Sunday, April 16, 2006

Running from the "evangelical" label

Conservative partisans like to taunt liberals for shunning the "liberal" label. "What are you ashamed of?" they ask. "Is there something wrong with being a liberal?"

No. But conservatives have spent the better part of 20 years actively trying to turn "liberal" into a dirty word. Not by addressing the principles of liberalism -- which might not be possible anyway because liberal covers a pretty wide swath of ground. No, they did it by using "liberal" to describe any words or deeds committed by anyone on the left side of the spectrum, thus tarring every liberal with the actions of their most extreme members -- including many people who are so far left that they wouldn't be considered liberals by either themselves or mainstream liberals.

Which is why it is not hard to find people who seriously believe that all liberals are socialists or communists. That's plain ignorant, but it's a mark of the demonization campaign's success. It's been so successful, in fact, that rather than deal with that baggage liberals have tried to find new undemonized terms such as "progressive".

That's why I found this New York Times article pretty interesting. Turns out that conservative evangelicals are facing the same problem.

The evangelical movement as it is known today emerged in the 1940's and 50's as a middle way between what many Christian leaders perceived as theological liberalism in the mainline Protestant denominations and the cultural separatism of the fundamentalist movement.

Today, with the term, "evangelical" often equated with "fundamentalist," many in the movement are even discussing whether the label evangelical should be jettisoned completely, said David Neff, editor of Christianity Today, an evangelical magazine.

"I did sit in a room with a number of key leaders, some Christian college presidents, some representatives of major college ministries," he said. "They were seriously discussing whether the word evangelical should be used anymore, or should we call ourselves classic Christians or historic orthodox Christians."

Will liberals now ask "Hey, what are you ashamed of? Is there something wrong with being an evangelical?" I hope not.

Will conservative partisans now stop the taunting? I hope so. That's the great thing about reckless polemics: eventually they come back to bite you in the ass.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why run away from what you are? If you are an evangelical....or a liberal....why not be proud of it? But don't try to change your name for purposes of confusing others. Is "progressive" really a better description of someone who is "liberal?" I'm a conservative, but not on the "far right." So, what would that make me? Still conservative, I think.

4/17/2006 1:51 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

It can depend. Sometimes it's simple marketing: is that a used car or a pre-enjoyed one?

Sometimes it's deliberately obscure, like when an advocacy group names itself People for Fair Government when its real purpose is maintaining agricultural price supports or some such thing.

But sometimes a freighted label can obscure meaning rather than aid it. So picking a different label clarifies rather than confuses.

4/17/2006 2:19 PM  

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