Why Evangelicalism is So Misunderstood by Rachel Held Evans and the Religious Left

Too many are evangelical in name only. After declaring via Twitter she is "leaving evangelicalism" because World Vision will not hire folks within same-sex "marriages," Rachel Held Evans is now "second-guessing" her decision.

Likely jolted by the realization that her female evangelical angst persona sells books, Held Evans is taking a break from blogging to allow the spotlight to pass over her reactionary decision to abandon a community that doesn't endorse all her values.

But here is what Held Evans and the Religious Left don't understand: Evangelicalism is not an identity we slip on and off like a pair of shoes when it is comfortable. It is a counter-cultural uniqueness reflecting our commitment and responsibility to place God's will first in our public and private lives.

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Evangelicalism characterizes our recognition of the inerrant authority of Scripture, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and determination to publicly share the Good News without cultural compromise.

But lately, too many evangelicals forsake the importance of historic Christian teaching for fashionable trends. This bad judgment is causes serious problems.

For example, when faith-based small businesses owners choose not partake in same-sex wedding ceremonies or World Vision recommits to traditional marriage, you would expect the evangelical community to fully rally their support. This is not happening. As if surprised by their Christian neighbors' decisions to uphold traditional marriage, so-called evangelicals in the news, blogosphere and churches wrongly toss words like "discrimination," "bigotry," and "ignorance."

The evangelical community is at a crossroads. We must ask ourselves which is more important, fidelity to historic Christian teaching or temporary cultural and political popularity?

It's time to clear up the confusion and grasp fully what values and theology our evangelical identity means. Out of curiosity, I wanted to learn how other evangelical women in my community characterize "evangelical." So I started asking questions.

Bethany Goodman is March for Life's new evangelical outreach director. When I asked Bethany how she identifies an evangelical, Bethany answered, "Having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that transforms every aspect of life is what characterizes evangelical Christians." Bethany explained, "That means we seek to follow Christ's greatest commandments by loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind by being obedient to his Word (which encompasses a lot!), and we strive to always act out of love for our neighbor, which sometimes may mean 'tough love.'"

Adopted from Romania by American evangelical parents, Chelsea Patterson is a 20-something Christian blogger. I asked Chelsea to tell me off-hand what an evangelical looks like. She responded, "My understanding is that an evangelical is one who believes that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, one whose life is transformed through faith in Jesus Christ's atonement for our sins. In return, an evangelical prioritizes their life according to the words spoken by God in the Bible."

Next, I asked the same question to my evangelical friend Amber Dee Parker, a Christian children's book writer and author of God Made Dad & Mom. Amber answered, "The first thing that comes to mind, is that you cannot have evangelical without evangelizing about God's principles. We are supposed to be dead to sin and alive in God through Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:5)."

"When we start saying certain types of sin is discrimination, then we are not abiding by the Word of God. Because God discriminates against all sin. And that is why Jesus was sent to die on the cross." Amber continued, "We know as God's people we will be persecuted for standing for truth. But in Ephesians 4:15 we are told to speak the truth in love. In doing this we are told that Christ is the head of the Church. We cannot edify the church in love when we are preaching that it is okay to participate in sin. God makes it very clear that sin separated us from Him in the first place."

Admittedly, the term "evangelical" carries some unsightly baggage along with it. Like the Religious Left, some others have used an evangelical name-badge to belittle others in order to elevate their own agendas. Think Westboro Baptist.

These were the thoughts of my friend Jamie Garcia, a 30-something home-school mom in my community. When I approached her about the evangelical identity, Jamie immediately replied, "While I think of myself as an 'evangelical' more than anything else, I cringe at the term. I truly understand why evangelicals have such a bad name in our society. Many people have had the truth spoken to them with absolutely no love attached." Jamie continued, "It is the most difficult thing of my entire life to speak both truth and love at the same time. It takes humility, empathy and a whole lot of patience, which is probably why Jesus called us to do it."

Did you notice that each woman's answer, though from diverse perspectives shared a common theme? That is because being evangelical is not about pacifying the world in which they live. It means evangelizing to the world they live in about God's truths with a spirit motivated by love for humanity.

I pray that Rachel Held Evans takes this time to seek God and consider His will for her life instead of book sales and blog hits, before determining if she will identify as an evangelical.

Meanwhile, we evangelicals should think and pray over the Apostle Paul's instructions: Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires (2 Timothy 4:2-3).

Chelsen Vicari serves as the Evangelical Program Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy. She earned her Masters of Arts in Government from Regent University and frequently contributes to conservative outlets. Follow her on twitter @ChelsenVicari.

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