Who are Evangelicals? It’s a term little understood by the public in general and the media in particular. It’s a label given to paint broad stroke of a large swath of American Christianity but also describes hundreds of millions of believers around the world.
Since last year, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) has been developing an explanatory statement that they say is rooted in the association’s awareness that they want to truly understand and communicate evangelical identity and diversity.
The election of 2016, in which well over 80 percent of evangelicals voted for President Trump, highlighted a disconnect between many Evangelical leaders in academia, ministry and policy, and the 80 million Americans who identify as evangelical. I have described national Evangelical leadership as living “inside the beltway”–a phrase usually ascribed to Washington power brokers unfamiliar with Middle-America. The election, I believe, highlighted that the “beltway” exists around many evangelical leaders who had become disconnected from Christian evangelicals and other Christians who felt not only government, but also national Christian leadership had forgotten them. Over the last year that led to much soul-searching among leading evangelicals and that the term evangelical might need to be refined.
Founded in 1942 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the National Association of Evangelicals website says the organization “seeks to honor God by connecting and representing evangelical Christians in the United States.” It represents more than 45,000 local churches from 40 different denominations and serves a constituency of millions.
The organization says they seek to influence society for justice and righteousness and gather the many voices of evangelicals together to be more effective for Jesus Christ and his cause. In addition, they also provide resources for ministry leaders, pastors, churches and denominations, and support their ministries with advice and insight.
Today, the NAE released the statement, “Evangelicals — Shared Faith in Broad Diversity,” as a tool to help others understand and explain who evangelicals are.
The full statement is available at NAE.net/sharedfaith. The full text of the statement is:
Evangelicals — Shared Faith in Broad Diversity
Evangelical Christians are people of faith. Our diversity ranges across geography, race, politics, education and economics. In the words of the Bible, we are among “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9).
We identify ourselves by our spiritual convictions in the authority of the Bible, salvation through Jesus Christ alone and living out our faith in everyday life, especially sharing the good news of Jesus with others. We share the historic Christian beliefs in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected to life.
Many Christ-followers claim the name evangelical, because it is the Bible’s original word for good news. Others prefer to be called born again. Some choose Christian or avoid titles in favor of simple faith.
Because there are millions of us in the United States and far more of us in other countries around the world, there are subgroups identified by where we live, how we vote, the level of our education or even our local cultural expressions. Each has distinctive beliefs and practices that may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable to one another. Sometimes these subgroups or their leaders are identified as typical of all evangelicals even though there is no consensus, connection or communication between them.
What all evangelicals share in common does not require organizational connection, denominational affiliations or shared leadership. Our common bond is personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
Throughout history and ongoing today is the compassion and care that evangelical Christians have for others. This has led to sending missionaries, founding colleges, building hospitals, feeding the hungry, seeking justice for the poor and serving as the agents of Jesus in a broken world. The variety of evangelicals and our many causes have led evangelicals to approaches that differ from one another and that even cause conflict — both with society at large and with other evangelicals. We have both succeeded and failed but we have not given up. We return to the teaching of the Bible and the leadership of Jesus in our quest to be faithful to our callings to love God, love our neighbors and share our faith.
Our identity is in our faith in the midst of our diversity.