The Common Good

Andrew Marin answers, "What is an Evangelical?"

orange question markTo me, reclaiming the word evangelical starts with how Christians see their call by Jesus in Matthew 28 as the Great Commission.

First, having the great call doesn't mean it will ever turn into the great reality. There will always be an "other." Opposite. Those who will never believe, be on our side, or agree with who we are and what we're all about.

OK. Now that we've got that out of the way, the main question is:

What do we do with "those" people?

The reason the word evangelical has become so poisonous is because the answer to the above question comes from a conversion-based model of cultural engagement -- political, theological, and social. Too many Christians believe, and have wrongly been taught, that those "others" and "opposites" who have made an active choice not to believe in "our" teachings are justifiably: 1) left to their own devices as we wash our hands of them because of their bad choice (think in terms of blood-on-their-own-head); or 2) uninformed, so much so that their "no" is an illegitimate answer.

Evangelicals care more about positions --whether progressive or conservative -- than people. We lack nuance. We have become either all scripture or all justice. I don't know where the balance was lost in terms of holding scripture in high authority and, simultaneously, loving with reckless abandon?

Jesus was never the first one to walk away from anything. Not a controversy. Not haters doing nothing but hatin'. Not to the religious leaders who he knew would never believe or listen to him. Not his disciples who sometimes just didn't "get it." And yet, evangelicals have become known for walking away. Or, even worse in my opinion, only going places where they will be the hero of the story.

For instance, conservative evangelicals love Africa. Why? If I'm being honest, it's because no sick mom or baby will ever look at the clean, white, Western American with money and access and say to them: I don't trust you! How do you vote? What are your beliefs on gay marriage, abortion, health care, justice, immigration, etc? Nope. All they do is smile and give hugs because they know help is nigh.

Now, I am not suggesting Christians shouldn't go to and aid Africa. Please, continue to go. But know the underlying motives about why you might rather spend thousands of dollars to fly thousands of miles away, instead of looking around your own neighborhood and investing that same amount of cash into establishing kingdom right where you live.

The reason? Sometimes it's easier to fly across the world and do good. There's no accountability or follow-up like there is with the people, community, and neighborhood that you would have to see everyday if the investment was made in your backyard.

And then there are the progressive evangelicals. They love white people moving into the ghetto.

There is so much activism for every cause under the sun, that for some, the definitive "doing" has trumped the journey. Too many already claim they hold the final answers on all the divisive topics in scripture, and those who don't jump on board with said social justice worldview will not only get left behind, but are ignorant for not seeing their version of the truth.

Once again, I am not suggesting people should not move into neighborhoods that the Lord is giving a passion for. I am suggesting that justice is more than action, it's also a process of relationally building bridges with others who don't agree. That is the only means by which systemic justice can sustainably be implemented -- when both sides of evangelicalism are working to change systems.

Thus, I believe a reclamation of evangelical begins with these three thoughts:

  1. Incarnation is more than a nice theological term, it must be a way of life. When Jesus said "all the nations" he didn't just means "those" places -- from Africa to the ghetto -- where we are the hero or savior of the story.
  2. Faithfulness is the new evangelism. Faithfulness was Jesus' original evangelism in the first century. We've formalized and codified and mangled into something it's not.
  3. Outcomes must be a secondary issue to the fidelity of relationship in, like Jesus, being the expression of what it means to be the constant pursuer of the other. We cannot know what it means to be reconciled to God if we do not know what it means to be reconciled to those unlike ourselves -- including progressives and conservatives. The visa-versa is just as true.

The struggle for any label is both clumsy and backwards because inherent to labels are issues of branding, access, and the potential privilege that comes with "correct" associations with said label. I am Andrew, a man who loves progressives and conservatives and works with both while faithfully seeking to establish kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. What happens from that work of faithfulness is not my business. Rather it is a challenge to me to see if I actually do believe what the Bible says.

It's the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge, and mine to love.

marinAndrew Marin is the president of The Marin Foundation and author of the award winning book Love Is an Orientation. He has been featured on BBC World News, NPR, GLAAD, 365gay.com and the 700 Club among others. He lives in the LGBT Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, and blogs on cultural issues of faith and sexuality at www.loveisanorientation.com . You can connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

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