For me, “evangelical” is a theological term. Definitions vary in nuance, but usually involve belief in the authority of the Bible, a rebirth through faith in Christ, and evangelizing the world. Various statements of faith, such as the one from the National Association of Evangelicals, capsulize evangelical beliefs.
But for politicians and pollsters, “evangelical” is a sociological term. I only recently became aware of this (duh!). When pollsters (of either party) say “evangelical,” they mean “white, politically-conservative Christian.” When Republicans talk about courting their “evangelical base,” they are talking about white Christians. And as an NPR article points out, this emphasis on Republican evangelicals can make it seem that all evangelicals are white. Notice: when news reports mention evangelicals, they typically use a clip from a suburban megachurch.
For pollsters, it’s mostly about race, not theology There are millions of black evangelicals and Latino evangelicals. Down the road from Anchor is Zion Tabernacle, a wonderful black church. We’ve held joint services with them several times, and I’ve played keyboard with their worship team. Marvelous folks. In ways, more evangelical than we are.
But Republicans include Anchor, but not Zion Tabernacle, in their “evangelical base.” Nor do they include some of our own United Brethren churches that consist of immigrants from Jamaica, West Africa, Latin America, and Haiti.
I really dislike that politicians divide evangelicals. The people they teach you to disdain as “liberals” may have the exact same theological beliefs that you have. You may sit next to them in church. And you’ll worship God alongside them throughout eternity.
This distinction–theology vs. sociology–is a distinction I just recently became aware of, thanks to a couple articles–an excellent NPR article from mid-December, followed by a shorter piece by Jonathan Merritt (one of my favorite Christian writers) in The Atlantic. I recommend both.
Don’t let the political world tear the unity of the Body of Christ.