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Posts Tagged ‘Evangelical’

I’m from Massachusetts. I’m from the state which is right after New York on the “most-likely-to-be-used-in-a-stump-speech-as-an-example-of-liberalness” list. My high school chorus had to change the words to a song to remove any mention of God. We were the first state to legalize gay marriage. I’ve attended a church where parishioners have complained about using phrases like “holy” and “Christ”. I don’t live in the most Christian-friendly state.

Now, I’m not going to be one of those people who is going to explain why Christians are a victimized minority that’s having their faith outlawed. I could write, and probably will at some point, about how being religious in general is becoming more and more uncomfortable for people, but that is not the subject of this post.

This post is about a word. It is a word that is used in many different ways by different groups of people.

Evangelical.

I started this blog because I was tired of being considered an oxymoron. Yes, I’m liberal, no I don’t want to get together and complain about how horrible religious people are limiting abortion and are all crazy. Yes, I’m evangelical, no I’m not going to sit you down and explain that if you don’t convert you’re going to hell. It’s really quite amazing how narrow people think these boxes are. I met a boy once who was unaware that it was possible to be a nerd and Christian (this apparently is not an unusual idea, for some reason, as this has come up multiple times as I’ve tried to explain things like “No, playing dungeon and dragons isn’t sinful”).

Yet, despite the fact that this blog is written around my identity as both a liberal and an evangelical, I haven’t explained much about how I define that, what I mean by that. It’s a word that can be used in multiple ways and which I think is very misunderstood.

Let’s start with the basics. No matter what random “experts” on CNN seem to imply, Evangelism and the Religious Right are two utterly different things. Evangelism is a theological concept. The Religious Right is a political movement. Using them synonymously is just annoying.

Secondly, I’m not going to pretend that being an “evangelical” is purely spiritual, and doesn’t have accompanying social mores and culture. Being evangelical in the United States these days, particularly in subgroups such as non-denominational Protestantism, is cultural. We have music artists that we listen to, we have specific vocabulary, we have social practices. However, this is not what evangelism is. Like any culture, there are as many different values, interpretations, and beliefs (political, religious, or otherwise) as there are people. We are not all the same. Forget that, we’re not all even alike. It is possible, in fact, to be part of that culture and not be evangelical.

That’s because evangelical isn’t a culture or a political sub-group, it’s a spiritual choice. It’s also one that manifests itself in different ways. Evangelism doesn’t require you to hand out pamphlets on the subway or to try to convince your non-Christian friends that their religions have no meaning. It doesn’t even require you, in my mind, to be convinced that the only way to heaven is through conscious belief in Jesus as the Messiah (I’m sure many would disagree with that).

To be evangelical, generally, is to want to and to try to share the ‘message’ of Christianity. Note, I said “share”, I did not say “force down someone’s throat”. Let us not confuse those two terms.

Evangelicals, in whatever intensity, do believe that Christianity is “the best”. It is something that they believe is true and is a good thing. It is a very delicate line, and some of us are more concerned about where we cross it, between believing we are right and insulting other faiths. To evangelize is to share your faith, your beliefs, your values. It means to explain why you believe in them, to explain what they give you. Some people choose (and while I’m not among them, I respect their right to do so) to evangelize by buying billboards or passing out literature. Some people will stop you in the grocery market and ask if they can talk to you about Jesus. Some people will simply say, “You know, my church meets at ten every Sunday, you’re perfectly welcome if you ever want to stop by”. There are lots of different ways to share one’s faith or to invite another person into it.

Here up in the liberal Northeast, evangelicals are not very popular. The polite people just think they’re kind of crazy and ignore them. The rude people go on lots of rants. Even many Christians are very quick to say, “Oh, I’m not one of those Christians”. Evangelism is seen as offensive. Frankly, though, I don’t understand why.

It’s not that I dismiss the fact that no one likes to be told they’re wrong or that everyone deserves to have their own views taken into consideration. However, when you think about it, evangelism, religious or not, is all around them.

“You need to try acupuncture. It changed my life. I’m serious, you have to go.”

“The thing that I hate about teachers’ unions is…”

And so on.

Friends, families, even mild acquaintances, don’t feel at all hesitant about giving their opinions on your lifestyle or of trying to convince you of the veracity of their opinion. Until it gets a bit overzealous, no one finds it offensive if someone is trying to convince you that you shouldn’t vote for _______ or that your view on _________ is illogical. It’s perfectly acceptable these days. I frankly don’t see any difference between political canvassing and Jehovah’s witnesses, or between making a passionate defense of your faith versus a passionate defense of abortion. To make a separate case is to hold to some sort of double standard that we have freedom of expression and freedom to share our beliefs publicly on everything, except for religion.

It’s about dialogue. It’s about sharing and learning from one another. It’s explaining why you think something, what are the benefits of it from your perspective. There is nothing inherently disrespectful about the principle. I further don’t believe it is offensive to evangelize because 99% of the time it is non-coercive, and as long as people have free choice, I simply don’t see the problem.

One of my first posts was about this, I believe. I wrote about how at my Christian school, when I was young, they had us debate whether or not we should read a book that had anti-Christian themes. There were a few classmates of mine who said that we shouldn’t, that it might cause us to question our faith. However, I believe that if a faith or an opinion cannot hold up if it’s exposed to a conflicting idea, it’s not worth having. I don’t believe that it is an affront to human dignity to have someone share with you an idea that you disagree with. That’s why God…or evolutionary processes…or both…gave you a brain, so that you could listen to ideas, critique them, evaluate them, and think for yourself.

While I, like many others, have grown to have respect and appreciation for the new Pope, there is a part of me that has been saddened by the reaction of the world. So many secularists or members of other faiths who talk about how unusual his openness and compassion is. For me, those things are what my religion is about, and the fact that people see Pope Francis as an anomaly, rather than as the norm, is a sign that we Christians are failing in the way that we share our faith with the world. Serving the disenfranchised with compassion, saying “I do this because of what I believe about God” that is the Christian evangelism that I believe in.

I am a Christian and I strive to live my life according to principles. I share my faith with those who ask, by be open and willing to explain and to engage in a dialogue. I share my faith by living it out and letting it be known that I make my choices because of my faith. Evangelism, to me, is simply openness.

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This book by Tony Campolo gives an view on much of the political and social issues of our time through the outlook of our Christian faith and Jesus’ teachings.  He describes a set of Christians who identify themselves as evangelicals but do not identify with the so-called Religious Right.  This group has taken the name Red Letter Christians, a reference to the many Bibles where the words that Jesus spoke are written in red letters for emphasis, the implication being that this group is dedicated to following the teachings of Jesus and his message with a strong emphasis on social justice.

 

There is a chapter on each of the following issues in the book: the environment, the Iraq War, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, AIDS crisis, gay rights, gun control, education, abortion, immigration, crime, the federal budget, the minimum wage, the debt, wasteful government spending, political lobbyists, campaign finance, and candidates.  The issues covered are broad and encompassing. Campolo offers an outlook on each issue through the lens Jesus’ teachings and Christian faith.  He suggests possible solutions to large problems and some new ideas and perspectives.  At the very least, the book can help one create an informed opinion.

 

I think this book is excellent, it is easy to read and very thought-provoking.   It is particularly relevant as we begin to go into another election cycle and we are considering which candidates to give our votes to.  It’s a fresh outlook that allows us to consider what role we want our values and our faith to play in our politics and might hit a nerve with moderate Christians who feel stuck in the middle.

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