If ever a word has been hijacked and politicized and changed from its original meaning, it is the term “evangelical,” according to the Rev. Herbert Chilstrom, the first presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). When the ELCA was formed nearly 25 years ago, Chilstrom said the word “evangelical” was deliberately included in the name of the church.
“We did so to make it known that anyone who embraces that fundamental focus on Jesus Christ is welcome to be a member of one of our congregations: old, young, Democrat, Republican, Independent, African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, straight, gay, single, married – yes, anyone,” Chilstrom wrote in a March 6 letter to the editor of Green Valley News in Green Valley, Ariz.
But “ask most anyone on the street to define ‘evangelical’ and they will tell you it represents someone who is opposed to gun control, abortion and birth control; someone who favors tight immigration restrictions and prayer in the public schools. You get the picture. The press relentlessly speaks of the ‘Evangelical Block’ when it writes and broadcasts items about some members of the Republican Party and other conservative movements,” he wrote.
The root meaning of the word “goes back to the New Testament and the Greek language in which it was written,” wrote Chilstrom “Its meaning is almost disarming in its simplicity. It describes one who believes the Good News about Jesus Christ.”