The redefinition of Americanized Christianity from a primary call to follow Jesus to a fear-based ideology has solidified during the highly divisive political activities of recent years. To accomplish this fuller evangelical evolution, words had to change meanings.
Long in the making, this shift has produced a more complete litany of shared beliefs and terminology that benefits the defense of white nationalism. This revised lexicon has redefined “evangelical” and labeled its resulting posture as “Christian.”
By words and deeds, highly public evangelicals, like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr. and James Dobson, have shifted the earlier meaning of “evangelical” – one who brings God’s good news in Jesus to others – to the use of raw and often amoral political power to sooth white grievance, advance discrimination and seek to preserve cultural dominance.
Advancing this political agenda, masked as Christian faithfulness, required a new vocabulary to support a major refocusing from concern for others (as reflective of Jesus) to self-preservation.
Words, very naturally, can take on pejorative meanings. So, it’s always wise to keep up with how language changes over time.
Yet, in this case, words were intentionally redefined and misused to accomplish a desired goal – that is, seeking to justify a self-serving political agenda as somehow being consistent with Christianity. Wise persons, and there are not enough of them, know to read between the lines – and often the lies.
Here are some of the redefined terms in the white evangelical lexicon that have created “checklist Christians” – those who uncritically affirm an emerging litany of ill-defined and misleading beliefs.
- Religious liberty
When most evangelicals speak of “religious liberty,” they are not referring to the long-held constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion for all persons, which was greatly influenced by earlier Baptists who experienced religious persecution firsthand.
The bastardized definition of religious freedom, advanced by Christian nationalists, has no concern for “all persons.” These are merely efforts to secure and preserve political and cultural favor, rooted in a false history of a “Christian nation.”
A primary privilege they seek in the name of “religious liberty” is for the government to aid their desire to discriminate freely, especially against LGBTQ persons.
We all know how narrowly this politicized term is used – and how little it has to do with valuing and preserving life in general. I addressed this matter more fully in an earlier column.
Evangelicals love to talk about families, but they affirm a narrow concept more aligned with ’50s-style television than anything realistic or biblical. This is done, among other things, to advance male dominance that is an essential aspect of religious fundamentalism.
Their so-called “biblical” marriages and families, however, disregard the culture contexts and many of the teachings within the Bible. And there is a lot of hypocrisy as well.
Marriage failures are as common within the church as without. But more alarm and political energy are spent on undermining families, especially those of same-sex couples, than addressing the greater threat of family breakdown and the often-associated abuse.
And there was hardly a whisper of concern when families crossing the southern border were separated, including parents and children who will never be reunited. So much for “family values.”
Highly partisan and widely misleading voter guides, such as one issued by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, contribute to the redefinition of terms for secular political benefit.
Southern Baptist churches were encouraged to distribute this guide during the election season. It is heavy on anti-abortion politics and absent of any concerns about poverty, justice, compassion and other matters Jesus considered to be highly important.
Rather the issues, purportedly “important to Georgia Baptists and Christians overall,” include building a border wall, limiting access to health care, getting out of a nuclear deal with Iran and putting conservative ideologues on the Supreme Court.
And moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem actually made the voter guide posted by Georgia Baptists. Really? This is a top-10 concern for Christians in America when lying is rampant, injustice is unaddressed, a pandemic is wreaking havoc due to failed leadership and democracy is threatened?
“Pro-Israel” posturing by evangelicals really means “anti-Palestinian,” including fellow Christians in Bethlehem who suffer ongoing oppression.
They are stunned and deeply hurt that their Christian brothers and sisters in America actually enable such aggression. They are cut off from economic opportunities by the continuing encroachment on their lands and livelihoods.
This nonsensical offense, egged on by American evangelicals, is based on bad end-times theology and the ignorant misperception that all Palestinians are Muslims and that all Muslims are terrorists.
As a result, the modern Israeli government, falsely conflated with the biblical children of God, is blessed to act in any way they please regardless of human rights abuses.
- Government authority
Romans 13 gets trotted in and out depending on whether one’s preferred authoritarian is the office holder or not. White Christian nationalists love to claim that everyone should be “subject to governing authorities” when the political agenda aligns with theirs.
Then, of course, choosing God over government gets reinstated when those elected to positions of national leadership don’t carry out their preferred restrictive and discriminatory nationalistic efforts.
No wonder churches are bleeding membership and the voter-guide-distributing Baptist convention is flailing while the Christian witness experiences one self-inflicted blow after another.
This shift is not something that happened by accident. It is an intentional effort to define Christianity apart from following Jesus.
Yes, the term “Christian” itself has been redefined in lesser ways for a lesser (and politicized) purpose. Pollster George Barna, who has joined forces with fake historian David Barton in advancing white Christian nationalism, contributes to this redefinition.
For research purposes, Barna’s polling organization defines a “practicing Christian” as someone who has attended church in the last month and considers his or her faith to be “very important.” What’s missing? Well, Jesus.
The evangelical lexicon allows for religious/political leaders to advance an agenda that is absent and often at odds with Jesus. They do so by using familiar words in controlling and misleading ways that don’t mean what they really mean.
To ignore what is taking place will get you carried along in this raging stream of ill-defined evangelical Christianity. So, here’s a suggestion for being a better Christian and citizen:
Read between the lines (and lies) of those who advance this false gospel, ignore nonsensical voter guides and other propaganda, and instead read and heed the words of Jesus. That, and only that, is what it means to be Christian.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.