american evangelicals

Between Two Cultures: How to Be Evangelical Without Evangelizing

'Jesus Saves' sign in Toronto. Image courtesy Atomazul/shutterstock.com

'Jesus Saves' sign in Toronto. Image courtesy Atomazul/shutterstock.com

I occupy a strange place between cultures. Not the international cultures of my childhood spent as a missionary kid living around the world, but between two sub-cultures here in modern America. I am a rare breed of evangelical that doesn’t live in a bubble of Christian culture. Quite the opposite. I live and work in higher education, and — mark it — secular higher ed.

An evangelical acquaintance once asked me delicately, “Is there a reason you and your husband don’t work at a Christian university?”

I could hear the gears in his head as he tried to reconcile what he saw before him: two highly educated, devout Christians working in the "liberal bastion" of a secular college. Why on earth would we do such a thing to ourselves?

The truth is, Dwayne and I live and thrive in the place we’ve carved out outside the bubble of American evangelicalism. It’s not that we don’t love the evangelical church, or don’t attend an evangelical congregation.

It’s just that we don’t identify with all aspects of the American version of evangelicalism.

He and I both came to know Jesus outside the States. We are both missionary kids. In addition, Dwayne is Canadian. As a result, we have an outsider’s perspective. For us, living in America and being evangelical poses an interesting paradox.

In so many ways, living and working with people who have vastly different life experiences than our own feels normal. After all, that’s how we grew up — in the company of friends whose worldviews are shaped by the submerged iceberg of cultures not our own. These differences don’t threaten our beliefs. Ironically, holding the space for the lived experiences of our friends creates an environment that also affirms our lived experiences, and more importantly, our faith.

I’m Queer, and I’m (Still) an Evangelical

Photo via Stephen Voss Photography / RNS

Evangelicals for Marriage Equality spokesman Brandan Robertson. Photo via Stephen Voss Photography / RNS

On Feb. 21, Time.com broke the news that my evangelical publisher, Destiny Image, dropped a book contract it had made with me almost a year ago because its buyers refused to sell my book due to my pro-LGBTQ activism.

Many conservative evangelicals have called my pro-LGBTQ stance “deplorable” and labeled me a false teacher. Other progressives have uplifted my story as one that demonstrates the discrimination that too many conservative Christians have become known for. In all of this coverage, both positive and negative, though, the true message of my situation has gotten lost.

Sure, my publisher dropped my book contract. Sure, evangelical booksellers seem to have blacklisted me and refuse to sell my evangelical book in evangelical bookstores — a too-close-to-home example of the evangelical discrimination against the LGBTQ community and our allies.

But at the heart of this controversy, there’s a deeper problem: a fundamentally flawed belief that one cannot be a true Christian if one identifies as LGBTQ (or an ally of LGBTQ people).

Jim Wallis and Richard Land Discuss Evangelicals and 2012 Elections

Tonight, Sojourners and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission are co-sponsoring an event to discuss religion and the 2012 elections. Rev. Wallis and Dr. Richard Land will delve into what they believe the religious issues will be and should be from now until election day.

The event is already turning some heads. A Washington Post article by Michelle Boorstein summed up the unique nature of the event in a headline, "Evangelical opposites to hold discussion on 2012 presidential race."

Randall Balmer answers, "What is an Evangelical?"

The puzzle here is not that readers of the Bible would tilt toward the political left. That, for me, as well as for thousands of other American evangelicals, is self-evident. Jesus, after all, summoned his followers to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, to welcome the stranger and to care for “the least of these.” He also expressed concern for the tiniest sparrow, a sentiment that should find some resonance in our environmental policies.

No, the real conundrum lies in the subtitle the editors of Christianity Today assigned to Franzen’s article, which was titled, “A Left-Leaning Text.” Adjacent to a picture of a Bible tilted about 45 degrees to the left, the editors added the subtitle: “Survey Surprise: Frequent Bible reading can turn you liberal (in some ways).”

The fact that anyone should register surprise that the Bible points toward the left should be the biggest surprise of all.

What is an Evangelical, anyway?

evangelicals-cartoonMost of my friends knew evangelicalism only through the big, bellicose voices of TV preachers and religio-political activists such as Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. Not surprisingly, my friends hadn't experienced an evangelicalism that sounded particularly loving, accepting or open-minded.

After eschewing the descriptor because I hadn't wanted to be associated with a faith tradition known more for harsh judgmentalism and fearmongering than the revolutionary love and freedom that Jesus taught, I began publicly referring to myself again as an evangelical. By speaking up, I hoped I might help reclaim "evangelical" for what it is supposed to mean.

The Problem With Christian Labels

A week or two after the 2004 election, I was dining with some friends in New York when the conversation turned to religion and politics -- the two things that you're never supposed to discuss in polite company.

George W. Bush had just been re-elected with the help of what was described in the media as "evangelical voters." And knowing that I am an evangelical Christian, my friends were terribly curious.

"What, exactly, is an evangelical?" one gentleman asked, as if he were inquiring about my time living among the lowland gorillas of Cameroon.

I suddenly found myself as cultural translator for the evangelical mind.

"As I understand it," I began, "what 'evangelical' really means is that a person believes in Jesus Christ, has a personal relationship with him and because of that relationship feels compelled to share their experience of God's love with other people. "How they choose to share that 'good news' with others is entirely up to the individual. Beyond that, the rest is details and style."

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