As this election season has blossomed I have watched with, at first, irritation, then frustration, and now alarm as the press regularly uses the term “evangelical Christian” with its implied fundamentalist and Republican subtitle, as the banner under which all who follow Christ will vote.
It is not that I decry fundamentalism or Republicans. My issue is with statements such as “evangelical Christians support Donald Trump,” or “all the evangelical Christians will back Ben Carson because he is a believer,” or “Sen. Ted Cruz represents the concerns of the evangelical Christian.” It makes me feel erroneously profiled, lumped in and railroaded in to following a crowd that I never agreed to follow. I am almost embarrassed to say that I am an evangelical!
At 8-years-old, I made an intentional decision to follow Jesus Christ. As far as I was concerned, the only definition of my faith that meant anything was that I was a “Christ follower.” As I grew older, somehow it was communicated to me that all Christians were also fundamentalist, evangelical and Republican. Those monikers seem as inextricably linked as the Holy Trinity itself. It feels like an algebraic equation — D = A + B + C. Christ follower = fundamentalist + evangelical + Republican. The equation does not work for me. Who knew that at age eight I would not only begin my faith journey but also be joining a political preference at the same time? I did not meet a Christian Democrat until I was in my 30s.
While there are many definitions of “evangelical,” the press regularly uses evangelical as a synonym for “conservative church-goer.” Research says the evangelical population is a largely white and protestant group. It includes some conservative Catholics and is supported by those in the mainline, Jewish and Mormon faiths.
Evangelicals rose some time ago from being pawns in the political schematic to something more influential in the political chess game. The Christian “right” came into influence in the 1940s, active in the 60s decrying communism, addressed issues of racial justice in the 1970s and most influential in the 1980s as Catholics and evangelicals banded together to address abortion rights. The most significant rise of the Christian Right began in the 1980s with the influence of TV and eventually the Internet. Rev. Pat Robertson used television to unite believers to causes through the Christian Coalition of American. Currently, the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family are relied on to be test tubes of what the Evangelical will say, do and vote. Evangelicals are major players in the political arena. Pastors are openly endorsing candidates and the candidates pander to them, competing for the vote of the faithful.
So, how did the top Republicans gain the trust of evangelicals? The prolix Donald Trump, an espoused faithful Presbyterian, when asked what his favorite verse was and had nothing to say. Ben Carson is Seventh Day Adventist (I do realize he is out of the race . . ). And, Sen. Cruz seems to use an element of fear to herd followers. I have not yet found a candidate I am thrilled with and yet, by all the definitions provided me, I am supposed to be an evangelical. So, why don’t I support them? Because they don’t reflect who I feel is the best candidate according to my personal beliefs! My rugged independence is at war with my love (even in politics) of community.
As the political season bumps along, in order to find clarity, it has become important for me to find individuality rather than commonality. Whether or not “all the kids (evangelicals) are doing it” or not, I will not let group think control my vote. I will not vote along with a predefined group (evangelical/republican, independent, democrat, Asian, female etc.) but rather with the simplistic reasoning of my 8-year-old self, who just wanted to follow Jesus; whom I believe does indeed care about people and their angst. Including elections. I will place my debatably meaningless vote, in whatever hands follow most closely with my spiritual, ethical, and moral convictions; evangelicalism be damned.