Makoto Fujimura answers, "What is an Evangelical?"

Makoto Fujimura via
Makoto Fujimura via

Why I’m not an evangelical … and why I am:

“Evangelical” is a dirty word in the New York art world. A friend, an artist, told me that before she understood the claims of the Bible, she thought Christianity was a weird political group, and evangelicals the most extreme and terrifying. Whenever this word is raised, the next statement is “oh no, you are not one of them, are you?!”

Then, I usually say,“well, it depends on what you mean by the word ‘evangelical,’” followed by a confession, “I am not sure if I am an evangelical but let’s do talk about what the word actually means.”

People often assume that I am of the evangelical persuasion because I have been associated with many churches and Christian organizations. I just completed a major project for the 400th Anniversary of King James Bible. I was even appointed by President George W. Bush to the National Council on the Arts. People in the art world assume that if you have anything to do with President Bush and the Bible then you must be an evangelical.

What artists in New York usually mean by this word “evangelical” is that it is politically anti-women’s rights, hates gays, and that evangelicals condemn and discriminate against those who do not believe in God or the Bible. So usually, in these encounters with my friends, I do appear enigmatic because, to them, I seem not to be so black and white on these issues, not in the typical way the media would portray evangelicals.

Yes, I am pro-life, but in the same way as Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice (a true Left), in that I care about soldiers’ lives and innocent victims of war as much as the unborn.

I have many gay, feminist, and atheist friends, but to me they are not what these labels define them to be, just as “evangelical” is not sufficient to describe me. To me, they are simply my friends.

I hope they all see that I actually am interested in their arguments, far more than I am interested in arguing against them. I learn much more this way. So, I am sure that I fail, at least by their definition, at being a true card-carrying evangelical.

Reading this, some of my evangelical friends may disown me yet.

That’s OK. I am far more interested in being faithful to the root word of “evangelical,” which is the word evangel, than being an “evangelical Christian.”

As evangel means “to herald the Good News” — what St. Paul called the “mystery” that angels long to know, now revealed in Christ — I am very, very willing to be identified with this “evangel mystery.”

In the entropy of things to come, in the fragmenting, disintegrating mess we call life, this mystery is what I live for, what I paint, what I want to be remembered for.

My friends know that the Bible and the name of Jesus are often at the top of my list of favorite things to talk about. They care about me enough to listen to what I believe in as well.

I share in their discomfort with the “evangelical,” and how that label gets in the way of getting to the real heart of the matter.

So at the end of the day, they do see why I am not an “evangelical,” … and why I am.

Makoto Fujimura is an artist, writer and founder of International Arts Movement. His art and essays can be found at

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