I am the son of two immigrants, my father was Polish and my mother is Guatemalan. I grew up in small Latino churches. I am evangelical. I was on staff at an evangelical megachurch. I am a PhD student at a historically significant evangelical institution. I am also a registered Republican. It should go without saying that the entire Trump “event,” from his nomination to his presidency today, has been rather complicated for me.
This is not least because so much of what his presidency has brought to light, both in America and the American church, embodies values which are so contrary to me as an evangelical Christian formed by non-Western influences. So, when I saw various evangelicals, like Mark Labberton, wondered aloud whether the term “Evangelical” is still useful or whether the tribe that identifies with that will be left intact I had mixed feelings: “evangelical” is what I am, yet the term has become tainted. Some of these mixed feelings are very well articulated by numerous authors in Still Evangelical? Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning. There is a lot I resonate with in this book.
Robert Chao Romero, in his essay, “Immigration and the Latina/o Community” describes the experiences of Latino/a Christians in the US in light of the “Latino Threat Narrative.” Basically, this is the idea that Latinos are unwilling to integrate into “American” culture and that they are bent on reconquering land that was formerly theirs. Because many have imbibed this false narrative, many evangelicals voted for a president who espouses this same view. Many Latino evangelicals were left confused as to why their Christian brothers and sisters would think so poorly of them and put nation before Kingdom. [This, I should note, is not a universal experience, I know from conversations that numerous Latino evangelicals were ardent Trump supporters.]
Jim Daly, who leads one of the most significant evangelical organizations, Focus on the Family, writes about the importance of “listening” in this period. He embodies a more conciliatory approach: “Rather than assuming what ‘those people’ are like, we should get to know them.” (180) This practice of listening goes both ways. Evangelicals who can’t fathom why other evangelicals would support Trump inspired political movements and evangelicals who think that those who refused to fall in line with American Evangelicalism both need to speak to and listen to one another. In an age of “yelling” through social media, this call to be slow speak and quick to listen almost seems biblical…
Despite the inclusion of numerous well written chapters, the one that resonated the most with me was InterVarsity President Tom Lin’s chapter. He makes the fantastic point:
Any evaluation of the world evangelical or evangelicalism must be done in the context of the global church. The decision of some American evangelicals to abandon the term is insensitive to our overseas sisters and brothers; it reflects the worst impulses of American exceptionalism and self-absorption. (186)
In my opinion, this global perspective changes everything. I grew up in such a way that my self-understanding of what it means to be an evangelical was more shaped by my Latino and European influences than by institutional Anglo-American evangelicalism. [I didn’t start attending an Anglo-American church until I was 19 years old.] To be an Evangelico was never tied to political parties – it was always tied to evangelical faith and practice. It meant we read and took the Bible seriously, we shared the gospel, we believed in salvation by faith through grace alone, and we believed in the importance of being born again. None of this was tied to a particular political party. Sure, some people in our church were democrats and some were republicans, but that was not what defined you as a “good” or “bad” Christian. Yet, it seems, that in circles just outside the ones I grew up in as a Latino evangelical, one’s political affiliation did define whether one was a “good” or “bad” Christian. Because of my social context, that word, “Evangelical” didn’t carry the same meaning as it does for many of my other Christian brothers and sisters. To me, Evangelical, was never a sociological moniker, it was a theological identity. All this to say, I understand why some evangelicals want to abandon the term, but I simply can’t. To be an evangelical, at least from a Latino perspective, just means that I am a Christ follower. And that is an identification I would never want to abandon.