Nowadays, “white”, “Christian”, and “evangelical”, are loaded words. White can mean oppressor; Christian can mean ignorant; and evangelical often means bigot.
Since I could be called a white evangelical Christian, I frequently take offense at the way they are used. The one I find most offensive is “evangelical”. Last month I wrote about the abuse and misuse of that word. But I feel compelled to keep writing about it. Here’s why: though the category evangelical may comprise as wide a variety as the category animal does, most often “evangelical” is used as if the whole demographic belonged to the variety I consider the worst of us: those who use the label “Christian” as a cover for greed, racial and class prejudice, fear and other attitudes wholly opposite from those Christ preached and practiced.
For about ten years, I have attended a church that grew out of a distinct “evangelical” tradition. I will try to deliver an accurate summary, at least as far back as the tradition’s origins in the Salvation Army.
Out of that movement, through her parents, came Aimee Semple McPherson*, a remarkably passionate and effective evangelist and faith healer of the very early twentieth century. Sister Aimee, in connection with her Angelus Temple in Los Angeles’ Echo Park district, founded a bible college. One of the college’s students was Chuck Smith, who later, as pastor of a small church in Costa Mesa, California, actively welcomed the truth-seeking hippies we used to call Jesus freaks. Pastor Chuck, with the help of some highly charismatic young people, most notably Lonnie Frisbee, gathered a following that grew exponentially until it became a denomination of its own, called Calvary Chapel.
A number of Calvary Chapel preachers founded churches that, while not under the Calvary Chapel umbrella, continued in the same tradition. Three of those are among the most popular churches in San Diego, where I live. The first was Horizon, out of which came Journey and The Rock. The Rock, founded by long-time Horizon preacher Miles McPherson, once a football player for the San Diego Chargers, has become a true mega-church. I suppose in part because Miles is black, The Rock is quite racially integrated. The other two, though primarily white, have never, to my knowledge, promoted or condoned racism in any way. Over ten years at journey, I have never heard anything that could be construed as advocating greed, racial or class prejudice, or fear of anything but exclusion from the love of God.
In my mind, “evangelical” is lovely word that describes a belief that “the essence of the gospel consists in the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ’s atonement.**”
If I knew how, I would start a movement to take the word back from its abusers.
* For a fascinating look at Sister Aimee, read The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles.
** Quoted from Wikipedia.