American evangelicals must be reminded that they are to bear good news and be good news. Numerous American Christians don’t care for the politicized label “evangelical” even though they are, in fact, evangelists. Many such non-evangelicals are more evangelistic than some so-called evangelicals.
In Matthew 28:20, Jesus instructs his disciples to teach new followers to observe everything Jesus commanded. In his “manifesto” in Luke 4:18-19, Jesus, claiming Isaiah’s words, declares himself anointed to preach good news: literally to evangelize. Jesus clearly identifies the people to whom the good news should be directed. Juxtaposing those facts, a raft of rhetorical questions arises:
- Can evangelicals be evangelical if we don’t bear good news?
- Can evangelicals teach people to observe what Jesus taught without doing what Jesus did?
- Can we do what Jesus did, unless we also undertake to do Luke 4:18-19?
- Can evangelicals bring or be good news to the poor if we do not challenge the systems that impoverish people and those weighted in favor of the rich?
- Can we be good news to the imprisoned if we do not accept that America’s justice system is unjust to minorities and folks unable to purchase justice?
- Can evangelicals bring sight to the blind if we joined in baptizing and blessing the liar whose lies contributed to nearly a half-million COVID deaths or approving and peddling the lies about a “stolen election” which helped ravage the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6?
- Can evangelicals release the oppressed if we have not disempowered oppressors and dismantled the systems that oppress the poor, the minority, the refugee, the asylum-seeker, the immigrant, the LGBTQ neighbor, the female, the unarmed Black man, the Muslim or the atheist?
Prominent “evangelicals” such as Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Darrell Scott, Paula White, Albert Mohler, James Dobson and others consistently, relentlessly and unrepentantly, anointed and reanointed a man and his government who, for four miserable years, were and bore bad news to the poor by making the rich richer and left the poor hungry, homeless, jobless and sick.
They affirmed as God’s holy one a man who bore bad news to the imprisoned by removing the measures his presidential predecessor had instituted to address police reform, who broke a nearly two-decades-long moratorium on capital punishment while pardoning cronies who committed crimes against the state and in his favor.
Graham, Jeffress, Scott, White, Mohler, Dobson and others egged on, affirmed, praised and blessed a man who was, and who bore, bad news to the oppressed as he callously, wantonly, pointlessly and cruelly separated babies from their mother’s breasts with no means of reunion and as he and his administration waged war on the LGBTQ, the female, the immigrant and the asylum-seeker.
“These ‘evangelicals’ became bad news in themselves and facilitated the bad news their heartless president became to the people he injured and broke.”
In a word, these “evangelicals” became bad news in themselves and facilitated the bad news their heartless president became to the people he injured and broke.
The mental image I am unable to unsee is Graham, in particular, gathering Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes for five Christmases (2016-2020) for “unfortunate kids abroad” while he has yet to utter a mumblin’ word about the unfortunate kids on our Southern border — children capriciously and without the absence of malice made into prisoners and orphans by the man he so venerates as God’s instrument and nearly as God’s son, and adored choice.
As I write this, I see the American journalist and author Tom Freidman observing that the hateful and wicked rhetoric of Islamic terrorists began to be neutralized only when orthodox Islamic clerics began what he called “a war of ideas,” wherein they declared the truth and good ethics about Islam and debunked the lies and hate of the radicals who hijacked their faith. Friedman thinks conservative American politicians need to do the same to neutralize this “lyin’ era” (my words) in America, beginning with so-called conservative politicians avowing that the elections were not stolen.
This cannot exclude evangelical leaders; they must go further, confessing their multitude of sins including supporting lies, liars and false prophets, causing countless little ones to stumble — an infraction for which Jesus declares there remains a horrible sentence. This shall ignite the gospel of healing which America now needs so badly.
“This was evangelicalism at its worst: bearing condemnation — bad news — instead of the good news of compassion, embrace, welcome, forgiveness and correction.”
I felt badly for Ted Haggard when he was exposed as being involved in an extramarital gay relationship while he was pastor of a megachurch and president of the National Evangelical Association. I was dismayed at how both the congregation and NEA, by virtue of their names, failed to act as either “new life” or “good news” to Haggard, at the lowest point of his life. They appeared more concerned about saving face, rushing to dissociate from him like a radioactive cat. This was evangelicalism at its worst: bearing condemnation — bad news — instead of the good news of compassion, embrace, welcome, forgiveness and correction.
Surely, the same people who could not wait to kick Ted Haggard out of the NEA 14 years ago can find their voice, vision, decency and judgment to declare these “evangelicals” as unworthy of being called evangelical and suspended from the NEA until they bear fruit of repentance. By any measurement, those persons’ sins appear far worse, egregious and traitorous to the evangel than anything Haggard ever did.
Michael P. L. Friday is an American Baptist Churches minister and leadership strategist, with former pastorates in Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica, Connecticut, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and New York, He is author of the book, And Lead Us Not into Dysfunction: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Church Organizations and Their Leaders.