In the face of challenging news in the world, I particularly enjoyed the celebration of Easter this year. Easter is, in the Christian tradition in which I minister, the celebration of good news. It is the culmination of the announcement of the good news proclaimed by Jesus. At the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus announces, “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.” This good news becomes clear through the Four Gospels that tell the story of Jesus’ ministry in word and deed: it is good news about inclusion, acceptance, compassion, love; it is good news about a promised realm of justice for all people; it is good news about raising up those who are beaten down by life, by oppressive powers, by poverty; it is good news about a different way of living, in which people truly seek the best for all others, in which people love their neighbours as they love themselves, and in which they regard everyone as a neighbour.
I used to describe myself as an Evangelical, meaning, in the German Lutheran tradition, one who lives by the gospel, which means “good news”; this is itself a translation from the Greek word euangelion, the basis of the English word evangelical (the quality or attribute of good news, or those people who claim to live by the good news of gospel). In the centuries following the Reformation, it implied those who based their lives on the good news of Jesus. It meant, for me, that I live as one who follows the example given by Jesus, loving neighbours as myself, with a love that was compassionate, inclusive, welcoming, accepting, caring and which worked towards the accomplishment of peace and justice. I no longer use that term, as it has been co-opted and even distorted by a particular wing of Christianity in the United States and Canada: those who brand themselves as Evangelicals.
Evangelicals today are, generally speaking, the larger movement of right-wing Christianity that has been tied into a nationalistic identity; equally, it is tied to support for capital punishment and tax cuts for big business. It tends to be anti-immigration and even xenophobic, as well as homophobic, supportive of gun rights and largely in support of the current American president. As Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners (a Christian faith-based lobby group that advocates for justice for the poor, immigrants, refugees and many others who are disenfranchised by a white, traditionalist and racist power structure) writes, “Trump Evangelicals have so completely and uncritically offered their faithful allegiance to the man in the White House that they have compromised the gospel of Jesus Christ – whose values the president’s life has stood antithetically against.”
I believe in the good news of the gospel, which speaks for the voiceless, the homeless, those with no status. I believe that the term Evangelical has become a bitter irony, claimed by those who promote self at the expense of others, making a mockery of what truly should be good news. I long for the media to call on the Evangelical wing of the Republican party to surrender the term, until Evangelicals can actually embrace the call to justice, inclusion and acceptance to which the gospel calls us. I long to claim the title Evangelical back for myself, as one who truly seeks to bring good news to bear in the world. We all need good news, the good news of acceptance and equality, justice and peace. The soul of the church, and indeed North America, may be at stake.