Sunday, December 3, 2017

Evangelical: Time to Lose the Label?


For many people today, there is no worse company than Monsanto. In their view, it is the face of corporate evil.

In a 2015 U.S. survey of the most hated businesses, Monsanto ranked fourth from the bottom. People write, blog, do social media and even march against it.

I’m not going to get into a debate about whether Monsanto and its products are as bad as people say. What’s undeniable is the company has an image problem.

And there’s pretty much nothing it can do to change the situation, except maybe one thing: Get rid of the name.

Which is what could happen next year when another major agri-business company, Bayer, will absorb Monsanto.

While they plan to keep its products, word is they plan to eliminate the Monsanto name from the corporate lexicon—in hope of a fresh start.

Something similar is being proposed in the world of religion for another brand in trouble: Evangelicalism.

In an article titled “A Suggestion for Younger Evangelicals: Lose the Label,” Tom Krattenmaker, author of the book The Evangelicals You Don’t Know: Introducing the Next Generation of Christians, writes that the word “evangelical” has to go.  

“I am convinced that ‘evangelical’ no longer means what it once did,” he says.

“And for the Jesus-following religious people it’s supposed to describe, it’s doing more harm than good.”

The original and intended meaning of the word, he notes, is “the good news of the gospel and the life-transforming power of Jesus.”

Created as a counter to the dour fundamentalism of the early 20th century, evangelicalism was a movement of “theological conservatives who smiled, engaged the culture, and were happy to share their faith.”

But all that has changed today.

These days, evangelicals in that country are the scolds, known for their angry criticism of the culture—like getting angry over the lack of a “Merry Christmas” on a Starbucks cup.

But the worst thing is how American evangelicalism has become synonymous with the Republican Party, and for how they supported Donald Trump in the last presidential election.

As a result, Krattenmaker says, for most Americans “the public face of evangelicals has become a snarl, not a smile. And the prospect of interacting with them is the opposite of ‘good news.’”

And that is why he says it’s time to dump the name.

“Given the baggage it’s taken on, the term is probably not salvageable. The effort to redeem it is probably not worth the cost in time and energy.”

Author and evangelical preacher Tony Campolo also feels that way.

According to Campolo, many Americans have come to view evangelicals as "homophobic, anti-feminist, anti-environmentalist, militaristic."

“We're heading in a direction where we can't even use 'evangelical' anymore," he states.

“We need to come up with a new identify, because the identity we have in the general populace, has in fact disintegrated," he states.

But if the word “evangelical” is dropped, what might replace it?

One suggestion is the oldest of all: Christian. 

That's what the 80 year-old Princeton Evangelical Fellowship at Princeton University did. In fall it announced it was changing its name to the Princeton Christian Fellowship.

“We’re interested in being people who are defined by our faith commitments and not by any sort of political agenda,” explains the group’s director, Bill Boyce.

But some, like Ron Sider, President of Evangelicals for Social Action, want to fight to keep the brand alive and vibrant.

“Over time, we can help the larger society come to a better understanding of what an evangelical is,” he says.

Of course, not all evangelicals in America are like those who support Trump and vote Republican. And evangelicals in Canada are very different from their American counterparts.

But many in this country, like in the U.S., don’t distinguish between the two. What tars evangelicals in the U.S. also sticks to them in Canada.

So: Can the name be saved? Maybe, with some deliberate and focused effort. Or perhaps, like with Monsanto, the hill is just too steep to climb and the name has to go.

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