Thursday, November 03, 2011

Why I'm "evangelical"

A commenter on the last post asked why I call myself "evangelical."

Now it's certainly true that I'm not part of the Christian movement called Evangelicalism (although I do have a lot more respect and admiration for some aspects of it compared to some liberals). Evangelicalism is characterised by a strong commitment to the authority of the Bible, amongst many other things. As a liberal I do not share that approach.

However I am not prepared to give up the label of "evangelical" - someone with good news. I still believe that faith is good news, and I'm not ashamed to live it and say it. I am an evangelical liberal.

The point for me is that liberal religion needs to be evangelical. The reason liberalism is nearly always a failed project is that it is not evangelical enough. Conservative, orthodox, even dangerous forms of religion are out there in the streets with passion saying what is so important about their faith. If liberals do not do the same then people will conclude (as our society has) that all religion is conservative and orthodox and occasionally dangerous.

An example is a discussion I am currently having on Facebook. An orthodox Muslim I went to school with objected (strongly) to a picture I had posted supporting same sex marriage. I responded to his objection and we have since been engaged in a really long discussion/argument about it. The reason I am so committed to that discussion, to putting forth my arguments, is not so much for his sake, but for the sake of anyone else who might be listening in. If you listened only to him you would conclude that all religion and God is firmly against homosexuality. He insists strongly that it is. He is passionate and evangelical about his point of view that God considers homosexuality a sin. If I am any less passionate and evangelical in arguing that God loves all love then it is his point of view that will be remembered by the wider world. I feel I have a moral obligation to be as evangelical as he is because I believe his views are not only wrong, but do real spiritual harm to many people.

From another perspective I am an evangelical liberal religionist because I do believe that religion is better than no-religion (we could substitute the word "spirituality" or "God" or anything rather than "religion"). Perhaps this makes me unusual amongst liberals who are likely to say "anything goes, it doesn't matter whether you're this or that or whatever."

I am unapologetic in saying that my faith has saved and transformed my life. It's not just a nice hobby for a Sunday morning. It's a life-changing way of being that fills me with love and joy and passion. I'm happy to tell people about my joy in a world that can often be full of misery, that's why I'm evangelical. I'm also happy to hear about other people's joy that may come in a very different form, that's why I'm a liberal. I'm not saying my form of religion is the only valid one. But neither am I saying that every possibly way to live your life is equally valid. Some are deadening, some are distracting, some are dangerous.

I am evangelical about my faith, which comes in the form of Unitarianism, but which I would ultimately express as the Religion of Love. I want to engage with the world, and be in dialogue with lots of folks beyond my faith community to talk about my faith, and to hear about theirs.


Blogger Joseph said...

Really lovely post. Thank you.

7:50 pm  
Anonymous T.A.H. said...

Brother Stephen
I have been following your blog for about a year now.In many of the posts that I have read you have made it quite clear that love and concern for the entire human family and its fragile home world are your major passions in life.As a McLarenesque Christian heretic,I find your work to be encouraging an validating

3:32 am  
Blogger Urban Unitarians post words of inspiration said...

You are so right Steven. When I went on my ill-fated Alpha course it was suggested I read about CP Studd. Now I am in the middle of my third neurotic recovery (see William James!) much of what happened to John Wesley, Ignatius Loyola and possibly Paul and Mohammed appears to be ringing bells for me. You said something in the Inquirer about "knee jerk liberalism" that made me shiver a bit too.

10:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was the person who asked why you call yourself as 'evangelical'. Thanks for responding to me!

I can see three elements to your use of the word. To you, the word 'evangelical' represents 'good news'. Secondly, you see it as indicating a desire to share that good news. Thirdly, you believe that your faith has transformed your life.

All these aspects tally with traditional understandings of evangelicalism. Yet the word 'evangelical' still seems to be inadequate, because to most people, the 'commitment to the authority of the Bible' is the most important aspect, and for you, that's missing.

Maybe liberal forms of religion need to develop a new language that reflects their position more accurately. Furthermore, to many people in our society, the term 'evangelical' is unpleasant. Why take on a term that has so much baggage? Why not put some 'clear blue water' between yourself and the religious conservatism that you're standing up against?

On the other hand, perhaps by appropriating the language used by religious conservatives you hope to neutralise their impact. If so, that's very crafty of you!

Language is power.

11:15 am  
Anonymous Eve Wood-Langford said...

I too am an evangelical Unitarian. This came about because my name is Eve and as a child I was demolished by the orthodox teaching tht all sin was brought into the world by my namesake.
Fortunately the Unitarians taught me to see the Eden cration accoount not as a biblical illustration of the orign of sin, but as a beautiful myth-history long misinterpreted in the tradition of Judaic/Christian monotheism.
Now I have written a book - Eden: The Buried Treasure - showing how almost all the components of the Eden story pre-date the written Old Testament. Moreover at its origin in Abraham's Mesopotamia the original story of the naked couple was an allegory preserving an inspirational 'history' of value to us all.

10:30 am  

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