Evangelical: Uppercase or Lowercase?

As a proud recipient of a bachelor’s degree in English *cough*, there are certain grammar opinions that I hold to strongly. I’m an Oxford comma partisan.1 I think the rule against ending a sentence with a preposition should be done away with.2

And I believe that evangelical should be lowercase.

I deal with this surprisingly often. When I was preparing my book proposal and writing the sample chapters,3 I went back and forth with friends and readers about whether I should capitalize evangelical. I changed it a couple of times, but ended up firmly in the lowercase camp.

Why? Well, it’s a combination of reasons: both serious and trivial.

  • Evangelical should be an adjective. As you may recall from a previous post, I believe evangelical works best as an adjective instead of a noun. And of course, proper nouns are generally capitalized, while adjectives are not. Refusing to capitalize evangelical, even when it’s used as a noun, reinforces this principle.
  • Evangelicalism shouldn’t be its own tradition. Keeping it lowercase means that I’m not—intentionally or unintentionally—making evangelicalism seem like its own church tradition. Look at the following sentence: “The prayer gathering included Catholics, Lutherans, and Evangelicals.” Capitalizing evangelical makes it seem like it’s every bit as much its own Church tradition as Catholicism or Lutheranism. At the risk of giving an ecclesiastical hot take, it isn’t. In fact, there are Lutherans and Catholics who would also consider themselves evangelicals. Equating evangelicalism with these other traditions doesn’t make sense.
  • It looks better. Okay, cards on the table. In my writing, I use the word evangelical a lot. It’s sprinkled throughout most pages, and often appears in consecutive sentences as different parts of speech. It already annoys me how cumbersome its various forms are–”evangelicalism” is SEVEN SYLLABLES for crying out loud! I don’t want to gunk up my sentences any more than I have to, so I take out all of those clunky capital E’s. It makes evangelical look more manageable. And I think that’s important, no matter how much you roll your eyes.

If anybody has an argument for capitalizing evangelical, please let me know. But fair warning: I’ll probably ignore you.

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1  For those stubborn enough to oppose the Oxford comma, I offer the following sentence: “My heroes are my parents, John Elway and JK Rowling.”

2  Ha!

3  Remember: scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe to this blog so the book can actually get published!

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Photo by Lawrence OP

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