Evangelicals Seek for Change

( [email protected] ) Apr 27, 2004 09:20 AM EDT

Recently, a survey was released conducting evangelical Christians to discover what defines them. Although many look at evangelicals as conservative, born-again, and homophobic; they are merely the stereotypes. What’s true is that many Evangelicals feel they are misunderstood and wrongly characterized.

The Rev. C.M. Touchstone of Glad Tidings Church in Rochester that is part of Assembly of God, said he hardly describes himself as an evangelical. ”To be an evangelical Christian carries a negative connotation, created by the fringe, which has been applied to all of us,” said Touchstone.

Concerning gay marriage issue Touchstone wishes other Christians could be more understanding of what evangelical Christians believe, instead of labeling them as homophobic.

Glad Tidings Church recently gathered signatures from ministers wanting to show support for defining marriage as between a man and a woman. To him, it’s standing up for what he believes is the truth, just like preaching against premarital sex, adultery and lust.

Referring to a Universalist Church that has a banner outside proclaiming an equal marriage zone, he said, ”I’m OK with everyone having freedom,” he said. “But please allow me my freedom. Please allow me the same generosity. Please don’t call me homophobic because I disagree with you. I’m not.”

He also mentioned about the story in the Bible where Jesus forgives a woman who was about to be stoned because of her sin of committing adultery by telling the crowd that whoever is without sin, cast the first stone.

Touchstone said “that’s the way Jesus wants us to treat the homosexual: ‘God loves you. You can have a better life.’”

Who are evangelicals?

Researchers observe two characteristics that distinguish evangelicals – their belief that personal faith in Jesus is the only way and their method of evangelizing.

Nathan Kollar, professor of religious studies at St. John Fisher college, further explained on the poll that indicated split among Christians. The poll showed that the majority of evangelicals (84 percent) said they believe personal faith in Jesus is the only way to salvation, where as only half of the number of other Christians said the same way.

”Churches almost always split between those that felt that they had the truth and those that didn’t” necessarily feel they were the only ones with the truth, said Kollar, who is Roman Catholic but has studied evangelicals for more than 30 years.

”You still have that same split in the religious community. You usually have one group of Christians that gets along (and) say they’re ecumenical. But that’s a bad word for evangelicals, who say you’re watering down the truth.”

As the name Evangelical notes, Evangelicals know their role is to evangelize. Many evangelical pastors are known to be powerful in speech, a good example would be Billy Graham, and even forceful in leading people to believe in Jesus Christ. However many pastor feel the need to take different approach in evangelizing.

Michael Kenney, pastor at Harvest Baptist Church in Rochester, used to be the kind of evangelical who took a forceful approach in telling people about Jesus. But after spending time with God in prayer, he said, he discovered a much nicer way to spread the gospel. “How about ‘Jesus loves you’?” he said. He also finds it difficult to evangelize effectively in a world that Evangelicals are being looked down upon but he said he tries to be unobtrusive and respectful, adding more grace along with his truth when he evangelizes.

”We are constantly caught in the tension between expressing God’s love for all people and the clear biblical mandate to speak out against sin,” said Appel, the Association of Evangelicals president.

For Touchstone of Glad Tidings Church, it’s not just about correcting the sin; it’s also about the hope and the forgiveness that’s available for all who believe.

”The message of evangelicals is that God can take you in your sin and give you a better life,” he said. “I believe God takes brokenness and builds a new life.

It has been known that “evangelical” comes form the word “evangel,” which means bringing the good news. Poll researchers say evangelicals are not likely to be Roman Catholic, mainline or liberal Protestant, or Orthodox. They say they are closer to fundamentalist, charismatic or Pentecostal, or born-again Christians.

”This is not the only definition of evangelical, of course, but it does define the core of the evangelical community,” said principal researchers Anna Greenberg and Jennifer Berktold.

Robert Wenz of the National Association of Evangelicals says not all Evangelicals are the same. They are diverse. Everyone knows what a dog looks like, “but you can look at a Chihuahua and a German shepherd and say, ‘Those are very different.’”

Certainly evangelicals don’t represent a denomination. According to Koller of St. John Fisher college, Evangelicals can be found in every Christian denomination.

”Evangelical is more an attitude,” Kollar said. “The attitude is that I should feel my religion.”