conservatism

That Pesky Word 'Evangelical'

Tomorrow I will attend my first board meeting for Sojourners. This new role reflects my own ongoing commitment to evangelical Christianity, 24 years after I joined the staff of Evangelicals for Social Action and first encountered the evangelical world outside of the Baptist South. Both ESA and Sojourners actually predated, and opposed, the Christian Right. Both have always offered a “peace-and-justice” type evangelicalism, and both were among the first evangelical organizations to embrace moral agendas such as peacemaking, urban poverty, gender equality, racial justice and creation care, rooted in a passionate love of Christ and love for those Christ loved. Both embody what I find a compelling Christian vision.

Works of Economic Fiction

JAMES DOBSON and Kurt Bruner get three things right in their recent novels Fatherless and Childless: Euthanasia is wrong, married couples should make time to have hot sex, and stay-at-home moms should get some respect.

Pretty much everything else in the novels, the first two-thirds of a trilogy (book three, Godless, is due out in May 2014), is way off and internally incoherent. The plot starts in 2042, when an aging population and economic malaise have motivated the government to legalize euthanasia. Businessman Kevin Tolbert, recently elected to Congress, lectures his peers about the need to stop euthanasia and encourage parenthood in order to revive the economy. His wife Angie’s high school friend Julia Davidson, an allegedly progressive and feminist reporter, is assigned to write a story about him (lecture alert). Meanwhile Kevin and Angie struggle (with mercifully few lectures) with their third child’s diagnosis of Down syndrome. Subplots deal with a disabled teen and an elderly dementia victim who turn (or are pushed) to euthanasia.

Actual euthanasia, as disability-rights groups such as Not Dead Yet have documented, often turns on society defining “dignity” according to physical ability and health instead of the innate value of a human being. These novels, however, ask us to believe the main impetus for euthanasia would come from the drive to reduce the federal deficit, to deal with “swelling entitlement spending.”

What spending? The novels’ elderly and disabled characters are drawn or pushed toward euthanasia because of family financial troubles: There is no mention of any Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid help going to any of them.

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So, about those "Evangelicals..."

In his column last week, Sojourners chief Jim Wallis talked about his frustration with the perennial misuse of the word "evangelical" by various media to describe folks and ideas that, in his view, and that of many of us who self-describe as evangelicals, don't bear any resemblance to what we understand that term to actually mean.

Below is a compilation of recent media reports where the word "evangelical" is invoked. When you read these, evangelical brothers and sisters, do you recognize yourself in how the word is used and defined? Or does it ring false to you and your understanding of what "evangelical" really and truly means?

The Conservative Radical: An Article by John Stott

1100728-johnstott[Editors' note: Rev. John Stott, one of the world's most influential evangelical figures over the past half-century, died this Wednesday at age 90. Rev. Stott served as a contributing editor for Sojourners magazine, when we were known as The Post American, and wrote this article for the November/December, 1973 issue of the magazine. We will always remember Rev. Stott for his profound contributions to our community and the Church.]

It seems to be a characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon mind to enjoy inhabiting the "polar regions" of truth. If we could straddle both poles simultaneously, we would exhibit a healthy balance. Instead, we tend to "polarize". We push some of our brothers to one pole, while keeping the other as our own preserve.

What I am thinking of now is not so much questions of theology as questions of temperament, and in particular the tension between the "conservative" and the "radical."

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