put down the flag

recently i tried to explain to someone why i no longer considered myself an "evangelical." it was a little difficult, because she had a different religion and didn't understand all that term entailed. maybe you don't understand either--i'm not sure that i do either. and maybe it doesn't really matter. maybe labels and titles are something that just get us into more trouble than they're worth. old distinguishing marks that were worn like a badge of honor undergo a change in meaning as time passes, especially when any old anyone can choose that mark for themselves.

actually i don't know if i ever would have called myself an "evangelical," though i went to one of their churches and schools. the term conveys a lot of things--different probably to different people. in many ways evangelicalism has become the face of american protestantism, where many outside of the church and in wouldn't be able to tell you the difference. if you don't happen to know it is a label for denominations to distinguish themselves, usually by a strong emphasis on the bible at the center of all and the need to "save" others.

i've never really been big on denominations. you could call my theology lax, but the difference just never seemed like that big of a deal to me. i think there are important things to be gleaned from every tradition--and more evangelicals should be reading catholic writings, past and present. and more variety beyond that as well--other traditions, other religious literature, classic literature, foreign lit, modern poetry. but hey, i have an english degree so of course i would say that right?

that's not really the point of what i wanted to say in this post--though it connects because i believe current evangelical americans are the greatest offenders, particularly on the political front.

we put our rights above our call to love people.

i mean "rights" in a couple ways. first i mean it in the sense of what we deem to be right. our truths. our beliefs. people gotta get their beliefs right because it's faith that saves us right? we can worry about all that lovey crap after they are good and saved. and what's more it is generally the more loving thing to do to show a person where they are wrong. funny how many evangelicals have a different idea of what "love" is than everyone else. call it sanctified if you want, but i think i cor. 13 might have something to say about that.

in the second and i think far more accepted sense, i mean it in the more traditional sense of the word. we have our rights as citizens of the usofa, as human beings. it's right there in the declaration of independence. it's in our beings, our fiber as americans. life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. and we as american christians agree. evangelicals have done a fair job trying to convince everyone that the founding fathers were devout men of the christian faith. my question is why? i'll give you the puritans and the pilgrims--but the founding fathers, well that's just not historical for the most part. did they do it in order to try to absorb these principles into christian practice so they wouldn't have to be different? or was it more out of insecurity? trying to hold onto the puritan idea of america being the new zion, the new city on a hill?

but perhaps you are asking what's wrong with these principles in the first place? aren't we afforded these rights? well in a way yes. perhaps that is true as humans we should have these rights--they fit within our natural sense of what justice should be. the only problem is that they aren't the way of Jesus. i could have said "they aren't christian," but that wouldn't sound right--they have become quite "christian" indeed.

read i corinthians 9. it's all about paul giving up his rights for the sake of the gospel. read philippians 2. it's all about how Jesus did not hold onto his rights as God but humbled himself. perhaps that's the best word for it: humility. americans have taken the humility out of christianity.

we will love people as long as it doesn't interfere with our rights--our ability to live, our independence, and our own happiness. that implies a lack of sacrifice, but even more it shows which is our priority. we believe in our own rights more than we do in the call to love people. our love has no teeth. who will give up their "happiness" for another? who will submit themselves to losing their independence for the sake of others? who will really lose their life--that whole greater love hath no man thing. nah we'll just leave all that to Jesus. he did it all for us right?

well are we disciples of Christ or are we not? are we Christ-ians? no it seems we would rather be the people who toe the line and follow the rules--our wonderful puritan heritage in its distortion there. and that's how people begin to think that being a christian is all about following rules. the problem is well-intentioned christians think this too. following the rule of grace and belief and no love in action beyond writing a couple checks. maybe that's too harsh, but our sense of "following" Jesus is almost laughable. american evangelicals--what gospel are you reading?

life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? there are the core values of america. and yet it's exactly our ability to lay down these rights that makes us Christian, that makes us truly loving.


  1. Worth noting: This post relies on the premise that Evangelicals are ultra-American and submit themselves to the Declaration of Independence. It also asserts that Evangelicals are especially terrible at loving well/putting their needs last. This is sometimes true but these sweeping statements fall short.

    On loving poorly: More than an Evangelical thing, I think this is a people thing. We aren’t selfish because we are Evangelicals, we are selfish because we are fallen people.

    I think that you want to love well, to love with teeth—that desire is great. And I understand the temptation to kick off titles. Who really wants to be so simply categorized? In many ways, these titles fail to capture us (or at least all of us). However, in some ways, these stereotypes nail us perfectly.

    Story time: Any time a bar in Aggieville is caught serving somebody underage, they are forced to either change the bar’s name or change the management. Normally, they opt to change the name (i.e. Silverado's or the Gilligan’s sign on Bluemont) but maintain the seedy reputation. OR they change the management, class up the joint and keep the same name.

    Similarly, perhaps instead of a name change we need some “new management.” Maybe instead of a different title, we individually work toward becoming better lovers of people. We can love with ferocity and give heartfelt apologies for those that don’t. We can resist the need to defend ourselves as different and instead humbly sink into the flawed titles given to us.

    Perhaps it’s our fierce love that helps recapture the word. Maybe we bring the humility back to Christianity by humbly accepting the title. After all, what do we have to defend? Do WE love people as well as we’d like to? Are WE really that different than all of those other people trying to sort through life?

    Love to hear more of your thoughts—your blog is always interesting food for thought.

  2. kelly-

    yes it is true, i certainly stereotyped a lot of evangelicals--and indeed i am speaking about a particular group within the many who would call themselves evangelical. whether or not they are the majority, well, i probably can't say. i don't mean to finger anyone or imply that anyone saying they are an evangelical fits these descriptions. but i do think a lot of evangelicalism in america is undergirded with the values expressed in the declaration of independence and other american ideals and principles (capitalism among them). then in turn those principles in some way are contrary to loving like Jesus describes. loving poorly is a people thing, but shouldn't evangelicals or any christian be different? love a little better?

    i didn't mention it in the post but i think these things are just some of what people who call themselves "post-evangelical" are trying to get away from. this is a sort of name change like you talked about. i don't know if that's what i would call myself either though. that has its own baggage already because it is a "post" something else. do we need to accept the title of "evangelicals"? or even "post-evangelicals"? why do we need a label like that in any way other than just "christian"? it's tricky because "christian" means so many things these days. the bible talks a lot about doing things for the name of Christ. and yet because people like jesus but not christians or the church--what does that say?

    none of us are perfect--and i don't call these things to attention without understanding many of my own flaws in this and other areas. i don't love people like i should--and i don't write all this in any self-righteous way. but i hope there are at least some differences. i hope my many years of following Christ has taught me something and that makes a difference in how i live my life at least to some degree. and i think we all need to continue to strive and encourage others to seek the same, to love better. to put more of our energies there instead of policing morality while at the same time sometimes using our fallenness as an excuse for our lack of devotion. i know that's a harsh word, and i don't say it to discard grace of course. but we need to be more than we as "christians" currently are in america.

    i hope that makes sense. just some more thoughts.

  3. Thanks for your post. One thing though, more of a question than an assertion. How do we draw the line between judging others, (which I understand to be related to the whole, asserting or laying down our rights thing--at least I think the watching world sees it as being related to that. And part of the fruit of the Spirit is patience,which holds off on judgement, right?) ...between judging others and living in purity? No one who follows Jesus and reads Paul's writings will be truthful if they say that we are to just ignore sin. For example. I am going to be living in the dorms next fall. Do I ask for a roommate who doesn't watch too-much-for-my-heart movies, who doesn't have sex with her boyfriend in MY ROOM? Or is that asserting my rights? Is that putting my comfort above my call to love people, or is that guarding my mind and my purity for myself and my own husband (future though he may be)? Should I pay to live somewhere I don't even feel comfortable staying? But say I did get such a roommate. How do I show Jesus' love to her, for real? Not by condemning, I know. I just wonder how we can be set apart and yet touched by the filth around us, defiled by it. I mean, I cannot--CANNOT-- see and hear sin, especially some certain sins, with out becoming affected. Where do we draw the line and say that's enough, I'm not Jesus but only his small child? When do we quit the premises?

  4. ps my email is yeshuasisters20@gmail.com