I became a Christian at the age of 20, while doing my honors work in philosophy at the University of Michigan. Up until that point, I was an atheist, being raised by atheists. My childhood home had a sign declaring, “The Moore’s, The Atheists,” and a barrel for Bible burning—seriously. That’s why when I converted to Christianity, I had nearly zero history with organized religion and was utterly unfamiliar with a great many terms and labels that came with my conversion.
One of the most important labels I inherited at the time was “evangelical.” I was told that was what I had become, an evangelical Christian. It seemed right to me, because, after all, I had not become a Catholic, Pentecostal, fundamentalist, or Orthodox Christian, I had become an “evangelical Christian,” and that meant something to me at the time.
At the time, as I learned about the ecosystem of the variety of Christian expressions, evangelicals cared deeply about intellectual engagement, spreading the message of Jesus to the world, working together to accomplish that mission, and had a commitment to personal spiritual transformation. That isn’t to say these hallmarks didn’t also present themselves in other forms of Christianity, but after my conversion in the early 1990s, I found them all to be replete within evangelicalism.
How has evangelicalism changed
At its core, evangelicalism is a global expression of Protestantism, which is patently “trans-denominational,” and fundamentally concerned with the spread of the Christian message through mission and evangelism. At its best, evangelicalism was a highly ecumenical movement that enjoyed a long era of engaging issues of social good and justice, intellectual and academic engagement, and a culturally sophisticated understanding of peoples and ethnic social capital. Through my commitment to the evangelical brand of Christianity, I spent nearly 20 years as an abolitionist, mobilizing state and federal lawmakers, faith communities, corporations, and hundreds of thousands of citizens in the fight against modern-day slavery. This was because of the brand of my Christian faith, but today, it is despite it.
Today, evangelicalism has devolved into a grasp for cultural and political superiority at any cost as we can see from its collapse into Christian nationalism. Today, evangelicalism is rife with conspiracy theories and an anti-intellectual, anti-scientific worldview. This collapse is simply the proof that evangelicalism went from hallowed to hollow somewhere along its way, and we are now just witnessing its inevitable demise. For most Americans, they’ve never known a world where evangelical was a term to be revered, even amongst its antagonists. For most, there have never been the “good old days of evangelicalism,” and that is part of the problem.
Evangelicalism is a shadow of what it used to be, offering little to the world it once cherished and lived in as a good global citizen. It is hard to break with one’s heritage—after all, it was evangelicals that first taught me, as a former atheist, to care for the environment, to fight for modern-day slaves, to believe in the power of science, to speak out for racial diversity and empowerment, and pursue a lifelong commitment to intellectual integrity.
These were some of the many reasons why I originally, proudly accepted this label for myself, but as my spiritual journey has evolved, I’ve increasingly kept my evangelical card-carrying identity close to the vest. Being an evangelical has become cumbersome and a source of embarrassment, always needing to be nuanced, contextualized, and qualified. “Well, I’m not that kind of evangelical,” or “Many evangelicals are like that, but not me.” For many, the term is synonymous with MAGA and Christian nationalism—a corruption of the ways of Jesus for sure. For many outsiders, the word evangelical summons amorphous images that are homophobic, misogynist, anti-scientific, and racist. The constant negotiating of the term evangelical has gone beyond tedious; it is clearly unsustainable. This is why I am no longer considering myself an evangelical Christian. I am no longer willing to participate in the charade of pretending that evangelicalism means what it meant.
Beyond faith labels
As I leave the faith tradition that has given me so much, I want to qualify what I mean when I say I’m no longer an evangelical. I will always be Christian, but no longer of the evangelical variety, primarily because I don’t see how evangelicalism can ever be salvaged from what it has become. Today, to be an evangelical in the minds of our society is to be an enemy of the ways of Jesus. To be sure, there are millions of Christians who still don the name ‘evangelical’ who are passionately and unswervingly following the ways of Jesus but under the banner of that label are doing so to their detriment. We are in desperate need of a new expression of Christianity—an expression that creates space for a new way forward.
The ways and teachings of Jesus were radically incompatible with many of the aspects of the mainstream culture of His day, things like misogyny, elitism, and the oppression of the immigrant. One needs only to read one of the four biblical gospel accounts to see that the good news Jesus announced envisioned a new normal that would dismantle many of the powers and privileges of the elite. For many American evangelicals, these are the same powers and privileges they seek to control and benefit from through their use and abuse of political power and cultural echoes from past eras when evangelicalism had a much bigger megaphone than it does today. American Evangelicalism, as it now stands, is quickly becoming synonymous with the very culture and power systems Jesus Himself sought to dismantle!
I am no longer an evangelical, but I am a Christian. In abandoning my evangelical faith tradition, I am sure I will cross and disappoint many who are still desperately trying to redeem and defend the term. But let’s be honest it is a lost cause. We have gone too far, made way too many compromises, and cashed in what little equity we had left in evangelicalism during these last four years. My call is for others to do the same: to denounce what evangelicalism has become and re-embrace the radical ways of Jesus. For millions of church-going, Bible-reading, sincerely praying Americans, who love God and their neighbor, we are not helped by continuing to own this bankrupt label. What our world needs in this time of healing are women and men who are committed to justice, peace, equity, and, most of all, love. This, after all, is the way of Jesus in the first place, so let’s begin by returning to that and figure out what a post-evangelical faith in America looks like together.