What Does 'Evangelical' Mean?Use of the term by media shows it's often misunderstood.
Someone you know and love is an Evangelical Christian.
There are approximately three million Evangelicals in Canada. That's more than ten percent of the population. Yet with the media coverage of political candidates, you'd think we were as rare as hen's teeth.
One poll reported 31 percent of Canadians are "uncomfortable" with an Evangelical Christian as prime minister. Is it even acceptable to ask such questions?
Media coverage constantly refers to Evangelicals as "fundamentalists." While there are a few Christians in Canada who embrace that designation, most Evangelicals find it abhorrent. Generally speaking, when the term "fundamentalist" is used in the media, it refers to militant extremists of one sort or another. Calling an Evangelical a "fundamentalist" seems to indicate at least religious extremism if not actual violence.
There is a level of intolerance being displayed that is not acceptable in Canada. One poll reported 31 percent of Canadians are "uncomfortable" with an Evangelical Christian as prime minister. How many Canadians would be uncomfortable with a woman as prime minister? Or a black person? Is it even acceptable to ask such questions?
So, who are the Evangelicals in Canada?
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada includes Pentecostals, Baptists, Alliance, Salvation Army, Christian Reformed, Free Methodist and Mennonite among its member denominations. But that's not all. The mainline churches have strong renewal movements whose professed beliefs are identical to Evangelicals. And a renewal in the Roman Catholic church with home Bible study and prayer groups, brings in more Christians who have beliefs and practices identical to Evangelicals.
What are these beliefs? Evangelicals are identified by the centrality of Jesus in their theology. Jesus is the only Son of God, the author and perfector of their faith. The Bible is also central, as the source for doctrine. Evangelicals place a strong emphasis on the Bible and on prayer. They are also identified by the fact their faith makes a difference in how they live their lives.
Evangelical Christians are more likely to donate money to worthy causes and to volunteer their time. They are more likely to be involved in community activities. They are also less likely to smoke, drink or swear. They are likely to place a high value on marriage and family.
You will note the continued use of the word, "likely." This is because Evangelicals are not a monolith. There is no pope setting policy. The above-noted denominations have a wide variety of organizational structures. Many are characterized by church autonomy.
What about Evangelicals politically? Studies have shown Evangelical Christians tend to vote pretty much the same as other Canadians.
It should be clear that Evangelicals do not agree on politics. Mennonites tend to be pacifists, not so Baptists. Christian Reformed tend to want funding for independent Christian schools; other Evangelicals may home-school; still others send their children to public schools. Some Evangelicals want smaller government; others argue for more government spending to alleviate poverty.
… many politicians are not afraid to be identified as Christians.
So, is there anything to fear in having Evangelical Christian politicians? Let's hope not, because there are some right now. In the House of Commons, there are Christians who take their faith very seriously in every political party. There has been high turnout at National Prayer Breakfasts on parliament Hill showing that many politicians are not afraid to be identified as Christians.
It is somewhat amazing, even amusing, to see Canadians express concern and fear at the thought of having Evangelical Christians leading the country. I have actually seen people say out loud that they are worried that such a person would "impose his beliefs on the country." This, from a country that had Prohibition. It was the mainline churches that supported Prohibition, not the Evangelicals.
While it is of great concern to Evangelical Christians to see how their beliefs are treated in the media, the campaign for leadership has had one positive effect: it has made Canadians aware of a minority group in their midst. There are Evangelical Christians alive and well and likely espousing some form of conservative viewpoint in your neighbourhood. But they are nothing to be afraid of.
Janet Epp Buckingham is director of Law and Public Policy and general legal counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in Ottawa.
Originally published in the London Free Press, April 8, 2000.
Used with permission of the author. Copyright © 2004 Christianity.ca.