Evangelical leader rejects evangelical label due to election coverage
Mark Humphrey, AP
Prominent evangelical leader Russell Moore doesn't want to be an evangelical anymore.
He's not leaving the church; he's refusing the label.
"The word 'evangelical' has become almost meaningless this year, and in many ways the word itself is at the moment subverting the gospel of Jesus Christ," Moore, who is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote in a column for The Washington Post.
He criticized how political commentators, candidates and even people of faith have used the term this election season, noting that it's made polls irrelevant and misrepresented the community he knows and loves.
"Many of those who tell pollsters they are 'evangelical' may well be drunk right now, and haven't been in church since someone invited them to Vacation Bible School sometime back when Seinfeld was in first-run episodes," Moore wrote.
He's been working to bring nuance to discussions of evangelical voters throughout the campaign season, sharing his insights with CNN in a January article about the seven types of evangelicals.
"The problem is that many secular people think that all evangelicals are alike, when there are multiple streams and theological and generational divides within evangelicalism," Moore said at the time.
The CNN article offered categories like the "old guard," "entrepreneurial evangelicals" and "cultural evangelicals." Moore, along with evangelical Christians who head megachurches, charities and seminaries, were called "institutional evangelicals."
In November, LifeWay Research and the National Association of Evangelicals teamed up to determine who counts as an evangelical Christian, concluding that members of the community should strongly agree with a given set of theological claims.
"According to the organizations, an evangelical must say the Bible is the highest authority they believe in, prioritize sharing the gospel with non-Christians, believe in the salvific power of Jesus Christ's death on the cross and consider trust in Jesus Christ to be the only path to salvation," Deseret News National reported in November.
However, their research has done little to settle debates, and the hashtag #notallevangelicals has been used by self-described evangelical Christians on Twitter throughout election season to complain about how the term is used.
Jonathan Merritt, who, like Moore, is a notable evangelical thinker and writer, links this frustration with the controversial candidacy of Donald Trump. Trump has broken up the evangelical voting bloc, causing members of this group to view the same election in very different ways, as Merritt noted in an analysis for The Atlantic.
"While religious and political commentators have been predicting the demise of the religious right for years, Trump's collective wins demonstrate the downfall has finally occurred," he said. "Not because the movement itself has disintegrated, but because the movement has become so fractured it can no longer effectively mobilize itself."
Moore has also been outspoken about Trump's influence on the evangelical community, but he's pinning the loss of meaning for the term "evangelical" mostly on election commentators who don't bring enough nuance to their coverage. Until a new president is in office or people agree to be more responsible with their use, Moore said he's going to try a new label on for size.
"You will forgive me if, at least until this crazy campaign year is over, I choose just to say that I'm a gospel Christian," he wrote. "When this fevered moment is over, we will need to make 'evangelical' great again."
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