Only 2% of Evangelicals define 'Evangelical' in political terms: study

Only 2% of evangelical Protestants think the word “evangelical” should be defined partly or fully in political terms, according to a new report.

Earlier this month, Gray Matter Research and Infinity Concepts released their report, “Beyond the Label: Unmasking Evangelical Identity,” featuring data from an early 2023 survey of more than 1,000 evangelical Protestants who were screened for evangelical beliefs.

According to the report, only 2% of evangelicals “mention anything about politics or political worldview as defining evangelical,” noting that while “others may see 'evangelical' as a political definition, evangelicals themselves do not.”

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“Only 2% define 'evangelical' at least in part by politics, like being political
conservative, supporting Donald Trump, or being a Republican,” the report states. “So, while others, like The Economist, often conflate this term with politics, evangelicals themselves rarely do.”

Thirty-nine percent of evangelicals defined the word as “a focus on evangelicalism,” while 34% stated that evangelicals have “specific beliefs.” About 14% said evangelicals “prioritize their faith,” and 8% said evangelicals live a “Godly lifestyle.”

The report also found that even with evangelicals who hold a negative perception of the word, only 4% define evangelical politically. Researchers noted that the evangelical community could still be associated with party labels.

“This does not speak to whether they might associate evangelicals with certain political positions – only that they do not define evangelicals in any part from a political perspective,” the report stated.

Researchers considered respondents with evangelical beliefs to be people who agreed with all four of the following theological positions: “The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe,” “It is important to me to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their. Savior,” “The death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin,” and “Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God's free gift of eternal salvation.”

These are the four requirements maintained in the National Association of Evangelists. 2015 definition of the term.

Even among Protestants whose beliefs fit the theological definition of evangelical, a considerable percentage refused to identify with the label.

“When we ask Protestants who hold evangelical beliefs to choose how to describe themselves, only 27% choose the term 'evangelical Christian,'” the report continued.

“But when we directly ask a yes-or-no question about whether the term 'evangelical Christian' describes them, 61% say yes, while 39% would not use this term to describe themselves.”

Data for the report was compiled online last year and derived from a “mix of research access panels” to create a “demographically representative sample,” with 1,010 evangelical Protestants participating in the study.

In recent years, there has been much debate about the context of evangelical, what it means and whether it has become more of a political name than a religious classification amid much mainstream media focus on former president Donald Trump's support of evangelical or born-again. voting demographic.

In an October 2019 article for The Evangelical Coalitionscholar Thomas Kidd wrote that the term “Evangelical” first began to be seen as a political term back in the 1970s, helped by the election of President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat who at the time identified as evangelical.

“Gallup first began asking survey respondents in 1976 whether they were 'evangelical' or 'born again' and pairing that answer with political behavior,” Kidd wrote.

“Of course, the rise of the Moral Majority in 1979 was a decisive moment in the politicization of the word 'evangelical', too, but after 'evangelical' became a standard category in polling, public perception began to shift inevitably to political. understanding of what it meant being an evangelical.”

Michael Brown, a conservative Christian author and radio host, asked in a piece published by The Christian Post in January whether it was “time to get rid of the term 'Evangelical.'

“Domestically, among committed Christians who identify as evangelical, or distinguishing between Catholic Christians and evangelical Christians, the term continues to refer to those who hold to a certain set of beliefs,” Brown wrote.

“But to the outside world, maybe it's time for us to reconsider how we who are traditional evangelicals describe ourselves. It could also lead to more conservation about Jesus and the Scriptures. Should we take that step?”

In 2018, during the peak of Trump's presidency, the Evangelical electoral organization Barna asked more than 1,000 respondents identify adjectives they could use to describe the evangelical community. The most frequently chosen terms related to conservatism, such as 37% who said “religiously conservative” and 27% who said “politically conservative”.

Barna noted at the time that these results fall in line with the fact that evangelicals, on average, tend to identify themselves as politically conservative and are “more represented among the older and white respondents who typically also claim those views.”

In May 2018, the National Association of Evangelicals, which represented more than 45,000 churches across 40 denominations, issued a statement asserting that the term evangelical should be viewed through a spiritual, not a political, lens.

“Because there are millions of us in the United States and many more of us in other countries around the world, there are subgroups identified by where we live, how we vote, our level of education or even our local cultural expressions,” the NAE stated.

“Each has distinctive beliefs and practices that may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable to one another. Sometimes these subgroups or their leaders are identified as typical of all evangelicals even though there is no consensus, connection or communication between them.”

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