- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Most Christians who say they hold beliefs that would identify them as “evangelical” shy away from the word because it carries political implications, a new survey shows.

Core evangelical beliefs include faith in the unerring authority of the Bible, Jesus’ death as the only atonement for sin, Jesus as the only way to salvation and the importance of evangelizing non-Christians, according to the National Association of Evangelicals.

But only 27% of respondents who said they hold those beliefs also said they would use “evangelical Christian” to describe themselves in the “Beyond the Label: Unmasking Evangelical Identity” survey, conducted this year by Grey Matter Research for Christian marketing agency Infinity Concepts.

More than half of the respondents who rejected the “evangelical Christian” label said the term is either “misused or misunderstood” or “has too much negative baggage,” according to the survey.

Half of respondents said the media view the “evangelical Christian” label negatively.

Meanwhile, 39% said an evangelical Christian is either focused on sharing their faith, and 34% said an evangelical has a set of specific religious beliefs. Seven percent said both aspects are needed to define an evangelical, while 14% said they had “no idea” what defines an evangelical. Two percent said politics defines an evangelical.

Additionally, 39% said they would refuse to use the term “evangelical” when asked directly if they would do so, and 61% said it accurately describes their views.

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, called the survey findings “a warning” to Christians and others.

“[Be] careful when you see the word evangelical,” Mr. Sellers said in a statement. “When it is used in a news story, question the definition. When you see research data about evangelicals, make sure you understand how they are being defined. There is a lot of contradictory information about evangelicals out there, often because the definitions of ‘evangelical’ are so vastly different.”

Mark Dreistadt, president and CEO of Infinity Concepts, said the survey results show that the “identity landscape” of evangelicals is an “intricate” one. 

“There is a tension between self-perception and external perception,” Mr. Dreistadt said. “Maybe, by words and actions, it is time to do more to provide a clear understanding of what it actually means to be ‘evangelical.’”

The survey of 1,039 American adults was conducted online via a collection of research access panels, and 1,010 evangelicals participated. The survey screened out potential respondents who identify with non-Protestant churches such as Catholic, Orthodox or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage point margin at the 95% confidence interval.

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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