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.