Don’t call me an evangelical

Will Sorrell

I’m an evangelical, but don’t call me that.

I am by no stretch of the imagination a minority. As a white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied male, I’m the poster-child for the majority. Yet there’s another demographic box I check that files in the majority line along with all the rest. Being an evangelical resounds within me in ways that crescendo like a midsummer’s breeze licking the wounds of exhaustion, yet it also rings hollow a windchime without the faintest hint of a wind.

You see, I wasn’t born with this monicker; it came later in life when I aligned my body and soul by faith in Christ. But even in the quiet company of the majority, of the evangelicals, I feel that I sit and stand and strive alone.

I am “involved.” I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in a wide range of activities and opportunities that the University has to offer these past four years, though perhaps I’m not the stereotypical scholar, change-agent or cornerstone that’s touted on campus tours. I’ve spent about 15 hours a week for the past few years serving my church, Calvary Tuscaloosa, and I treasure every moment.

I’m not greek, I’m not in any honor societies, and I’ve never been in SGA or anything of the like. But somehow I’ve found myself in conversations, at dinners, and on bus rides with the mythical yet all too real “500 people who really run the campus.” I’m just a simple man from down the road who’s involved in a couple of clubs, who really loves my church and who doesn’t know any better than to want to go into ministry. So naturally, my conversations in these couple of organizations always take a turn.

“Why on earth do you want to go to divinity school?”

“Oh, you’re a Baptist. Did you know that your denomination is really disparaging to women? You must hate dancing.”

“Huh. I guess you’re not really like the rest of them.”

Some people view faith as an afterthought, a comfortable escape from reality or something for simple people. I get that, but I respectfully disagree.

About a year after being in an organization on campus that seeks to promote diversity and change in Alabama, I looked at the director and sheepishly uttered, “I think I’m the only one here who is religious, at least outwardly.” He, with a coarse chuckle and an awry look in his eye, replied, “Why do you think you’re here?”

In that moment, I felt like a checkmark on the board of diversity. They needed an evangelical, and they picked me. Whether I liked it or not, when religion surfaced in conversations, eyes always turned to me. Upon this realization, I came to see that I could no longer be the quiet freshman in the corner too afraid to utter a syllable for fear of disarticulating my faith and tying an untamable knot around the heart of my beliefs. I had to say something.

After four years of listening to an untold number of individuals from all walks of life speak about their own faith experiences, both invigorating and bone-chilling, I have two simple addresses to make at this time: one to those who are not evangelicals (including those who claim Christianity like we claim a sports fandom, organizational involvement or resume line without any actual commitment, transformation or adherence) and one to those who are evangelicals (including the pious and the prodigal alike).

To those who don’t share the faith, I say the following.

I was once wisely told that Christianity is not a monolith, and how true that is. There are horrible hypocrites preaching a gospel that is no good news at all, and there are true saints transformed by the grace of God who seek to serve those around them. All manner of people find themselves under the roof of the church and the label of evangelical, but we’re not all the same.

Some of us understand this world is not our home, so we care for the immigrant. Some of us are scholars and academics alike, so when we talk about living for eternity instead of tomorrow, trust that we have counted the cost and would ask you to do the same. Some of us don’t picket with signs or hurl disparaging slurs at any and all who don’t “get in line or get out of the way,” for we know the Prince of Peace and the Great Physician who has resuscitated our dead hearts to life.

The aim of our charge is love that issues out of a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith.

To those who do share the faith, I say the following.

I have heard more times than I can count the rhetoric of “us and them,” and it has to stop. There is a balance between upholding the faith with an unwavering confidence and spurning the interest, intelligence and stories of those who don’t believe.

Our faith informs our politics and not the other way around, so we must be ready and willing to let the Spirit within us mold our malleable hearts into his image. Our unity must usurp our division if we are to glorify God in our conduct and our mission, so we must call upon the Lord to forge us into the bride, body and brotherhood we were created to be. Our presence in the scariest of circumstances must be warm, articulate and primarily focused on listening, so we emulate Christ in his ministry and in his intercession.

The aim of our charge is love that issues out of a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith.

I fear that the dichotic nature of this column will simply reinforce the divide between evangelicals and non-evangelicals I seek to dismantle, so here’s the TL;DR version.

My hope and prayer for this campus is for those who do not identify with the Christian faith to have Christian friends and for Christians to have friends who are not Christians. I want stereotypes to die, bridges to build and relationships to form. I ask for dialogue to be genuine, for questions to be sincere and for Christ to reveal his character in these interactions. Christians must seek to understand before seeking to be understood, for this is what Christ did for us. Non-Christians must be okay with their Christian friends challenging them to believe what they say to be true, for this is what we all do to each other in anything we truly care about.

We are all created by God in the image of God for the glory of God, and I wish we would all live like it.

So don’t call me an evangelical. Don’t lump me with Westboro, heinous politics and hateful bigotry. I am more than that. Lots of us are more than that. Call me what I am.

I am a Christian. I have decided to follow Jesus, and there’s no turning back.

Will Sorrell is a senior majoring in finance and economics. He has written for The Crimson White since September 2015. He has served as the Vice Chair of the Blackburn Institute and on the leadership team of The Well College Ministry. After graduation, he will pursue a joint Master of Divinity and MBA at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School and Brock School of Business.