When Republican Governor Mitt Romney lost the presidential election earlier this month to incumbent Barack Obama, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary classified the election as “an evangelical disaster.”
Concerned also by state measures legalizing gay marriage, Mohler said that, aside from the 79 percent of white evangelicals who voted as they should, the “[evangelical] message was rejected by millions of Americans who went to the polls and voted according to a contrary worldview.”
"If we do not become the movement of younger Americans and Hispanic Americans and any number of other Americans, then we will just become a retirement community," he told NPR. "And that cannot, that cannot, serve the cause of Christ."
As a young evangelical myself, I confess I have grown tired…no, weary…of responding to comments like these with some honest suggestions for how my fellow evangelicals might avoid said retirement, only to be discounted and disparaged for believing the earth is more than 6,000 years old, for voting for Democrats from time to time, and for daring to serve communion to gays and lesbians. The fact that I can affirm the Nicene and Apostle’s creeds, that I am an imperfect but devoted follower of Jesus Christ, that I am passionate about spreading the gospel, and I believe the Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God, and still my evangelical credentials are constantly being questioned and debated reveals just how narrow evangelicalism has become.
The word evangelical means, in the Greek, “gospel” or “good news” (evangelion). And so an evangelical, in the most basic sense of the word, is simply someone who is committed to spreading the good news that Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again. There are plenty of Hispanics, plenty of young people, plenty of African Americans, plenty of Republicans, plenty of Democrats, and plenty of people around the world who believe this to be true, and yet Mohler will not be satisfied until American evangelicals become a monolithic and reliable voting bloc that keeps his preferred politicians in power.
This, I believe, is the real evangelical disaster—not that Barack Obama is president and Mitt Romney is not, but that evangelicalism has gotten so enmeshed with politics, its success or failure can be gauged by an election.
It’s this idea the “cause of Christ” is to vote against gay marriage and for tax cuts, and that the hope of evangelicals lies in election day returns. It's this idea that a Christian worldview is something we can vote for because it fits on a ballot.
When I tell a reporter or a new acquaintance that I am an evangelical, inevitably the person will respond, “Oh, so you are a Republican?” Sadly, evangelicalism has ceased to represent the Kingdom of God, which transcends all political parties and national allegiances, and has come to represent kingdoms of this world. And so the strengths and weakness of evangelicalism are conflated with the strengths and weaknesses of the Republican Party.
The great evangelical disaster is that evangelicalism has become synonymous with Republicanism rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This happened long before the 2012 presidential election.
It happened when we turned the Bible into a conservative position paper and Jesus into a flag pin.
It happened when Liberty University invited Donald Trump to speak in chapel because devotion to the GOP matters more devotion to the teachings of Jesus .
It happened when we traded the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord to the bad news that our influence in this world is limited to how much power we can grasp.
It happened when we restricted “Christian values” to one or two social issues while leaving others out.
So I will try one last time.
Want to win young people back to evangelicalism?
Then start preaching the Gospel again.
Start preaching the gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord and Caesar is not.
Start preaching the gospel that drew both tax collectors and zealots—political enemies— to Jesus’ side.
Start preaching the gospel that God so loved the world that God became flesh and lived among us, taught among us, loved among us, died among us, and rose again among us.
Start preaching the gospel that through Jesus, we find reconciliation with God and with one another.
Start preaching the gospel that they will know we are Christians by our love—not by our votes, not by our protest signs, not by our power, not by our campaign contributions—but by our love.
But fair warning: If you start preaching this gospel—this gospel of reconciliation and peace—you will attract more than just Republicans. You will attract people of all backgrounds and races, political persuasions and theological preferences. You will attract rich and poor, slave and free, male and female. You will attract people like me who are concerned about defending not only the unborn, but also the poor, the sick, the immigrant, and the war-torn. You will attract people like me who love Jesus but know that no single vote, no single political party, can represent my values in their totality or bring the kingdom of God to pass.
If we start preaching the gospel again, we will have to get used to ethnic, theological, and political diversity because we will share our lives with people whose ultimate allegiance lies with something greater than a political party, greater than a ballot measure, greater even than the highest office in the world.
We will share our lives with citizens of the Kingdom of God.
We will be evangelists, bearers of good news.
And no matter what happens in the halls of power, we will never be part of a disaster. Instead, we will be part of a stubborn and relentless movement of hope—the kind of hope that can heal the world.
We will be true evangelicals.