There was a time when the term evangelical was a badge of honor, not a cause for embarrassment. In 1976, Newsweek magazine proclaimed “the year of the evangelical,” heralding the new prominence of theologically conservative Protestants with the cover story “Born Again!” At the time, evangelical churches were expanding rapidly, and the movement, which was still politically and theologically diverse, seemed well positioned not only for continued influence but also for a positive effect on the nation’s morals. With a newly elected evangelical Democrat ready to enter the White House—and with evangelicals of both parties embracing racial diversity, antipoverty programs, and a host of intellectual and artistic endeavors—evangelicalism hadn’t yet acquired its pejorative connotations.
Four decades later, this state of affairs is difficult to imagine. The political behavior, sexual peccadilloes, flamboyant posturing, and harsh rhetoric from some of America’s most prominent evangelicals have tarnished the movement’s reputation. For some, the nadir occurred in 2016, when 81 percent of white evangelical voters cast ballots for Donald Trump, with some Christians attempting to excuse his racially charged and sexually crude behavior.
Now that much of the public equates the term evangelical with the Republican Party and conservative politics, is rehabilitation possible? Perhaps, as Thomas Kidd suggests in Who Is an Evangelical? The History of a Movement in Crisis, it helps to step back and enlarge our field of vision. Seen only from the perspective of the 2016 election, alongside the internal disputes and stagnating membership numbers that have accompanied its increasingly negative ...1
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