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Marketing Modern Evangelicals: Myths, Mea Culpas & Martyrdom

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posted on Feb, 13 2005 @ 09:59 AM
At center stage of an on-going series of evangelical planning conferences is the very image of the evangelical.

Evangelicals Feel They're Misunderstood (Warning: Detached Irony Ahead)

HAMILTON, Mass. - Recognizing that many Americans worry about their influence after President Bush's re-election, evangelicals are saying they have been misunderstood and - in some ways - remain underdogs in a nation they consider hostile to public talk about faith. [snip]

Speakers at the gathering, organized by the seminary, listed what they consider among the biggest myths about evangelicals: that they are anti-intellectual; that they seek to create a Christian government in the United States; and that their belief that salvation comes only through Christ is intolerant and aims to silence other religious expression.

Timothy Tennent, professor of world missions at Gordon-Conwell, said evangelicals have no desire to impose Christianity on unwilling Americans. He insisted that conservative Christians can be respectful of other religions - without abandoning their own core teaching that all faiths are not equal.

I applaud this effort. I sincerely do. But damn the irony of these infallibles among us... it's less than palatable. If you missed it, swing a dead cat and pick any sentence above. From...

'Despite our significant influence and political power, never forget were the persecuted underdogs here' the...

'Tolerance and respect they afford less than equal faiths'

...this is obviously somewhat less than an objective self reflection.

More promising is the recognition of some evangelicals that the staggeringly successful politicalization of Christianity and moving of the faithful to the right, has hurt the movement itself distancing those of other political affiliations from the message.

Robert Wenz, of the National Association of Evangelicals, whose member churches say they represent 24 million people, drew a distinction between organizations like his and the Moral Majority, started by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

While Falwell deserves credit for re-energizing Christians politically, the Moral Majority was "fatally flawed,'' and its emergence as a representative of conservative Christianity was "regrettable,'' Wenz said.

"It was all about making America a nice place for Christians to live,'' he said. "This is not the kind of social involvement that we need or that evangelicals espouse.''

Others still recognize the dangers of political alignment at all, especially with regard to conflicting tenants of the gospels and politics.

While people outside the evangelical movement often view it as monolithic, major divisions exist, including disagreement over which policy issues should be paramount. Some speakers said evangelicals too closely align themselves with Republicans and focus too much on abortion and gay marriage, instead of on broad social concerns. [snip]

University of Akron political scientist John Green has said Wenz's NAE represents the pragmatic center of evangelicalism compared with two other wings: progressive evangelicals and the Christian right, which includes much of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Many will recall (though some will disagree) that the first openly evangelical President was James Carter. It's a shame one must go three decades back in time for an example of a "progressive" evangelical in a leadership role. But the origins of American liberal ideology are based as much on the Gospels and the result of organized church movements as organized labor.

This distinction between evangelicals and fundamentalists (from a conference speaker) is especially helpful:

David Wells, professor of historical and systematic theology at the seminary, said some of the trouble stems from a tendency to equate evangelicals with fundamentalists. Fundamentalists are cultural separatists, withdrawing from people who hold different beliefs and adopting "a set of cultural attitudes that evangelicals have abandoned,'' he said. Evangelicals seek to involve themselves in society, engaging members of other religions and influencing the broader culture.

"Race, poverty and the environment are, or should be part of, our biblically based ethic,'' Davis said.

It really sounds to me like an evangelical resentment is brewing towards those fundamentalists that merely co-opt faith for politics. If the concerns expressed at the conference are any indication, sincere evangelicals appear to be losing both their voice and once good reputation in mainstream dialogues to the evangelical movement's fundamental insurgency within.

The "myths" and "misunderstandings" then really aren't the fault of external ignorance; but internalized and demonstratable truth. Clean house already. When did Protestants get so complicit and wary of reform? Your success is killing you.


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