Sunday, February 13, 2005

Evangelicals to Americans: Please don't misunderstand

We're not trying to convert you, we just want you to know Christ

According to a recent AP story, Evangelicals attending a meeting at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary last week expressed concerns that mainstream Americans misundertand them and harbor an inaccurate view that they seek to create a Christian Government in the United States. According to Timothy Tennent, Professor of World Missions at Gordon-Conwell, Evangelicals can be respectful of other religions and have no desire to impose Christianity on unwilling Americans. According to Tennent, Evangelicals want to protect the right of members of other religions to be members of other religions in this country, but they still "want them to know Christ." Additionally, Robert Wenz of the National Association of Evangelicals distanced more practical Evangelicals from Jerry Falwell and the "Moral Majority" indicating their representation of Conservative Christianity was regrettable. According to Mr. Wenz, it was "supposed to be about making America a nice place for Christians to live." Wenz went on further to indicate that Evangelicals see themselves in a culture was against a "movement that seeks to impose a totally secular world view."

There are a few things I'm not sure Mr. Tennent & Mr. Wenz quite understand themselves. Mr. Wenz states people can be their different religion, but he still wants them to "know Christ." Knowing that Evangelicals not only think all other ideological beliefs are woefully inferior to Christianity, that their brand of Christianity is superior to all others, and that part of evangelism is testifying and prosyletizing in an effort to save the souls of others by "knowing Christ," makes his statement supporting the rights of non-Christians and comments that Evangelicals can be respectful a little hard to believe. The veracity of the statement is even harder to accept considering Evangelical support of current legislative proposals regarding changes to the US Constitution to define marriage limited to heterosexual couples in an effort to defend marriage against the gay threat; and state level legislative proposals to bring religion into the public schools and state level proposals regarding gay marriage sponsored by representatives that state the bills are intended to legislate in accordance to scripture. Furthermore, Mr. Wenz's statements imply the actions of Evangelicals are justifiable in response to some threat against their ability to live Christian lives.

If they truly do not want to impose a Christian state and want to make the claim they can be respectful of the beliefs of others, they need to starting putting their proverbial money where their mouths are. Support of laws aimed at limiting rights of others based on scripture and insinuating religious dogma into government and public schools undermines their assertion that a Christian state is not their goal. I'm sure they would agree that nothing good could come from the government injecting itself into chruch doctrine, the same could be said for the church injecting itself into government. Our founding fathers understood this and, in an effort to prevent the corruption of religion from government interference and the imposition of religion into legislative affairs, they included language to prevent just this in the Bill of Rights.

Those of us on the other side of the "culture war" are not preventing expressions of faith anywhere outside a private home or house of worship,
we are just demanding that there is no endorsement/sponsorship of religion (real or implied) by the government as guaranteed by the US Constitution. People of other backgrounds create an environment/community they feel is desirable, that's what makes it a nice place. Many of us they are "at war" with are deeply religious, but understand we live in a diverse country and respect that others, just like us, we do not want the imposition of values inconstent with our own by the government or in public schools. There is no way for public schools and the government to adequately and equitably address all religions (and the lack thereof) in a way that would not be offensive to someone. As such, these domains remain secular. People who want their children to get a religious education and learn a specific set of values as part of their regular schooling send their children to Parochial schools. Public schools were not created for their children to use as a tool to witness for their faith - if they don't want their children taught/lectured on values and beliefs inconsistent with their own and will fight it tooth and nail, why do they expect other parents not to do the same?

This does not mean that a person living in this country must lead a secular life or that religion is stripped from the people or country. The boundaries of propriety are essentially limited to government/public schools; and even within these locations there's nothing to prevent an individual from prayer or reading the bible on their own time, provided they are not creating a hostile environment for those around them. The country is not, by any stretch of the imagination, sanitized of religion.

We must remind ourselves that respect, as it pertains to tolerance of those who are different from ourselves, means "to avoid violation of or interference with." Affording gay people the right to marry does not require the Evangelical community (or anyone else, for that matter) to approve/accept/condone homosexuality; showing respect for the rights of these individuals would just mean not interfering in their lives or their pursuit of the same dreams and desires that heterosexuals have. Prosyletizing/testifying to a captive audience of schoolchildren in a public school can only be perceived as an attempt at conversion (based on the intent of testifying), which most reasonable people would consider interference.

Many of us understand that Hollywood and pop culture are not exactly big proponents of morality, one does not have to be an Evangelical Christian to want to tune them out. They worship a different green god, and as long as that god provides, they will continue to do so. A repsonsible person tries to go out of their way to avoid noxious stimuli. If mainstream entertainment doesn't suit Evangelicals, they can turn to the thriving Christian entertainment industry and avoid secular programs/music that doesn't sit well with them. Unfortunately, the world around us is not sanitized to prevent everyone from exposure to that which offends. We can handle these situations by walking away, by engaging in an irrational battle to arrange the world to our liking or by understanding that it will happen and addressing the situation like a responsible adult.


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mar said...

Wonderful blog post - found you through Faithful Progressive.

While I agree with your point of view wholeheartedly, I think it's important to note that the notion of some evangelicals pushing their agenda into the public arena may be a violation of church & state, it is not just an affront to non-Christians.

There is also an element of what many evangelicals believe it takes to be truly Christian. So you could be Christian but not follow their particular tenets of faith and not "know Christ" as far as they are concerned.

The lack of consideration by much of middle America may be largely why the right-leaning evangelical agenda has gotten as much support as it has. I think there is a lot of well-meaning people out there who think "moral values" are important and "Christian values" are important but if they really had to qualify in detail what they believed it might be quite different from the evangelical crowd to which you refer. Unfortunately, it is also probably true that a lot of voters didn't think too deeply last fall.

Personally, I think teaching the Bible in school is a great idea, as long as it's taught by a Jew or Muslim (or other faith). Reciprocally, for the Koran and the Torah - fine, if it's taught by someone whose religion it is not. We might all benefit by being exposed to others' faiths instead of having myths perpetuated by the intolerance of the loudest.

One might also note that the term evangelical probably also includes proponents of the Emerging church (ala Borg, Gomes, and the like), who do have respect for other faiths.

Ol Cranky said...

Thanks for the comment. I actually try to acknowledge that I do understand that the Fundamentalist/Evangelical movement does not approve of other Christian denominations and that not all (or even most of the Christian denominations) have the same attitudes as this movement and aren't accepted by them as being "true Christians."

I went to public school and we discussed religion quite a lot as it's important to understand the development and evolution of the Western World (which is what our world history class focused on). I'm not sure about studying the Bible/Torah/Q'uran in HS (maybe certain sections, but not the whole thing). I highly recommend an open-minded comparative ideology class to be taken at the college level.

Most of my friends are Catholics, but I actually have some close friends who are members of the more Fundamentalist/Evangelical faiths (Southern Baptist and Nazarene) and the differences between these women (husbands/children) and those who are pushing a more legislative approach is that they do understand and appreciate diversity and are very respectful of those of other faiths (and even gay people) primarily because of the people they are and secondarily because they know people they consider good people who fit into the "heathen" classification according to their faith - they choose to see us as people (but then they are good Christians).

"Borg" Christians? I've got to look this up, when I hear Borg I think Star Trek and I'm pretty sure that's not what you mean :)

Faithful Progressive said...

Very interesting post, I'm going to have something to say about it and link you some time this week.

I need a little time to think. But I think Hans Kung has a great answer.

Faithful Progressive

Faithful Progressive said...

I made a reply called, Finding the Path to Peace: Thich Nhat Hanh & Hans Kung on my site. Just click my name.