I offer no explanation or apology except I guess I’m thinking of home.
Annon asked: How do you define evangelical? Like, what do you actually mean when you say you are one? Sorry if that’s a stupid question.
(Made rebloggable for the sake of letting people comment if they wish.)
That’s a fair question because ‘evangelical’ is a bit of a nebulous term. The problem is that evangelicalism isn’t a denomination, it’s a movement within Christianity (actually, Protestantism) composed of members of many denominations of differing beliefs. This lack of codification means evangelicals are a completely self-identifying group; there’s no way of objectively telling who is an evangelical and who isn’t*, which makes things confusing for people on the outside.
Just so folk don’t unnecessarily rustle their jimmies, identifying as evangelical does not mean I’m:
- Politically conservative
- Against same-sex marriage
- A misogynist
- Anti-abortion (although I have complicated feelings about it)
- A creationist
I felt pretty ambivalent about identifying as evangelical until I moved to Iona and realised just how evangelical I really am. It’s a pretty uncomfortable label to wear sometimes.
That being said, I identify as evangelical because:
Talking About Faith
Leah Libresco, a formerly atheist and now Catholic blogger, uses Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition as a launchpad for a discussion on the different vocabularies of atheists, modern Christians, and traditional Christians. She writes:
I’m noodling over the idea that atheism and Modern Christianity are much closer to having a common frame of reference than either is to Catholicism or Orthodoxy…
[T]he Catholics and Orthodox I was talking to [at Yale] used some of the same words as the Modern Christians, but they meant radically different things. It’s basically like having an argument in French, except this dialect of French is composed almost entirely of false cognates, so it’s pretty easy to fail to notice that your opponent is speaking French instead of English.
It is sort of head-exploding to think that atheists and post-Reformation Christians might find it easier to speak to one another than, say, an evangelical and a Catholic. Even if their vocabularies are the same, Libresco seems to be claiming that they mask drastically different conceptual frameworks.
We know many of our readers are interested in religion, discourse, and points of cultural difference, so we found this entry particularly relevant.
I get where she’s coming from, but I couldn’t help but detect an undercurrent of “Modern Christians are just so unconvincing to me”. Like, I appreciate that Leah made a pretty radical change to her worldview by moving from atheism to Catholicism, but I think she’s mistaken in saying “Modern Christians” (whatever that means… anyone?) are singing from the same hymn sheet as atheists. A move from an atheist frame of reference to that of an evangelical (or mainline, or whatever) Christian would be just as radical as a move to Catholicism.
We see all the ways post-Reformation Christianity doesn’t line up with secular thought every day. It affects our politics, our ethics, medical science… is Leah certain she’s on a winner with this one? Now obviously I don’t know her, and I’ve only been reading her blog for about a month, but it sounds like she made the same lexical mistakes as those that occur between ‘Modern Christians’ and Catholics. I think she’s misinterpreted the words ‘Modern Christians’ and atheists share by assuming they mean the same thing. They don’t.
The Pew Report on Global Christianity is a few months old, but it’s worth your time. We’re all guilty of failing to imagine large parts of the world’s population complexly, and this is an easy way to fix that. The website includes sexy sexy interactive maps, sortable data tables, and best of all, a quiz where you can see just how little you know about Christians worldwide. Are y’all as enthusiastic about this as we are?
Ivan sees this as his wonky way of participating in Orthodox Awareness Month, which is a real thing. Pew gives Orthodoxy its own tab! Amanda never knew that there were so many Catholics in the Philippines.
Note: the map above is of percentage of Christians per population, and the study at hand deals with worldwide distribution of Christians. A small but important point.
John Bell, on money and corporate personhood
Seriously though Facebook this is getting absurd.
A year and a day ago
One year and one day ago I stepped off the ferry and arrived on Iona for the first time. I came to volunteer with the Iona Community, the folk who I now work for for full-time. When people think of the Iona Community today they think of Iona Abbey, a building that stands on the site of the original Iona Abbey which was founded by St Columba. Columba is barely remembered as a man but only as a saint, whose experience is elevated high above any of our own; but from what we can piece together historically he was (despite his noble background) an ordinary man. In his life he made some big mistakes, and because of them he was driven from his home.
He founded a community here which grew into a centre of art and devotion, an envoy to the Pictish kings and the crux of Christian life in the British Isles.
So it is easy to romanticise this place. George MacLeod, who founded the Iona Community in Glasgow said Iona is a ‘thin place’, where the veil between the spiritual and physical is drawn thin. People come as pilgrims from all over the world because they experience God here. This place is elevated, much like the life of Columba. To them it is sacred because for a day or a week they have come to this special place where God resides, with its sacred hills and holy buildings, where their everyday life stops and the transcendent becomes apparent to them.
But for me this is my home. This is where I live and work. My ordinary life is spent here, typing, praying, eating and sleeping. But the guests are right: this place is sacred. Not because of its specialness, but because this is the place of my life and work. It is the place I have laughed with people, I have argued and been hurt, been understood and embraced, been overlooked and ignored, been cared for and nursed - all here.
It is on this island I grew in confidence that I could do a job well, that I could adapt to new situations and that I could follow through on my word and use my initiative. I’ve eaten toast here with friends. It is here I came out, telling my parents and friends about my sexuality. I drank wiskey for the first time here, and it is here that I’ve come home from a good, uplifting day at work knowing that if I don’t take a holiday soon I won’t make it another month.
There is nothing holy or magical about any of this, but it has been exceptional in its ordinariness. I have been frustrated by the organisational decision making at my work and on the same day been inspired by and ministered to by those same people. They have noticed when I am upset or exasperated, they have celebrated with me and made fun of me with me, laughing alongside me. All that is experienced by people every day in all sorts of places and that is where I have felt God draw near.
This island is an ordinary place where people come and look for God, and so God is among us, always ever just below the surface, should we only dig a little deeper.
Invisible Christian Privilege
The mentality of persecution amongst Christians is something I’m fairly familiar with because it was big when I was a teenager. One of my favourite books as a teen was a compilation of martyrdom stories called Jesus Freaks which was published by 90s Christian rap-pop band DC Talk (Did I just admit to that? Uh, moving swiftly on!) This book pretty much typifies this mindset. Glorification of Christians losing their lives because they stood up for what they believed in the face of a powerful ‘other’.
Of course, the truth is that white, middle-class Christians are probably some of the most privileged out there. I know this because I am one of them. The very fact that I can write this post about my religion and put it in the public arena without fear demonstrates my privilege. For some people it’s important to maintain the feeling of persecution, I suppose so that they can feel close to Jesus (who was crucified) and the early Church (which was in the minority in its day). This is probably the real reason why there is so much noise about same-sex marriage; it’s about standing resolute against the flow of the majority, perpetuating the myth of persecution.
Incidentally, this is why you should never lambaste a conservative Christian - playing the role of persecutor will get you nowhere. The best couse of action is to subvert that expected role and instead befriend them, giving them the room to change their minds in their own time.
Some Christians are coming to recognise their privilege, and that is causing very interesting things to happen. The Liberation theology/Social Gospel movements amongst Catholics and Protestants respectively are making a resurgence and one of the “twelve marks” of the New Monastic movement is “relocation to the abandoned places of Empire”. The people who make up the Church are coming to recognise themselves as ‘the Empire’ and the religious elite. This is worrying to some because Jesus really didn’t like the religious elite and he was executed by the Roman Empire.
This recognition and/or abandonment of Christian privilege is part of what is getting me excited for the future. I don’t know any middle-class, Christian law students who don’t aspire to halt human trafficking or to advocate for refugees. There is a growing disaffection with consumerism, with many young Christians opting instead to live simply, often relocating themselves to low socio-economic areas and integrating with those communities. Before I moved to the UK, I attended a meeting about the problems caused to Aboriginal Australians by the NT Intervention and the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act in Australia. The meeting was populated by Christians from churches across the south-east Queensland area. Christians are beginning to acknowledge and attempt to abandon their privilege, which means they are coming to genuinely empathise with the disempowered.
And the kicker? The hotbed for this shift is amongst young people in the oft-maligned Evangelical churches.
In some ways, we’ve seen this all before - none of these movements (even New Monasticism) is actually new. This way of living has been at the forefront or an undercurrent in the Church since its inception. But looking back, we haven’t seen anything quite like this since the 60s, when the Jesus People movement and Liberation theology movement happened in North and South America. I’m very interested to see - and to be part of - how the acknowledgement/abandonment of Christian privilege will play out, particularly now that it seems there are some powerful churches in the United States with firm political reasons to hold on to that privilege.