The True Heart of Public Evangelicalism
February 12, 2016
By Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
This post appeared originally on The News & Observer.
In a surprise turn of events, the exit polls at the Iowa caucuses showed a victory of 2016 presidential candidate Ted Cruz over Donald Trump. Pundits credit the turnout to Cruz’s advantages over Trump and the other Republican candidates—superior fund-raising and a strong campaign operation—as well as his success with Iowa’s majority voters, self-described “very conservative” evangelicals.
But “evangelical” is a label that has been hijacked and manipulated by the political establishment in America. When pundits refer again and again to the “evangelical vote,” they are leaning on the Cliff Notes of the so called “far right”—the extreme religionists who use a perverted interpretation of faith to endorse an extreme agenda.
True evangelicalism spoken from the lips and words of Jesus places concern for the poor and the broken and the battered and the imprisoned and the blind and the bruised and those made to feel unacceptable at the center of faith. This evangelicalism seeks to invite all to care for the least of these, to have a deep concern for justice and love and mercy as it relates not just the individual piety and charity but to public morality social justice and governmental policies.
The term evangelical should have nothing to do with any political party but should reference a particular perspective and critique regarding grace, justice, love and mercy as noted in many Scriptures. For instance Luke 4:18-19 says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lords favor.”
Evangelicals most name this effort to hijack the faith of Jesus Christ and use it for purposes that are as far from the moral call of Jesus as the east is from the west. We should not allow extremists to legitimize their agenda by calling it “evangelical.”
Instead, we should work and pray to exorcise this thinking and seek to redeem the soul of America. The heart of public evangelicalism is an insistence that our nation must be born again. Our moral witness is to call people evangelically to listen to heart of the gospel, which is love and justice and mercy.