Evangelicals Flee The “E” Word

Related imagePeter Wehner is scraping off both the evangelical and Republican labels as he marches with the somber, disillusioned throng. Like many, he says he hasn’t changed; but, like many, he’s discovered that evangelicals and Republicans have mutated into zombies of their former selves.

Peter Wehner

Peter Wehner 

The senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who served in three Republican administrations, wrote this in a December 9 New York Times op-ed piece: “In many important ways (Republicans and evangelicals) are having harmful effects on our society.” Alabama Republican US Senate candidate Roy Moore is the latest sign of evangelical and GOP moral decay. Polls of the state’s believers show strong support for an alleged pedophile.

Wehner writes:

The support being given by many Republicans and white evangelicals to President Trump and now to Mr. Moore have caused me to rethink my identification with both groups. Not because my attachment to conservatism and Christianity has weakened, but rather the opposite. I consider Mr. Trump’s Republican Party to be a threat to conservatism, and I have concluded that the term evangelical — despite its rich history of proclaiming the “good news” of Christ to a broken world — has been so distorted that it is now undermining the Christian witness.

He remembers conversations with two pastors and a Christian leader. One pastor said “the term is now so stained as to ruin my ability to be what evangelicalism was supposed to be.” Another claims it’s now a political designation, and the leader says it’s dwindled to a “tribal description.”

Read the rest of Wehner’s article here.

Perhaps evangelicalism’s strength became its weakness. It’s always been an amorphous mass of Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Anabaptists, and others crowding a back-to-the-Bible movement summoning Protestants to their muddy roots. Which means evangelicalism is as neat as a frat house following a keg party. Pentecostals, for example, are an evangelical subset embracing the so-called gifts of the Holy Spirit; many Calvinists and Dispensationalists think the gifts went extinct at the close of the first century.

And there’s no magisterium or pope. No white-haired, mitered eclisiast says yea or nay over any given teaching. That’s why Joel Osteen is grouped with evangelicals even though most frown on his health-and-wealth teaching.

The lack of authority meant no one could stomp the movement out, but it also paved the path for Franklin Graham, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell (Senior and Junior), Pat Robertson, and others. They hijacked the term and twisted it into a GOP-manipulated force now sitting in Trump’s lap. A sad consequence: Like Wehner, many traditional evangelicals find they have no choice but to scrape off the label.


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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern


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2 Comments on “Evangelicals Flee The “E” Word”

  1. Jamie Carter Says:

    It doesn’t help that evangelicalism seemed to lost any claim to the concept of morality along the way. Most decried the moral failings of outsiders, while ignoring that the people they were supporting were just as much of moral failures as everyone else. They knew Trump was no gentleman, but they didn’t care. They know now that Roy Moore is not an angel either; but they support them both as means to an ends – all that matters is that these guys say the right keywords to get their support; questionable morality is okay in their book.


  2. Joe Delahunt Says:

    Two observations. One is that this is a parochial American issue. There is a world evangelical movement that is very vibrant and relatively free of these American aberrations. The second is Carl Henry’s report (in Henry’s autobiography) of Jerry Falwell’s boast, “We have hijacked the evangelical jumbo jet.” American evangelicalism has been largely swallowed back up by the fundamentalism it was trying to free itself from.


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