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Evangelicals for Social Action Drops “Evangelical” Label

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Evangelicals for Social Action is dropping “evangelical” from its name, citing increased confusion and political connotation associated with the term. 

The 47-year-old organization is changing their name to Christians for Social Action.

“Honestly, the name change is an act in hospitality,” Executive Director Nikki Toyama-Szeto told Christianity Today. “In some ways, it reflects a change in our audience of what they’re calling themselves. Our audience is still evangelical, it’s post-evangelical, and it’s evangelical-adjacent. When you have a name like ‘Evangelicals for Social Action,’ you’re limiting yourself to those who self-describe.”

Toyama-Szeto said the name change doesn’t reflect a change in mission, but rather the removal of a distraction that detracts from its work of faith-based justice work. The group was built on the belief that faith demands engagement and works in areas like racial and economic justice, dignity of women, immigration, political engagement, LGBT conversations, and the environment,” via CT, but it doesn’t want to be constrained to specific political platforms on those issues or beyond.

She cited a black church leader who got pushback for supporting a group labeling itself evangelical, as well as instances where she was asked about the group’s involvement in Israel (it has none). 

“Having the name has been distracting in our partnership conversations and in our bridge-building within the Christian realm,” said Toyama-Szeto.

Growing political associations between evangelicals and the Trump administration have some distancing themselves from the label, though not necessarily the beliefs associated with evangelical Christianity, such as the centrality of the Gospel and a high view of Scripture—two things Toyama-Szeto says the organization is still committed to. 

“As language changes over time, we thought it was important to return to the basics,” the organization posted on its website. “Same people, same mission, new name.”

Fuller Theological Seminary president Mark Labberton, who edited the 2018 book Still Evangelical?, backed the move, saying the name change offers more clarity. “With the current roiling semantics over the world (sic) ‘evangelical,’ [Evangelicals for Social Action’s former name] can lead to confusion over what this organization is or isn’t affirming,” he said, via CT.

Evangelicals for Social Action founder Ron Sider originally defended the evangelical label after Trump’s election in 2016, but also said that Christians should focus on “faithfulness to Jesus and the Scriptures, not some label.” He is now on board with the name change: “It was the right name—for a time. But the social environment is so different.”

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Christina Darnell

Christina Darnell is a freelance writer who has contributed to WORLD, The Charlotte Observer, and other publications.