media by what we are against.
We are associated, in the public's mind, with extreme fundamentalism.
We are linked by evangelicalism's critics with the secular political agenda of the hard-right.

Our concern is not solely about public perception. As times have changed, evangelicals as a religious movement have also changed. We now have institutional resources and influential churches to a degree barely hoped for 50 years ago. Our people are better educated and more affluent. Our global networks are connecting believers like never before.

Misunderstanding exists among self-identified evangelicals who struggle to find the best terms ...

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