During the course of the interviews, I have discovered that when Gen Z and Millennials hear the phrase “American Evangelical Church” the resulting connotations are nearly always negative. Even those who are in the faith want to distance themselves from how Evangelicals are perceived, and most non-believers will have nothing to do with those who profess to be Evangelicals.
When asked what they thought of the term “American Evangelical Church,” these were some of the responses:
- “No rights for women. What’s sad is I think of hate. Hatred towards Muslims. Hatred toward women. Which is super sad. I feel like they are no better than ISIS in that they want to make the country follow one religion, one view, and hate towards those who disagree. Like I see some of these same people saying not to take refugees and I’m like – what would Jesus have done?”
- “Against gay and lesbian, angry and protesting.”
- “The first word is judgmental. ‘We’re going to love them in Christ, BUT …’ and that ‘but’ totally invalidated what they said before.”
Right or wrong, the term “Evangelical” has come to be associated with hate, intolerance, and power-mongering. How did this happen, and how should we respond?
The first thing that comes to mind is that it would be beneficial to change how we speak of ourselves. When we say “I’m an Evangelical,” in our understanding of the term we are saying something like “I believe in Jesus and I live to honor Him!” But when we say “I’m an Evangelical” to people not in the faith, particularly Millennials, what they often hear is something like, “I hate people who don’t think like me and I’m going to manipulate the government so that everyone has to live the way I do!” See what I mean? At this point in time and in this culture, Evangelical is not a helpful term. By all means, talk about Jesus. But it’s counter-productive to try to wrap up the amazing experience of knowing Jesus into the insufficient and often misunderstood term, Evangelical.
The second thing that comes to mind is that we need to check the behaviors that led to the bad reputation of the word Evangelical. Throughout the Bible, God makes it clear that love, grace, and mercy should be some of the defining traits of His children. But that’s not how we’re known, mostly:
- “The first thought that comes to mind is corrupt. Money hungry. Preying on weak-minded individuals. It’s unfortunate, but that’s my overall impression of the modern church. Like I said before, I don’t think it was always that way.”
- “I just feel like so many people talk the talk but then can’t walk the walk. The whole ‘those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’ always makes me think of that, because it’s like – you aren’t perfect. You aren’t godly all the time. You can disagree without being hateful.”
- “Seeing infighting … over silly things like stained glass windows … it’s disillusioning. One church I was in broke apart and dissolved because of a stained glass window. They were getting too big for their old building and half of the people wanted to move to a space that would accommodate more people and encourage growth and the other half wanted to keep the old building because of the stained glass windows, so the whole place blew apart. Over windows. They were valuing windows over people.”
Reading those quotes makes me sad. And I bet it makes you sad, too. We, as people who love God, would much rather be characterized by quotes like these:
“Those Christ-followers, they … “
- “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. “ Romans 12:10 (NLT)
- Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, [and] honor the emperor [president!]. 1 Peter 2:7 (NIV)
Among those outside the body of believers, may it be said of us that we “Love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us].” And of course, not just our enemies. We can actively love those around us who God has put in our lives. It strikes me that inviting a neighbor to dinner speaks Jesus more loudly than reposting a political or Christian meme. We’ve got to get out there and love!
Hey. I bet you’re already out there loving your neighbors! Please email me with what you’re doing and perhaps I can include some of that good stuff in an upcoming update. (Anonymously, if you prefer.) What a great way to encourage and exhort one another!
Thanks for sharing this journey with me, sister.
Keep hoping. Keep praying. Keep loving.
Kristi, for WeConnect