Evangelist: from the Greek eὐαγγελιστής, oῦ m. messenger; one who preaches the Good News.

Should be a definition that fits most self-professed Christians.

At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, the resurrected Christ sends out his disciples with a simple exhortation: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… and teaching them.”  (Matthew 28:19-20)

The word “evangelist” isn’t there, but it certainly is implied: Go out and be messengers in the name of God and Christ, go out and preach the Good News.  How else, after all, can one expect to get to the point of baptism, without the preaching of the Gospel?  What else is there to teach, if not their recent experience of the incarnate and resurrected Christ?

We, therefore, who are modern-day disciples – modern-day followers of Christ – aren’t we all, necessarily, under the same exhortation to be evangelists?

Of course, we modern-day disciples run into a semantic and cultural brick wall at just about this point.  “Evangelist” sounds a lot like “Evangelical”, which in its current usage implies all sorts of theological positions with which Christians are not necessarily comfortable.  The word “Evangelical”, as it is currently used both by those who claim it and by those who find it uncomfortable, is very nearly synonymous with “Fundamentalist”, “biblical-literalist”, and often, “Republican”.

There are certainly those who have tried to reclaim the word for a broader spectrum of Christianity, who consider themselves evangelists of the gospel of God’s love.  For the most part, such people make the distinction between small-e and big-E evangelicals, with the capital denoting a denominational or creedal affiliation.  For the most part, such people are progressive Christians, who do not find our current American culture inherently antithetical to Christian faith and practice.

And then along came Mike Huckabee at the RNC.

“Of the four people on the two tickets, the only self-professed evangelical is Barack Obama…”


First of all, I’d love to hear that self-profession, from one who has, for the most part, kept his faith at a distance from his political position.

But what was far more intriguing to me was the use of the term “evangelical” in this case, and from this source.  Mike Huckabee, Baptist pastor and former Governor of Arkansas, fits neatly into the group of those who would be understood, by the larger culture, to be Evangelicals.  Who believe that the gospel that they preach – the anti-gay, anti-feminist, pro-birth, Christians-are-the-only-ones-going-to-Heaven gospel – is the one-and-only correct, God-given, capital-T Truth.

Mike Huckabee, the one prominent Republican who has gone out on a limb to defend Todd Akin in his anti-abortion pseudo-science, just lumped himself into one group with Barack Obama.

Mr. Obama happens to be a member of my denomination, the United Church of Christ.  With our denominational stands on climate change, same-sex marriage, abortion rights, gender equality, poverty, and a whole host of other social issues, we in the UCC rarely find ourselves lumped in with Christians of Mr. Huckabee’s persuasion.  Especially by Christians of Mr. Huckabee’s persuasion.  So it was a rather startling move for the former Governor to make, especially since his next move was to distance himself from the very group – evangelical Christians – that he had just defined in such broad terms.

Now, I think that the term that Mr. Huckabee meant to use was “Protestant”; and it certainly is remarkable in this election that there is only one Protestant Christian among the four men listed on major party tickets.  “Protestant” would have been a shared category, between Mr. Obama and Mr. Huckabee, that would have passed unnoticed, but for the implication that Mr. Romney, as a Mormon, is not Christian at all, which is something that the GOP is desperately trying to avoid.  And so, to emphasize the impressiveness of Mr. Huckabee’s support of Mr. Romney, we find a member of the UCC described as a self-professed evangelical.

It’s a rhetorical move in a political year.  But I find myself hoping that it might be more than that.

In the UCC’s Statement of Faith, we affirm that “God calls us into the church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be servants in the service of the whole human family, to proclaim the gospel to all the world…”  We affirm that we are called to evangelism, to be messengers of God’s love.  We affirm that we are not exempt from the exhortation in Matthew’s Gospel, and that it is part and parcel of our commitment to discipleship.

When called an evangelical by an Evangelical, perhaps it’s time to stand up and say “Yes.”  Perhaps it’s time to take the responsibility that was put on us centuries ago, and that modern semantics cannot remove.  Perhaps it’s time to recognize ourselves as messengers, as mouthpieces of the Body of Christ, as speakers and do-ers of the Word by which we live: the Word that loved all people, the Word that rejected no one.

Go, therefore, and make disciples.  Yes.  Thank you.  Amen.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0812/80411_Page2.html#ixzz252Gt3JxA