Last semester, the Koch Foundation began a three-part lecture series at APU dedicated to promoting the study of civil, religious and economic liberty. In an effort to educate the APU community on the topic of evangelicals in politics, Amy Black, Ph.D., a political science professor at Wheaton College, gave a lecture last Tuesday discussing the negative stereotypes associated with evangelicals and some of the obstacles and opportunities in their political involvement.
Opening her lecture with Gandhi’s quote, “Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is,” Black shared her concern for the evangelicals of the United States right now. As an evangelical herself, Black recognized the religious divisions in the United States. She also explained how these divisions stem from negative connotations associated with evangelicals being the country’s biggest and most popular voting block in the Republican primaries.
Though she believes that there are great evangelicals capable of compromise in both the Democratic and Republican parties, Black said it saddens her to know that those who say the most outrageous and offensive statements get the most attention.
“I don’t want people to say, ‘Oh, evangelicalism is just a word for this despicable, closed-minded person.’ It’s about someone who sees Jesus at the center of their lives,” Black said.
Recognizing evangelicalism as a mixture of a social, theological and political movement, Black did not aim to separate religion and politics. In fact, she explained the importance of their coexistence. She said that evangelicalism is best understood as a theological and religious movement with social, political and cultural implications. Believing that this is where we ought to focus our attention, she called for evangelicals to stand out in their theological beliefs, religious practices and in how religion transforms their lives.
In her lecture, Black made mention of how the term “evangelical” and its definition can be broken into four parts. She began with the emphasis on conversionism, which is the idea of individual transformation and the personal decision one makes to accept Jesus Christ as his/her Savior; biblicism, the Bible being seen as the ultimate authority and held up highly; crucifitrism, the emphasis on the salvific work of Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection; and activism, where evangelicals want to live out the gospel in both missionary and social reform efforts.
However, she recognized that in talking about evangelicals in American politics, obstacles arise. She acknowledged that many of the obstacles come from misunderstandings about who evangelicals are.
“The term has been more associated with politics than with religion recently. This is discouraging because the heart of evangelicalism should be to bring the truth of Christ to the world; it should be a light in a starving world,” Noah Jackson, a junior political science and humanities major and Koch fellow, said.
Steering away from the obstacles to focus on the various opportunities for evangelical Christians, Black noted that the term must be reclaimed.
“Evangelicalism as a whole needs to detach itself from a specific party and align itself with those issues that most effectively bring God’s Kingdom to Earth,” Jackson said.
Black stated that evangelicals should seek to educate and perform. In order to perform, however, she said that it is more important for evangelicals to focus on issue-based politics rather than party-based politics. She claimed that if our biblical principles did guide our party principles, we would refrain WWfrom political debate and lean toward issues that matter, such as human dignity and religious freedom.
“Following Christ isn’t about following a party. It’s not about our politics, but about what we believe,” Black said.
Toward the end of the lecture, Black invited everyone to find a common ground with groups previously ostracized by some evangelicals.
“Her call for us to pray for our leaders, whether we elected them or not, was another take-away to remind us where we need to place our trust; not in man, but in God,” Abbylin Sellers, Ph.D., political science professor at APU, said.