When journalists talk about so-called “evangelical voters”, the former are doing the public a disservice. That is because the word evangelical has nothing to do with politics.
An evangelical is a believer in Messiah Jesus who strives to share the Gospel message with those who have not yet heard it or read it. Such a believer can do so without ever being involved in political issues.
If evangelicals register to vote in elections, then they don’t have join any political party. If they do join one, then they can join any political party – including the Democratic Party – and still be evangelicals.
When journalists say “evangelical voters”, what they mean is “church-going voters who mix religion with politics”.
This mixing of religion with politics is detrimental to evangelism. In a blog post immediately following the election of President Donald Trump, Reverend Thabiti Anyabwile has this to say:
“I think the evangelical turnout for Mr. Trump signals several fatal weaknesses in the movement. First, the [evangelical] movement has surrendered any claims to the moral high ground in electoral politics. Even though many evangelicals chose Trump while having significant reservations about his character, they nevertheless chose Trump. They did not choose character. To be clear, Mrs. Clinton was not an objectively better moral option. But not voting, voting third party, or writing in, as many said they would, were also options. The lion’s share of evangelicals put character concerns aside and pulled the lever for a man whose character is every bit as “flawed” as President Clinton’s, whose impeachment evangelicals supported. For that choice, as many have already observed, the moral high ground is lost.”
In the same post, Rev. Anyabwile states, “The number of evangelicals who put gospel and character before politics and party are small.”
Just how bad that politics interferes with the evangelism is revealed in a story that Russell Moore tells:
“I remember being a church one time where a young man, maybe 14 years old, came down to the front and was talking to me—African American young man, it was the first time he had ever been to church—and he was asking me questions about heaven. He was wearing an Obama t-shirt. But this man in the church, an elderly white man, walked by and said, ‘You need to get a different t-shirt.’ And my response was to say, ‘Here is this kid, his first time in church, asking how to inherit eternal life, and all this guy cared about was his t-shirt.’”
That elderly white man might have been a member of that church, but if he had been an evangelical, then he wouldn’t have said what he said.
In a commentary for the Gospel Coalition, Russell Moore explains the flaw in trying to use the muscle of the state to make people conform to religious beliefs:
“There is precedent in the Bible, of course, for a religion using the state to force people to externally conform to it. But those examples are of Nebuchadnezzar and the Beast that John saw rising from the sea (Rev. 13), not the church of Jesus Christ. Religious freedom means religious freedom for everyone, including those who reject our gospel. We plead with our neighbors to be reconciled with God, as long as it is still the day of salvation (2 Cor. 5–6). We long for that change to happen the only way it can: by the Spirit’s enlivening power, not by some city council’s roll call vote. External conformity, backed up by government power, is easier to achieve than Great Commission gospel advance. It also leads nowhere but to death.”
The Gospel message transcends all politics, which is why the words evangelical and voters shouldn’t be linked together.
So, what should journalists call church-going voters who mix religion with politics? Why not simply call them church-going voters? After all, that is what they are.