Editors' Note: Guest blogger Rev. Rick Elliott has been a minister since June 1973 and has frequently handled the overflow of weddings from a university chapel. He has received an M/Div from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and did five-sixths of a D.Min at Perkins School of Divinity (SMU).
A rich word has been misappropriated and nobody seems to care, much less challenge the wrong usage. Evangelical is a beautiful word, full of meaning: it refers to good news, spreaders of good news. It comes from the Greek word Euangelion--good news. In Old English it's Godspell--or gospel.
Some may wonder if I'm playing semantic games: getting worked up about the misuse of some Greek word that most folks wouldn't have any notion where the word came from, much less see that a good word is being manipulated by folks to put a nice face on their activities and make them feel all pious about themselves.
You got me pegged! To me it's personal.
Look at the group who has glommed onto the word to identify themselves. Are the following behaviors examples of good news:
- A group sponsoring Ugandan legislation that would make homosexuality a crime with a death sentence attached?
- Promoters of a theological stance that claims if you don't believe in their particular dogmas you're going to hell?
- Advocates of guilt and shame to whip folks into line with their views?
- People who would more widely administer the death penalty, but claim the pregnant girl who was raped must carry to term the spawn of her molester?
- People who deny children the possibility of parents--either adoptive of foster parents--just because they don't like homosexuals?
- Folks who can freely pick and choose biblical texts to take literally, based on their own agenda without benefit of a thought-out theological rationale?
- A group who claim to take all of Scripture literally, yet cannot stand to have the biblical criterion of love one another applied to them?
I've given my life to the church and now I'm an embarrassment. They get all bible-sounding when they quote obscure verses from a book in the Bible most Christians haven't even read. The closest most came to studying this book is when they did a word search to find quotes to back up their bigotry and stumbled on these verses, feeling they'd hit the jackpot. However, this same book devotes chapter after chapter to what foods are clean and unclean. Maybe that's how we can give them a dose of their own medicine--be equally judgmental about so-called evangelicals who continue to eat shrimp and bacon or orate against folks who don't pony up a full 10% (a tithe) of their real income to their church.
I'm sometimes speechless when gay friends look at me, shaking their heads with a look that voices their bewilderment, "How can you really be a part of the church?!" One guy snickered as he said, "I gave up the Church for Lent!" (Followed by knee-slapping raucous laughter). It's personal because they won't give me time to explain. Yes, many GLBT folks have moved on, particularly because of the way many of them were treated by churches they went to every Sunday until they came out.
It's personal when for a decade I can't go back to visit a congregation I gave my life to because my presence would upset folks.
But the bottom line reason it's personal is because their behavior doesn't bear any resemblance to the teacher from Nazareth named Jesus.
It's time we mount an effort to restore evangelical to designate a more applicable gathering of folks. Let them call themselves revivalists or religious right. These folks don't have any reason to call themselves good news. They have no right to the rich word evangelical, they are bad news not good news.