The Push to Ditch the Terms "Conservative" and "Evangelical"
I understand the embarrassment, and I’ve had the same urge myself. However, at least for now, I’m not ready to hop on board that train.
And my reasoning isn’t political—it’s spiritual.
I don't think most evangelicals or most conservatives are bad people. I do think many have been flattered and manipulated so long that they are now having trouble discerning good from evil.
This whole situation reminds me of that scene from The Silver Chair in which a villain throws green powder onto the fire, drugging good Prince Rilian, Jill, and Scrubb. Those three young heroes don't want to do the wrong thing, but as they breathe in the enchanted smoke, they find that they cannot tell truth from lies. They lose their ability to think clearly.
At this moment, the brave marshwiggle Puddleglum charges forth and stamps out the fire with his bare feet. He does this because this is what true friends do for one another in such times. We put our own bodies on the line to break the spell of evil.
As embarrassing and as frustrating as it is for clear-headed conservative, evangelical believers to watch the intoxication of those who abuse these labels, love compels us to go try to help them.
I realize that a whole lot of folks don't realize that they need help. In fact, many think they are the only ones who see the world clearly.
I know many are proud. I know that many feel secure in money and in power. I know many are so full of propaganda they can't hear the instruction of the Holy Word.
I am human enough to tremble when I see leaders of massive movements tickling the ears of millions of people with gross distortions of grace. I'm also human enough to grieve when my old heroes give in to this cause.
But despite all of this, those people who are being deceived are in grave spiritual danger. And when a brother or sister is endangered, it is right and good to try to help. Even if we feel like the cause is futile.
All my trail-blazing instincts want to cut off the old and charge into a new frontier, but I'm not listening to those instincts. Not yet.
I'm willing to give restoration the first fruits of my strength. Why? Because when a fellow soldier is wounded in battle, you run into enemy fire to drag him to safety, even if he is hallucinating.
How do we help? Here's one possibility.
In Acts 17, we find the Apostle Paul sharing the gospel with the men of Athens. He could have charged in there like a raging bull, proclaiming a new system of salvation--but he doesn’t. He’s far more shrewd in his approach.
Paul has listened to the culture well enough to communicate on its own terms. He makes his argument by referencing an object that is familiar to his audience--something they trust and worship. He says, “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.”
Paul does the work of redemption by unpacking the tiny bit of truth that his audience already sees.
So, strategically, I think it's worth using the terms "conservative" and "evangelical" in a similar manner. While the connotative use of these two words has been corrupted, denotatively there is still much to unpack. It's even possible that these two words can be used to show our brothers and sisters how they have abandoned their first love.
It's a good time to consider the church of Ephesus in Revelation--men and women who have worked long and hard for the cause of Christ while losing focus on what originally drew them to him. Jesus says, "Without growing weary, you have persevered and endured many things for the sake of My name. But I have this against you: You have abandoned your first love." Then the stern warning--if Ephesus will not repent from this behavior, the Lord will remove their lampstand.
I don't want this to happen to my brothers and sisters. I think they began well, I just think they grew confused along the way.
I want to remind them that “evangelical” comes from a Biblical Greek root word meaning “good news.” This means that if evangelicals are not primarily about the business of sharing the gospel, they have veered off course.
I want to remind them that to be “conservative” is a call to follow the wisdom of Jeremiah 6:16, a call to look back at the old ways and find what was good in them. This isn't the work of blind nationalism, sentimentality, or cliché. It's not the work of fevered anger and fear. It's humble work involving study, reflection, and discernment. It's careful. It's kind. It's selfless.
Over the past year or two (and arguably over the past few decades), evangelicalism and conservatism have become separated from their own visions. It's so important for us to talk about this. I think that if we talk about it enough, instead of just threatening to run away and start all over, we might be able to stamp out some fires.
I don't say this because I am scared of what will happen if Christianity amputates its diseased limbs and hobbles onward.
I say that because people I love are diseased. They are being sucked down into evil while thinking they are doing good. They are losing Jesus while trying to fight for him. They are so terribly sick, and they don't even realize they are dying.
I see millions of Christians wobbling like Prince Rilian, Grubb, and Jill, increasingly unable to see the things of God with any clarity. I see a great Green Witch who is tweeting and rallying them into their own demise.
The situation is dire, and I cannot turn my back on all those people. If the bare feet of a Marshwiggle can do any good here, I'm at their service.
So yes, I'm an evangelical. Yes, I'm a conservative.
Men and women of evangelical, conservative America, I have seen the altar you have built, and I know this Unknown God you serve. Let me introduce him to you. Let me remind you who he is in Spirit and in Truth.