Pastor’s Friday Comments (08.16.19)

One of the problems that every culture has faced is the tendency not to trust “the other,” anyone who is different from ourselves. Overcoming this challenge is made more difficult by our tendency to stay within our own group, demographically, ethnically, religiously, politically.

However, in many cases, the more we know about a different group, and especially the more we get to know individual members of that group, the more favorably we tend to view the group as a whole.

This tendency was borne out statistically with regard to religious views in a wide-ranging What Americans Know about Religion from the highly respected Pew Research Center. They found that, in general, people who are more familiar with a religion other than their own tend to express more favorable views toward members of that faith. It held true for the major world religions — Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews. It was also a valid conclusion for Mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons. It was even true in people’s opinion of atheists.

In fact, there was only one group about which the researchers polled where the favorable ratings went down the more the survey taker knew about the faith. I’ll bet you can guess who that group was: evangelical Christians. It seems that the more people know about the tenets of the faith that you and I claim to espouse, the less favorably they feel about evangelical Christianity.

I have a couple of theories about this and I’ll only draw one conclusion.

First, I believe that when people hear the phrase “evangelical Christianity” they think, “white, politically conservative, fundamentalist.” It’s a natural tendency, given that “evangelical” is the term that the press applies to those who fit those broad categories. However, throughout Christian history, the term “evangelical” has been applied most often to anyone who espouses the necessity of a personal commitment to Jesus Christ and who believes that it is our “commission” to share the good news of Christ with others. That’s a much larger group and I hope that, if people taking the survey understood that, their opinion might warm up at least a little.

Secondly, I’m afraid that the opinion may be drawn from their exposure to the loudest representatives of the group. If people are basing their feelings on what they hear from Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Albert Mohler, and their intellectual brothers, then I get why the survey takers feel the way they do. You might agree with those guys, but they aren’t going to give anyone a warm and fuzzy feeling about Christianity.

And finally, this conclusion, that you already know: You and I have our work cut out for us. Whether you like it or not, your friends, acquaintances, business associates, classmates, and neighbors are going to identify you as an evangelical Christian. And they are likely to draw certain conclusions about you on the basis of the label. If the conclusions they draw are what I think they are going to be, you’re going to have to do everything you can to change that. You are going to have to be more loving, more tolerant, more peaceful, more accepting of differences than they have come to expect or believe possible. 

There is good news in this, however. Those are the traits that Jesus embodies and expects in his disciples anyway. And since that is true, then we have the promise of the Holy Spirit to help us be all those things and to demonstrate them to others. You don’t have to resolve to do better. You just have to commit to letting Christ have control over your life.

And there is a second bit of good news. I know you and you already display more of those Christian traits than people expect out of evangelicals. We’ve still got a long way to go, but maybe it’s not as far as we think.