Magazine article The Christian Century

Unpredictable Evangelicals

Magazine article The Christian Century

Unpredictable Evangelicals

Article excerpt

WANTING TO police his own morals," Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition "decided to find a church by looking in the Yellow Pages--under E for evangelical. Why evangelicals? `Because I knew from my political involvement that they were solid,' he explained recently" (New York Times Magazine, July 14). Evangelicalism today is protean, reaching from "mainstream" to "fundamentalist." Because the word means more and more things to more and more people, it means fewer and fewer clear things to any and all people.

At "evangelical" gatherings I have often been introduced as the "friendly nonevangelical guest." In response, I often lecture about how Lutherans and Anglicans were pioneer "evangelicals," and say that I am probably the only person in the room who belongs to a church body with the word "evangelical" in its very name. (It does not show up in Chicago's Yellow Pages under "E" because it is alphabetized as "Lutheran--Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.")

I don't have Reed's Washington Yellow Pages in front of me, but Chicago's "Churches" section--located, I remind people, between "chiropractors" and "cigars"--would offer only a maze of confusion. It lists five denominations under E: "Evangelical Congregational," "Evangelical Covenant," "Evangelical Free" and "Evangelical Lutheran Synod," with a vestigial category for "Evangelical and Reformed," annotated "See Churches--United Church of Christ." The last of these would seem the second or third least "solid" to a leader of the Christian Right. As for the others, the Evangelical Congregational folk are Armenian and not known for politicking; the Covenant people are post-Swedish Lutheran, and harbor a genial mix on political issues; the Freebies are Scandinavioid conservatives as well, who may well provide voters for the Right and thus might be "solid"; while the Lutheran synodists are of Norwegian solid stock, theologically conservative but nonpolitical. …

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