Opinion

Evangelicalism isn’t the problem – but evangelicalism has a problem

12 Jan 2021 4 minutes Read
Jesus wears a MAGA hat in this image of the protest before the riot at Capitol Hill. Picture by Tyler Merbler (CC BY 2.0).

Rhys Llwyd

75% of white evangelicals voted for Trump, and ‘Jesus Saves’ signs were flown in front of the US Capitol building on the 6th of January. But what about such influences here in Wales?

Recently I heard the author Sally Mann share how she had struggled with the label “evangelical”. Sometimes she wanted to reclaim it, other times she didn’t want anything to do with it, but usually, she just avoided it.

Having been raised in the Welsh evangelical tradition and as someone who still believes in the core evangelical hope of a God who wills to save and restore his World through his sacrificial love, I find myself wrestling with the evangelical label and identity often.

Evangelicalism’s generous orthodoxy is both its inclusive strength, but I fear it is also the weakness that could lead to its ultimate demise. The problem is that people and churches who wildly differ in thought, practice and theology self-identify as being evangelical. If being evangelical can mean everything, it means nothing.

In the public eye, evangelicals are seen by many as being pre-occupied with their own rights, have no right-wing border when it comes to political and social issues (despite patrolling it’s left with border like hawks) and are increasingly irrelevant. My own experience is different, but perception is important for a Christian tradition who believe they are the hope of the World!

That is why I find myself in a similar position to Sally Mann. My only question is this: have I left evangelicalism or has evangelicalism left me?

 

Trajectory

Some leaders and Churches in the United States who identify as evangelical have been prominent in their support for Trump and research showed that the majority of “white Evangelicals” supported him. In light of this, some have been asking about such influence here in Wales? And what can be done in response?

Some blame the Trump phenomenon on religion, specifically evangelical Christianity. Others lay the blame on nationalism and white supremacy. The truth is, it’s the toxic mixture of both.

I think we can safely say that anything similar in Wales is currently limited to the fringes. But that’s not to say it’s not here and if not challenged it won’t take hold.

There are two competing nationalisms in Wales – Welsh nationalism and British nationalism, or unionism. There are some signs that both have their right-leaning evangelical apologists.

On the Welsh nationalist side, it seems that at least one of Gwlad’s spokespersons is a self-identifying conservative evangelical who recently said that he shared the view that Trump was preferable to any Democrat. Such a definite statement poses many questions.

On the unionist side, there is evidence evangelicals have some influence in the Conservative party in parts of Wales and we are often reminded that one of the leading voices for the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party (and the Brexit Party before that) is former Cwmbran ‘revival leader’ Richard Taylor.

I don’t know to what extent these people’s theology informs their politics, but we can see where that trajectory lead the ‘religious right’ in the United States, and that is worrying.

Evangelicalism isn’t the problem, but evangelicalism has a problem. Evangelicals should be more self-critical, even if that will lead to some difficult conversations and even decisions. But self-critique and deconstruction within evangelicalism can lead to a new positive engagement with politics and society.

If there is much of American evangelicalism we should avoid we can also look there for inspiration from some in the ‘Exvangelical’ movement and also how to engage positively with #decolonizetheology.

Rhys Llwyd is a Church leader and has published a book on Christian Nationalism in Wales – Tynged Cenedl, Cenedlaetholdeb Gristnogol R. Tudur Jones (2019).

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