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Justin Lee on faith, culture, and nuance

Justin Lee on faith, culture, and nuance

From the Blog

Are evangelicals unreachable?

“Evangelical” has become a bad word in American society today, and a lot of people don’t even know what it means!

The term refers to Christians who emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus, who believe that eternal salvation comes only through his death and resurrection, and who hold a very “high view” of the Bible as a guide for Christian faith and practice.

The word “evangelical” comes from the Greek for “good news,” and evangelicals strongly believe that the Christian message is good news: God loves us! God’s own Son died for us! Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, God will forgive you for your sins and give you eternal life if you ask! This is the “good news” evangelicals are named for, and it’s what motivates evangelicals to want to “evangelize,” or share the good news with others.

Among Protestants, “evangelical” denominations (such as Southern Baptists and Assemblies of God) are often contrasted with “mainline” denominations (such as United Methodists and Episcopalians). It’s an awkward classification, because it’s not really that simple. There are plenty of people and churches in mainline denominations who might fit the description of evangelicals, and since most of the growth in American Protestantism is in evangelical churches, it’s no longer true that mainline churches are the mainstream.

But anyway. Enough of the terminology lesson. Back to my point.

Evangelicals make up a huge portion of American Christianity today, and they are among the most passionate people you could ever meet when it comes to the good news of God’s grace for everyone. So why does everyone think that evangelicals are unreachable with a message of grace to LGBT people?

I hear it all the time. For many LGBT folks, progressive mainline Christians are the “good Christians,” and evangelicals are the “bad Christians”—hateful fundamentalist extremists who care about political power more than they do about people.

Oh yes, if you’re a straight evangelical, this is what people say about you. Our reputation is not a good one.

That’s right, I said “our.” Although I prefer to identify myself just as a Christian and stay out of the various boxes people want to put me in, the truth is that I’m an evangelical, too. And my biggest passion in life is talking to evangelicals about LGBT issues.

When they find out I’m an evangelical, people do not know what to make of me. Some of them make all kinds of (wrong) assumptions about my politics and theology. Others look at me like Dorothy looked at Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz.

A “good” evangelical? That can’t be real!

And when I tell people that my passion is to reach evangelicals with an LGBT-affirming message, they cluck their tongues and smile condescendingly as if I were a four-year-old who said he wanted to grow up to be Superman.

“Yeah. Good luck with that.”

But evangelicals are not unreachable with a message of grace and affirmation. Grace is built into the DNA of evangelicalism! The problem is that many evangelicals don’t understand what it’s like to be gay or trans, and they have a lot of misconceptions about the issue that we need to address. There are also vital Bible questions to discuss, but often it’s the misconceptions that get in the way of even having a helpful Bible conversation to begin with.

Evangelicalism is not a bad word. Evangelicals are not the enemy. In fact, I’d argue that an evangelical reading of the Bible amounts to the best “good news” LGBT people could ever want—if only we evangelicals would start being more consistent in practicing the grace we preach.

What do you think? Do you agree?

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