This is the first part of a four-part series in which I’ma ramble on about the four nouns in the name of the denomination to which I belong: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Evangelical comes to us from the Greek and it means “good news” or “proclaiming the good news” or something like that. The “good news” in this case is that God, through the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, liberated us from sin and death. That’s what it means.
It does not mean that we adhere to any kind of political position. This is a thing I can easily get het up about because it seems so very simple and obvious and I know from experience that no matter how much I explain to people that the good news of Christianity ain’t got nothin’ to do with being a Trump supporter, they will continue to believe that Christians hate gays and want to overturn Roe v. Wade. It’s such a wrong idea, and so deeply entrenched, that I kinda have to suspect that some sort of very powerful and evil force is behind it. That’s right, I’m talkin’ ‘bout Satan.
This is where the liberal humanists roll their eyes.
Satan is the pervading force in the world that opposes the love and peace of God. Satan can be depicted as a red guy with horns and goat legs, but that isn’t necessary. Satan is a way of referring to something very complicated and impossible to put into words. In this case, Satan can be said to be the force behind the utter perversion of the word “evangelical”. The human agents are (A) the people who started referring to themselves as “evangelical” and who then started linking that word to their own political opinions as if they automatically went together; and (B) the people in the media who reported on the political actions of (A), reinforcing the association of “evangelical” with homophobia and the NRA. It’s not accurate. But it’s so firmly entrenched that there are folks in the ELCA who think we should drop the “evangelical” from our name, which I think is giving up ground. I always oppose giving up ground. I think the ELCA should double down on the word “evangelical”. Like we should launch a full-on campaign to take that word back. It’s a good word and should not be given up to Satan.
I wonder if I should explain where I stand on the main political points associated with “evangelical”. Sure, why not.
Abortion: I am pro-life and pro-choice. I think terminating a pregnancy is a sad and serious thing and I would prefer to live in a world where it didn’t happen. The way to achieve that is absolutely not to overturn Roe v. Wade. Prohibition does not work. Making abortion illegal would do as much to end abortion as the criminalization of marijuana prevents people from smoking pot, which is not at all, though it does create a black market. You want to give the Mafia a massive revenue stream? Overturn Roe v. Wade. You want to decrease the number of pregnancies that get terminated? Change the conditions which cause women to terminate pregnancies. That means provide access to birth control, eliminate poverty, completely overhaul how people think about sex, and accept that some things can’t be controlled: there will still be abortions. All of that is hard work, which is why most people won’t even consider it, but that’s what would decrease the number of abortions.
For as long as the fight centers on Roe v. Wade, no progress can be made. It’s a stalemate. The way to move forward is to secure the right to safe, legal abortion and then address the other issues.
Guns: I have a gun. It’s a .410-.22 over-and-under that my grandfather gave to my father who gave it to me. I’ve fired it a few times, but I’m not a hunter and shooting isn’t so much fun that I want to spend the money on ammo. I have a lot of relatives who hunt. I also have a few who are stockpiling guns and ammo for the right-wing revolution. I’m in favor of what are called “common sense” restrictions on access to guns, but, like with abortion, I don’t think the law can be written that will solve this one. There are underlying causes that would have to be addressed to make any progress toward solving America’s problem with gun violence and I don’t see it happening soon. I don’t even know where to start. Actually, I do – promoting the kind of compassion and loving kindness that Jesus taught – proclaiming the good news – is the first thing. Other issues would have to do with the glorification of violence in the media, toxic masculinity, racism, alienation and hopelessness. You might notice I didn’t mention mental illness. People with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators, so while I certainly do think America could do a whole lot better with mental illness and the people who have it, I don’t see it being related to guns.
LGBTQ+: Hello! Trans-lesbian here. The ELCA has a very good statement on this issue. I have never understood why anybody would care what other people do sexually or romantically or who they do it with. Obviously, I’m for consent, which means the ability to give full, informed consent, so don’t touch children, people who have profound intellectual disability, or anybody impaired by alcohol or drugs, but otherwise, do what ya want. As long as you ain’t hurting nobody why would I care? And I’d like very much if you did the same unto me.
There has to be a lot of acceptance here, because people have different comfort levels. Some people are bothered when they see two men holding hands for example. I, personally, don’t like public displays of affection no matter who the people are. I don’t mind hand-holding, but I don’t wanna see anybody making out in public. It’s gross. If I can accept that people will do it whether I like it or not, then other people can accept two men holding hands.
Is homosexuality a sin? That’s above my pay grade. Either way, all human beings sin and all are redeemed by grace. God came to earth and made that happen.
Death penalty: ya know, I feel like I’ve established a pattern. I’m sure that all the political positions associated with the word “evangelical” are straw dogs that block us from addressing the actual issues. By the time anybody gets to the point where the death penalty would come up in conversation, the damage has been done. It’s too late. Fix the conditions that lead to abortions and gun violence and the death penalty ceases to be an issue.
History shows us that government won’t solve our problems. As a politically engaged Christian, all I can do is vote for whoever is gonna make things less worse.
The good news: a better life is possible. When I lean into God, I am able to let go of the conditions that cause me to have anger, guilt, anxiety and fear. I can accept that I am a child of God, that I am loved and worthy of love. I don’t need material wealth, status symbols, power over others or any other false idols. I don’t have to become something else or buy a product to become happy. I don’t have to do anything, but I want to – I want to address the needs of the poor, comfort the distressed and generally relieve people of their suffering. Not because doing such will get me into Heaven – my ticket is bought and paid for – but because I have been lifted out of Hell and I want to help others.
At this writing, there is a global pandemic – coronavirus/COVID19 – in full force. People are isolated in their homes. Fear is widespread. The expectation is that tens of thousands will die in the USA – perhaps millions worldwide. In the midst of this, I volunteered to serve at the local, low-barrier homeless shelter. In return for showing up and hanging out, I received a wonderful sense of purpose and usefulness and a new appreciation for what I have. It was so fulfilling that I volunteered again. Due to the pandemic, the shelter became unable to accept volunteers, and therefore needed to hire more staff. I applied and was hired after a ten-minute phone interview.
There is some little risk in this job, of course, but I have no fear. I have been called by God to serve the poor. I experience this service as a blessing. I would rather eat mashed potatoes with the homeless than caviar with kings. (Not saying much – I don’t like caviar.) I can’t imagine I’ll get COVID19, but if I do, that’s fine. I’ll pull through and then go back to the shelter to help.
God has given me a new understanding, a new perception of reality. God has shown me how I can experience abundance in any circumstance, love other people, feel satisfied and happy, and absolutely free from fear. This is available to anyone and everyone.
That is the good news.