Sometimes Change is Not Enough




                        By Kenneth Bagnell


It leaves me indignant when Christian fundamentalists –-right wing to the bone -– are talking about changing their designation from “fundamentalists” to “evangelicals.” What’s the difference? I make one observation before I go into detail: in the last US election, it was the “fundamentalist-evangelicals” who put that great intellectual Donald Trump in the Presidency. Guess what? Over 80 percent of the “born-again” voted for Trump. Without a doubt that’s exactly how he got there. Aren’t you grateful?

      Now their ambition is to shed the word “fundamentalists”. In case you’re interested, I’ll tell you something: when I was in the pulpit down east often the local people (not my congregants) used to take in a service or two and then write time after time after time complaining: “there wasn’t enough blood in that sermon.” Isn’t blood exactly what you love to hear? Those are the “evangelical-fundamentalists.” (Please take off your hat, then bow, for them.) Now they’re on the sly again, seeking a more pompous description over their primitive grade eight theology. Yes, as you now can tell, I have little use for fundamentalists. As that great and marvellous liberal man Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick would put it: “Are you part of the problem or part of the answer?”  Fosdick, whom I interviewed years ago was the great answer when we needed the answer. The fundamentalists, usually poorly educated, are still part of the problem made evident by the huge vote they gave our great pal Donnie Trump.

   To be serious, the American fundamentalists in recent weeks, were noticed in the excellent Religion News Service, a daily email to which I’ve long subscribed. A couple of days ago, it carried a main essay, titled, “A suggestion for younger evangelicals: Lose the label.”  The writer is Tom Krattenmaker, an established journalist whose background is in observing the Christian culture.

      The strength of his book is that it is not trying to palm off on the public the exclusively self-righteous attitude that has characterized evangelical Christianity for decades. (They more or less hold their noses while liberal Christians are doing unending and justified service to “the other”, from refugees to the impoverished.) For once, a man familiar with the evangelicals is at least trying to be even-handed when Krattenmaker writes this:  “As a veteran communications person and a writer who has done copious research on evangelicals, I am convinced that ‘evangelical’ no longer means what it once did. And for the Jesus-following religious people it’s supposed to describe, well, it’s doing more harm than good.” He believes that the descriptive word “evangelical” has been seriously damaged by the enormous support given Trump for president, a man who is anything but an admirable, intelligent, wise Presidential occupant. He puts it bluntly and rightly so: “Now and probably for a longtime to come,” says Krattenmaker “the word evangelical communicates a political fact more than a religious identity: the fact that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump and that many of the evangelicals’ most prominent leaders have wholeheartedly embraced him and his Presidency…” (I’m not at all surprised for after all, the so called ‘evangelicals’ may well have had generous rewards from Trump and friends.)

     A bit of research beyond Krattenmaker’s perspective reveals a most serious aspect of evangelical policy. For one thing: a flier put out by a evangelical church, called Faith Church, also wants to rid itself of the word “evangelical” simply because it bothers them. No specific reason. The brochure says this: “The word ‘evangelical’ on our sign can become a blockade to the Good News! While we remain committed to proclaiming that there is good news in Jesus, because the impression of the word ‘evangelical’ has become so confused in our society in the past 50 years, having the word on our sign has made it more difficult for us to proclaim Good News to those in our community who so desperately need to hear Good News.”

      I then turned to another part of the release to determine the stewardship of their congregation: Here are, apparently, the four key pillars of the Southern Baptists’ National Association of Evangelicals in the words they use to describe their policy: (1) Conversion & Discipleship: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a ‘born again’ experience. (2) Outreach: the expression of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts; (3) The Bible: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority; (4) Cross & Resurrection: the sacrifice of Jesus, and his victory over sin and death…”   It ends with this sentence: This explains what Evangelicals believe the Bible teaches about God’s Good News….” Does it now? I was wondering about those whom we call refugees who are very desperate…. Oh well…      

      Whenever I’m reviewing or reflecting on a relatively wide issue, I always turn to a very reliable and clear survey organization called Pew Research. (It’s the most respected.) In February of this year, it marshalled its staff to research the attitude of the American people toward a national policy that would support bringing refugees to the US. The firm’s statistics are unquestionable but to many of us very disappointing especially for a country with its enormous resources, including financial ones. As you know Trump is not in favor of almost all refugee migration to the US. What a disappointment the research revealed to the Pew firm. In brief, it reports that 81 percent of Americans support Trump’s decline of refugees.  75 percent were white evangelicals which is no surprise to anyone. It makes you wonder. All I can say is this: (a) it will make no difference whatsoever if the fundamentalists switch to the descriptive “evangelical”.” Jesus would not care either. But he would care for the refugees. I cannot understand at all the American evangelicals who want to close the door on the neediest. It baffles me; it angers me.  Perhaps one day the Southern Baptists will take seriously the Christian scripture. If so please open the New Testament, turn to chapter 6 of Luke’s gospel. You’ll find these simple words we all might act on: “Be merciful. Just as your creator is merciful….”





  We are often asked if we might add a friend or friends to our list of receivers. Yes. If you feel a few friends or relatives would be interested, please reply with their email addresses. Many thanks from Ken. Also from Barbara, his wife, his advisor, his manager, editor and his special friend since those years in the 1950s at Mount Allison. 


  1. John Ducyk
    Nov 24, 2017

    I just re-read your piece here. As one who identifies with the evangelical label (Martin Luther did and so do millions in countries around the world since him), I too am dismayed at how a concern for the New Testament “evangel” has become a political power base south of the border. In Canada, it’s difficult to brand evangelicals the way they are being branded in the U.S.

    As for evangelical support of social causes (which you rightly point out is part of the gospel), I think even Southern Baptists may hold this highly. I think of World Vision – one of the largest relief and development agencies in the world which originated in the U.S. – definitely with evangelical roots. Here in Canada, the United Church is part of Canada Foodgrains Bank. Of its 30 partnering churches, 22 are evangelical. I think of the Salvation Army, the largest social service agency in Canada second only to the government, I believe – a division of the evangelical Salvation Army church. So, evangelicals are certainly at the plate when it comes to relief and development.

    I’d be interested in reading more of your commentary on church happenings here in Canada. The U.S. situation is just an occasion for exasperation!


  2. Don Gillies
    Nov 24, 2017

    Another thoughtful, yea passionate, piece. I’m with you brother. Interestingly we were on a trip to Germany in May where we visited the various sites connected with Martin Luther. One interesting fact was the use of “Evangelical” rather than “Lutheran’ as the name of the main Protestant Church there. Since he was not that interested in starting a new denomination, and since the “Evangel” simply means the proclamation of the word, that seems appropriate. I also enjoy the fact the that ELCA, the “Evangelical” Lutheran church in America, is the PROGRESSIVE wing of Lutheranism. The Missouri Synod, as you know, is the “conservative,” fundamentalist wing. So “evangelical” belongs to the liberals, the progressives, and rightly so. Wrestling with, an proclaiming the Word is an ongoing task that requires all our energy and skill, including an open and flexible mind.