The majority of evangelical leaders (57 percent) disagree with the statement: “The divisive political climate in America today makes it harder for me to share my Christian faith” with 41 percent strongly disagreeing, according to the February Evangelical Leaders Survey. Forty percent agree with the statement.
“The divisive nature of our current political climate is hard to ignore. In some contexts, evangelical leaders have found this to be an obstacle to gaining a hearing for the gospel, while in many settings it has become a bridge to evangelism,” said Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).
Brian Eckhardt, general superintendent of The Evangelical Church, finds that being an evangelical in the Pacific Northwest is often a disadvantage to initial conversations. “The identification of the evangelical movement with right-wing politics has a negative influence on sharing the gospel. It doesn’t make it impossible, but it does make it more difficult to gain a hearing with people,” he said.
Likewise, Jay Barnes, president of Bethel University, said, “I am an evangelical. Saying that today puts oneself into a political lens rather than a theological lens. I don’t like that my theological home has been compromised. I have to get beyond that in sharing my faith.”
Other leaders indicated that the divisive political climate and the perceived role of evangelicals in it provides a unique evangelistic opportunity. “It actually gives me a reason to talk about how Christians differ in the space. And then I get to share my faith and the hope I have in Jesus Christ,” said Shirley Hoogstra, president of Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.
Alan Cureton, president of University of Northwestern – St. Paul, added, “People are talking about the state of politics in our culture. Some even ask, ‘As an evangelical, what is your response?’”
Kim added, “Whether evangelism is now easier or harder than it would otherwise be, there is clear agreement that sharing the gospel is a core part of what it means to be an evangelical Christian. No one is throwing up their hands and saying they are going to wait until conditions change before they share their faith.”
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. They include the CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.