Evangelical

Choosing the Side of Justice

THE ISRAELI/PALESTINIAN conflict has claimed countless lives, caused unimaginable trauma, and devastated families and communities for decades. As Christians, we should lament this ongoing tragedy and commit ourselves to the cause of peace. However, we must also confess to and repent of the fact that American Christians have often been an obstacle to peace in the region.

On one side of the conflict, many evangelicals have historically been uncritical supporters of Israel. This support often stems from dispensationalism—the belief that a Jewish state must exist in the Middle East in order for Christ to return. Because the continued existence and thriving of the Israeli state is viewed by these Christian Zionists as nothing less than God’s will, they have historically been unwilling to criticize or even question Israel’s behavior. This reflexive and one-sided support for the Israeli government and military has made it much more difficult for the U.S. to be considered an honest broker in the peace process.

In contrast to evangelicals, some mainline Protestants and other liberal Christians have also been a problem to peace by taking an unrelentingly negative attitude toward Israel. Some Christians from this camp have gone so far as to argue that the premise upon which the modern state of Israel was founded is unjust and illegitimate. Given the present reality of Israel’s existence—not to mention the horrors of the Holocaust—coming to the table with that position is not helpful to having a productive conversation about creating peace in the region. Furthermore, when Israel’s critics downplay or fail to acknowledge Israel’s very real security concerns, it diminishes the validity of their critique of Israel’s actions.

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Tackling the Hard Questions

YOU CAN'T TURN AROUND these days in Christian circles without bumping into questions around gays and lesbians and the church. It has become the hottest of all hot potatoes in evangelical Christianity, as it has in much of U.S. and global culture.

Long-term consensus evangelical positions and practices on various aspects of “the gay issue” are being challenged at every turn. Indeed, some have already given way.

It used to be that anyone with same-sex desires was considered willfully perverse; but now many evangelicals acknowledge the clinically/medically recognized category of same-sex attraction (SSA), or sexual orientation, as a mysterious but globally recurring pattern among 3 to 5 percent of the human family.

It used to be that LGBT people were frequent targets of derogatory preaching and teaching, often so fierce that some church folks were motivated in the direction of hatred, contempt, and bullying; but now more and more preachers and teachers are moderating their language so as not to do harm.

It used to be that evangelicals sent those with SSA off to “reparative” or “ex-gay” therapies; but now those harmful and futile “treatments” have been discredited and are fading fast, as evidenced for example by Exodus International’s closure and apology in 2013 and its leader Alan Chambers’ statement that “99.9 percent” of the people they had tried to help had not experienced a change in their sexual orientation. More evangelicals are recognizing the importance of not harming their own gay and lesbian adolescents and family members. Family acceptance and suicide prevention are becoming important concerns.

It used to be that evangelicals rejected from church membership anyone who experienced same-sex attraction or claimed a gay or lesbian identity; but now more and more evangelicals are at least opening their doors to LGBT visitors and members—even if they hesitate to go further than that.

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Why Are Religious Survey Results So Confusing?

A crowd recites the Pledge of Allegiance at a Kerry campaign rally in 2004. Photo via American Spirit via Shutterstock/RNS.

Reading religion surveys can seem like confronting the Tower of Babel: stacked questions, confusing terms, unscientific methodology.

It gets even crazier when results are contradictory. How does that happen?

Some surveys lean like the Tower of Pisa

The Pledge of Allegiance is a perfect example.

There’s almost always a flap over how many Americans do — or don’t — want the words “under God” kicked out of the Pledge of Allegiance. Indeed, on Nov. 19 a court in Monmouth, N.J., will hear the case of the American Humanist Association battling the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District to have schools edit out mention of God.

The humanists claim 34 percent of Americans agree with their view. But, wait. What about a survey conducted earlier this year by LifeWay Research, a Christian research agency? It found that only 8 percent would cut God from the Pledge.

Why four times the difference? Look to the poll language.

LifeWay asked: “Should the words ‘under God’ be removed from or remain in the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America?” That’s a straight-up question with no preface.

The humanists’ survey, however, began with a bit of pointed Pledge history — before getting to the (loaded) question:

“For its first 62 years, the Pledge of Allegiance did not include the phrase ‘under God.’ During the Cold War, in 1954, the phrase ‘one nation, indivisible … ‘ was changed to read ‘one nation, under God, indivisible … ‘. Some people feel this phrase in our national pledge should focus on unity rather than religion.

The Self-Destruction of Mark Driscoll

OUTSIDE OF BUSINESS circles, accountability is rarely a popular conversation topic. Its implications of deference to authority and limitations on personal freedom are at odds with Western cultural trends. But the controversies that have dogged evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll demonstrate the need for Christians and churches to think more seriously about how authority is understood, exercised, and appropriately checked.

Driscoll, a best-selling author and pastor of Mars Hill Church in Washington state, is known for preaching a “muscular” brand of Christianity and a personal arrogance that fits the part. His views and provocative statements on gender roles, homosexuality, and a variety of other topics have repeatedly sparked debate within evangelicalism, but recent revelations that he pseudonymously posted offensive comments on an online church message board have justifiably brought condemnation from many.

Yet Driscoll’s theology is not the only thing landing him in hot water. A group of more than 20 former Mars Hill pastors have filed a formal grievance with the church based on Driscoll’s leadership style and actions that have been labeled intimidating, controlling, and abusive. Revelations that church funds were spent to buy copies of his book in the hopes of making it a New York Times bestseller and allegations of plagiarism resulted in a formal apology and his publisher pulling books from store shelves. This fall, Driscoll took a multiple-week leave of absence and sought counseling while the church reviewed the complaints against him.

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Evangelicals Add One More Guest to the Wedding Party: Jesus

Brianna and Chris Lindsay added foot washing to the ceremony. Photo via Perfectly Paired Photography/RNS.

When Brianna and Chris Lindsay married in June, they had the church, the minister, the bridesmaids … and a foot-washing ceremony for the bride and groom.

It was, they said, a sign of their mutual submission.

“First he took off both of my shoes and we had a water basin and pitcher,” said the bride, recalling the five-minute ceremony during which a friend read a poem about the couple. “In return, I got down in my dress, took off his socks. … It probably was a little awkward for us — maybe a little — but we felt like it was an important message to show people.”

In an age of big-ticket destination weddings and reality show “bridezillas,” some evangelical Christians are opting for what writer Catherine Strode Parks calls “A Christ-Centered Wedding.”

Her new book details ways brides and grooms can fill their wedding with biblical touches to reinforce for friends and family the centrality of their faith.

“If we really believe that marriage is important, that it matters and that God infused it with so much meaning, then we want to share that joy with those who are present and invite them into that celebration and that worship,” said Parks, who co-wrote the book with her mother, Linda Strode.

Religion Loses Clout: Why Many Say That’s a Bad Thing

Wedding-related businesses graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center/RNS.

More Americans today say religion’s influence is losing ground just when they want it to play a stronger role in public life and politics.

A new Pew Research Center survey finds 72 percent of Americans say religion’s influence is declining in society — the highest percentage since Pew began measuring the trend in 2001, when only 52 percent held that view.

“Most people (overwhelmingly Christians) view this as a bad thing,” said Greg Smith, associate director of Pew’s Religion & Public Life Project. “That unhappiness may be behind their desire for more religion and politics.”

Growing numbers want their politicians to pray in public and for their clergy to endorse candidates from the pulpit. And nearly half of Americans say business owners with religious objections to gay marriage should to be able to refuse wedding-related services to same-sex couples.

There are three ways to look at the findings, released Sept. 22:

 

How I Kissed Evangelizing Goodbye

Robsonphoto/ Shutterstock.com
Robsonphoto/ Shutterstock.com

I went to the mecca of evangelicalism for college — beautiful campus in the suburbs of Chicago, where I received a scholarship from none other than the Pope of Evangelicalism, Billy Graham, for my work in street evangelism. As in, speaking to random strangers on the street in order to convert them to Christianity. Post graduation, I became a missionary, the Protestant equivalent of achieving sainthood.

I look back on that girl on fire and marvel at her earnest faith. If I could, I would reach back and massage the tense knots out of her high-strung shoulders, weary from carrying the weight of her neighbors’ eternal destinies. I would wistfully explain to her that the first person she tried to witness to, that gentle, drunken, homeless woman named Kathy, needed more than my rehearsed Roman Road to salvation. Then I would break the Temporal Prime Directive and reveal to her that one day she would become more interested in being evangelized than evangelizing.

The truth is, I’m just better at being evangelized. It’s probably how I was so easily converted at the tender age of 12. The young Christian is expected to learn how to share their testimony: their story of how God changes your life. By the time I was in my twenties, I had given my testimony a bajillion times.

But my own story often bored me.

Pope Francis Apologizes for Persecution of Pentecostals

Pope Francis talks with Giovanni Traettino on July 28, 2014. CNS photo/ L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters.

Pope Francis sought forgiveness for decades of persecution of Italian Pentecostals when he met with around 300 evangelicals from the U.S., Argentina, and Italy in the southern town of Caserta on Monday.

The pope made his second visit in as many days to the Mafia stronghold near Naples, this time to meet evangelical pastor Giovanni Traettino, whom he befriended while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.

During the visit, Francis apologized for the persecution suffered by Pentecostals under Italy’s fascist regime in the 1920s and 1930s and urged Christians to celebrate their diversity and unity.

“Catholics were among those who persecuted and denounced the Pentecostals, almost as if they were crazy,” Francis said.

“I am the shepherd of the Catholics and I ask you to forgive my Catholic brothers and sisters who did not understand and were tempted by the devil.”

Since his election last year, the pope has been reaching out to other faiths and has held talks with Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim leaders. On Monday, he went even further by apologizing for what Catholics had done.

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