I work in the Interfaith Center at University of North Florida in Jacksonville, FL. Several months back my boss and I met with a leader in the local LGBT community looking for ways to collaborate on student programming. In the meeting this leader was trying to better understand the purpose and vision of the Interfaith Center. In the process she asked how I identify myself religiously. I hesitated a moment before answering, then responded, “I identify as an Evangelical Christian.”
Why hesitate? Well, I wasn’t quite “out” at work as an Evangelical. Certainly my boss was mostly aware, but many of my students weren’t. For the most part my Evangelicalism wasn’t something I went around advertising – I don’t have a Jesus fish on my car nor do I wear cross necklace and I don’t (usually) blast Chris Tomlin from my office.
The LGBT community leader then stunned me with her follow up question: “What do you mean when you say you’re an ‘evangelical?'”
Why stunned? Well, I had never been asked this question before. Certainly I’d thought about it in my frantic attempt at articulating identity in seminary, but had certainly never been asked. So I hesitated, again, then said,
“When I say I’m an Evangelical, I mean that I believe there’s good news in Jesus for everyone.”
I admit that I was nervous about how this would be received as it was not my intention to proselytize in any way. But because I believe there’s good news in Jesus for everyone, if I’m being really honest with myself and others, I also want everyone to know Jesus.
We can get into questions about the meaning of salvation and eternity, the cross and the resurrection, grace, covenant, and all of that another time, but when I whittle it down to the lowest common denominator, everything (well okay, I’m a sinner so not everything) I do comes from my love for Jesus and my desire for others to know Christ.
Evangelical comes from the Greek evangelion which means “good news,” or gospel, so to be Evangelical is to be “of the good news” in word, deed and being.
What is the Good News?
The Good News, for me, is that God loves us.
We can make it more complicated than that, but for me the greatest news of all is that I am loved unconditionally by the creator of the universe simply for being; thus in being of that good news it is my responsibility to reflect the love of God to the best of my limited ability in all I do.
It is easy to generalize about any group of people and I am aware that Evangelicals have a reputation of being close-minded, hateful, ignorant, condescending and self-righteous. Assuming an individual person fits the generalized understanding about a group is much easier than building relationships and getting to know someone for who he or she truly is, but in my meeting with the LGBT community leader I was given the opportunity to speak for myself.
I felt loved and cared for when I was asked, “What do you mean when you say you’re an Evangelical?” I was put at ease and made more comfortable to enter into a conversation – and even friendship – with another person simply by being asked a question about my own self-understanding. It would have been quite easy to assume many things about me as and Evangelical as well as my views, beliefs, and understandings – but instead of holding onto potential presumptions, I was invited to speak for myself.
Jesus invites us into relationship with him because his love, his gospel, is relational. As a follower of Christ, I aim to do the same with others. Interfaith engagement provides me with ample opportunity to enter into relationships with people who are different from me, and to love others while existing in that difference.
Knowing that I feel loved when I’m given the space and opportunity to be known for who I am and who I understand myself to be, rather than be known by another’s presumption, motivates me to do the same for others.
That’s why I have joined the FLP ranks. I want to be part of a wider conversation that empowers Evangelicals to actively engage with this religiously diverse world in an authentic and open way, and invites all people – Christian and otherwise – to an honest conversation about religious and secular identity, and interfaith engagement. Thank you for reading FLP and I am excited to hear more about you!