Why I Don’t Call Myself an Evangelical (anymore)

I’m going to stop calling myself an “evangelical,” although I wish it weren’t so.

A few years ago someone close to me asked, “What’s the Religious Right?”  In my attempt to give a thorough and satisfying answer I ended up admitting, “In thirty years of ministry I have to say, I’m not sure I know anybody in the ‘Religious Right.’” I went on to explain that I thought it was media construct, used to describe a certain group of people.  I did admit that I’ve met a few people who are labeled (and label is the right word) as leaders of the Religious Right, but I’m not so sure that the would self identify themselves on their Facebook Profiles as “Religious Right.” That was a few years ago. In my various travels among diverse Christian groups since then, I’ve not heard anybody self-identify that way. The answer seemed to satisfy him.

Then another question. “So then, what is an Evangelical?”  I told him an Evangelical is somebody that believes the Bible (in some form or another) and has had a life changing encounter with Jesus Christ. What I failed to include that day was that an evangelical would also feel on some level the duty to tell about their experience and spread the Word. Telling is found in the construction of the word ‘evangelion’  in the original Greek, the language the Bible was written in. It’s actually a pretty narrow definition. Just a few things.

Not satisfied with that answer he asked, “Like who?” I told him, “Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell,” to which he was, “Yeah, just what I thought.” When I continued, “Jimmy Carter, Martin Luther King, probably Jesse Jackson and Bono.”  The last group of names were surprising to him, but sure enough they fit the historical definition of Evangelical going back some 500 years.  In fairness to his slight surprise about the names in the latter group, I’m relatively certain they might not define themselves in that category either.  But given the historical definition they are.

I started following Jesus in 1975 after a pretty wild life and equally radical conversion experience. The same year Jimmy Carter was running for president. He sent shocks waves through the media when he announced he was a Sunday School Teacher who was a “Born Again Christian.” “Born Again” is the core description of an evangelical. One who has had a life changing encounter with Jesus Christ. The other core descriptors follow this one. Believing the Bible and telling others about it.

“Born Again’ was a term used before anybody started thinking about using the word ‘Evangelical.’ While evangelical can be traced to the Reformation, ‘born-again’ finds it’s roots in the words of Jesus where He describes ‘new life,’ being ‘born anew’ in John’s Gospel chapter 3.  An evangelical then is a ‘born-again.’ That’s our story, it’s comes from the Bible we believe, and we’re sticking to it as we tell others.

It might go without saying, but probably needs to be clarified, that not all Protestants are ‘evangelicals’ in the theological or experimental sense. Protestantism, the movement that broke with the Roman Catholic Church in the Reformation of the 16th century, has many faces, expressions and belief structures.  Not all of Protestantism would hold to, or even necessarily expect that their followers be ‘born again,’ believe the Bible, or be active in sharing their faith.  These would be identifying traits of the ‘evangelical wing’ of the Protestant Movement.

Back to the “Religious Right.” The rise of the what has been called, mostly from outsiders and not insiders, the Religious Right has it’s roots in the anti-abortion movement within Evangelical Christianity. As the movement grew participating Evangelicals found themselves in the halls of Courts and Congress.  Who were they and where did they come from? They were a formidable force to be dealt with, and to be defined. As the movement within Evangelicalism grew, so did the power, the recognition, and the arms stretching into new areas of political involvement, lobbying, and power brokering. On the surface and in the deeper reality, there is nothing wrong with any of this, and reflects on the duty of being a citizen in a representative democracy. Each voice counts. Activism is encouraged. The Religious Right would eventually merge on the political front with the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and Pro-Life Movement at large. Together they became a rather strong political bloc increasingly referred to as the Religious Right. Which might be an apt description, but it’s not what insiders were calling themselves. And it certainly did not represent the whole of ‘Evangelicals.’

Eventually the Religious Right (which would have included, Catholics, Protestants, and Evangelicals) as a  term was used in decreasing measure and the term “Evangelical” substituted, particularly when it came to a voting bloc. That was unfortunate on two fronts. (1) Being ‘born-again,’ believing the Bible and having a need to share that with others was not shared by everyone in the new diverse movement. (2) If anybody thinks that all, or even most of ‘born-again,’ Bible believing people are voting in one bloc on one issue they are wrong.

In the last 4-5 years the public definition of Evangelical has come to mean an even more specifically defined group that aligns itself to fiscal, partisan and moral issues. The word has nothing to do with people who identify themselves as ‘born-again followers of Jesus that believe the Bible and are interested in telling the world the story.’ At this point I have no idea what people, religious or otherwise mean when they use the word Evangelical. I’m pretty certain they aren’t thinking of people who had a life changing encounter with Jesus Christ.

To even use the word “evangelical’ to describe some supposed voting bloc, or category of people is unfair, in that the Evangelical Movement is global and historical. It existed before there even was a United States. It’s simply become another hijacked word that means anything anybody wants it to me. The way it is being used in the media in the United States today it cannot possibly mean what millions of Evangelical world wide movement believe about themselves.

For me it’s too complicated to figure out, let alone allowing somebody to squeeze me into some category that even the one using the term can’t define.  No more Evangelical for me. So what am I? A born-again, follower of Jesus, believing my Bible and wanting the whole world to hear and know.  It’s really that simple. My old moniker used to, “Jesus Changed My Life.” It happened in a born-again moment. I’m going back to that and sticking with it. All the other stuff is just too hard, too complicated, and does not describe what most born-again people are about!

Jesus Changed My Life!

 

 

 

 

Did Bob Marley Die a Christian?

Did Bob Marley Become a Christian?

Well, I hope so, because I really like his music! He was one of the world’s most creative musicians, blending rock music with the feel of the islands and the rhythms of Africa. If it wasn’t for Bob Marley most people would know nothing about reggae music.  Besides his innovative musical style, Marley was also known both for his playful and sometimes dead serious lyrics. One of my favorite Marley lines is, “Oh please don’t you rock my boat, because I don’t like my boat to be rocked.”  Many know Marley for his pointed political statements and his passionate Rastafarian practices heard in his songs, including his passion for smoking ganja (marijuana.)

Yea, but did he become a Christian?  You just can’t hope, especially when most people know that Bob Marley was one of Rastafarianism’s best known spoke persons.  Marley was bright and articulate. He was no misinformed convert to Rastafarianism. When it came to his religious committment through his music Marley was completely informed.  There is no doubt he had a good grasp on the Rasta’s spiritual, social and political positions.  While there are reportedly 700,000 practicing Rastafarian’s worldwide, Marley was perhaps the best known.

One of his most moving songs (which includes a repetitive line chanting “Move!”) is “Exodus: Movement of Jah’s People”   It’s a passionate “Back to Africa” plea. “Exodus” reflects some of the prominent tenents of Rastafarianism.  Rastas saw, Haile Salassie, emperor of Ethiopia as the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah.”  The Messiah.  “Exodus” is about the worldwide scattered African community moving “Back to Africa.’ Specifically to Ethiopia a.k.a Holy Mount Zion.

Some of Marley’s lyrics (Get Up, Stand Up) reflected his disdain for the indifference of the established church on earth to the suffering plight of the poor and oppressed on earth. The song also indicates his affirmation of Salassie as Messiah/Savior.

Haile Salassie knew that the Rastas had put him on the level of the Messiah and to dissuade them he commissioned the forming of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Jamaica (home to Marley & reggae.) Salassie and the church made many statements against “emperor worship” and “herbal sorcery” (the marijuana smoking in Rastafarianism.) The church was formed in Jamaica to lead the Rastas AWAY from worshiping Haile Salassie as the Messiah.  If a Jamaican joined the church they had to renounce Haile Salassie as the Messiah. The church maintains that one can ONLY be baptized in the Name of Jesus.  There have been standing issues between the Rastas and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The issues between the Rastas and the EO Church have revolved around the Rastas claim that the EO Church has moved away from the Bible’s emphasis on the poor and justice. The obvious ones to me are that the EO Church has better historical doctrine, while the Rastas have way better music..  but we digress…

Bob Marley, one of Reggae’s best known artists, one of Jamaica’s best known sons and the world’s best known Rastafarian ‘non-official’ spokes-person battled cancer for four years, beginning when he was 32 years old. His cancer began as melanoma on the bottom of his foot. A strange place indeed for that type of cancer.  Marley let the cancer go for a period of time before getting treatment.  In the later days of his cancer he was shuttled (secretly and quietly) to some of the best and most famous cancer treatment centers in the world.

In the midst of his cancer battles and on his last tours Bob Marley’s faith and worldview began to change.  On November 4, 1980, Marley was baptized by the Archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Kingston Jamaica.  Here’s the account of the Archbishop concerning Bob Marley, his baptism and conversion:

“Bob was really a good brother, a child of God, regardless of how people
looked at him. He had a desire to be baptized long ago, but there were
people close to him who controlled him and who were aligned to a different
aspect of Rastafari . But he came to Church regularly. I remember once while
I was conducting the Mass, I looked at Bob and tears were streaming down his face…When he toured Los Angeles and New York and England, he preached the Orthodox faith, and many members in those cities came to the Church because of Bob. Many people think he was baptized because he knew he was dying, but that is not so…he did it when there was no longer
 any pressure on him, and when he was baptized, he hugged his family and wept, they all wept together for about half an hour.”

For Bob Marley, he knew exactly what he was doing in his baptism, probably more than many people know when they are baptized.  While most people will profess a “turning towards Christ” in their baptism, in order to be baptized in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Bob Marley also had to RENOUNCE the “heresy of Emperor worship.”  He was turning from Rastarfarianism and towards Christianity. Marley knew what he was doing. He was turning to Jesus Christ. This sent shock waves through the Rastafarian community.

At 36 years old, the undisputed “King of Reggae Music” on May 21, 1981 Bob Marley was buried with his Gibson guitar and hisBible at his side.  His last words to his son Ziggy were, “Money can’t buy you life” and according to his mother, Cedella, his very last words were, “Jesus take me.”

I’ve always loved Bob Marley’s music.  I can’t wait to see him!

“One Love, One Heart.  Let’s Give Thanks and Praise to the Lord and We Will Feel Alright!” Bob Marley

Ten Things My Father Taught Me

The light is in the room where my father spend his final days. This was the first year I celebrated Father’s Day without him. It’s weird to think of Father’s Day as a celebration without him, but I’ve been able to celebrate and shine his life to many people over the last several months. Not to mention how his life (and death) have been effecting me.

In our church we are going through the Book of Romans and we were in the section of the book where the apostle Paul was talking about his struggle. His personal inner struggle. While he never tells us exactly what his issues were, he does invite us into the idea that we are all struggling with something. I called it “Every Man’s Battle” for Father’s Day 2017. My personal struggle is to live up to the legacy and light my dad left me.

Here’s copy of the outline I used for the ten points 10 Things my Father Taught Me and a video of the Bible Study in Romans 7 that lead to the “Ten Things My Father Taught Me” at the end. There’s also a closing prayer that might apply to you.

If you’d rather listen to the audio. Here it is:

 

Thanks for taking the time!

jp