From the Catalyst Conference for evangelical Christian leaders in Atlanta, Sojourners' Director of Mobilizing, Lisa Sharon Harper, gives her answer to, "What is an Evangelical?"
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to begin hearing oral arguments this week in one of the most important church-state cases in decades. In Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the court will consider whether a Lutheran school in Michigan is subject to a federal law banning discrimination based on a disability.
The puzzle here is not that readers of the Bible would tilt toward the political left. That, for me, as well as for thousands of other American evangelicals, is self-evident. Jesus, after all, summoned his followers to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, to welcome the stranger and to care for “the least of these.” He also expressed concern for the tiniest sparrow, a sentiment that should find some resonance in our environmental policies.
No, the real conundrum lies in the subtitle the editors of Christianity Today assigned to Franzen’s article, which was titled, “A Left-Leaning Text.” Adjacent to a picture of a Bible tilted about 45 degrees to the left, the editors added the subtitle: “Survey Surprise: Frequent Bible reading can turn you liberal (in some ways).”
The fact that anyone should register surprise that the Bible points toward the left should be the biggest surprise of all.
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?
Here we go again. Presidential elections are coming and the role of "the evangelicals" is predictably becoming a hot political story.
Ironically, voices on both the right and the left want to describe most or all evangelicals as zealous members of the ultra-conservative political base.
Why? Perhaps because some conservative Republicans want to claim a religious legitimacy and constituency for their ideological agenda, and some liberal writers seem hell-bent on portraying religious people as intellectually-flawed right-wing crazies with dangerous plans for the country.
Let me try to be clear as someone who is part of a faith community that is, once again, being misrepresented, manipulated, and maligned. Most people believe me to be a progressive political voice in America. And I am an evangelical Christian.
I believe in one God, the centrality and Lordship of God's son Jesus Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, the authority of the scriptures, the saving death of the crucified Christ and his bodily resurrection -- not as a metaphor but a historical event. Yep, the whole nine yards.
Not every Christian who shares my concern for the poor has the same view on policy or politics. But, here is a prejudice I am not going to back away from.
To be a follower of Christ is to be biased for the poor.
In life, we all have our biases. Some of them are natural tendencies or inclinations and others are habituated. Our culture tells us to be biased -- in a deferential sense -- towards those who can pay us back or who can look out for us in return. Society tells us to get in with the strong and the powerful because they will give us strength and power in return.
Jesus teaches something very different.
And I'll be your new tour guide here at God's Politics.
Some of you may know me by my more official byline, Cathleen Falsani. I've been a contributing editor and columnist for Sojourners Magazine for several years now, writing a column every other month called "Godstuff" and also have contributed from time to time to this'a'here blog.
Most of my friends knew evangelicalism only through the big, bellicose voices of TV preachers and religio-political activists such as Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. Not surprisingly, my friends hadn't experienced an evangelicalism that sounded particularly loving, accepting or open-minded.
After eschewing the descriptor because I hadn't wanted to be associated with a faith tradition known more for harsh judgmentalism and fearmongering than the revolutionary love and freedom that Jesus taught, I began publicly referring to myself again as an evangelical. By speaking up, I hoped I might help reclaim "evangelical" for what it is supposed to mean.
For every American student, September starts a new year. September was a time to put away the suntan lotion and refocus on studies -- on more serious pursuits. Gone were the carefree days of summer, and in came the weather that lives perfectly in my memory -- those almost orange leaves, crisp blue skies, and the faint smell of autumn in upstate New York.
I remember it like this 10 years ago. Fourteen and gearing up for a Varsity volleyball season, I had it all. I had only one worry -- that my dad would forget to pick me up from practice, which he never did.
My class had just finished homeroom -- it was my friend's 15th birthday. I don't remember singing, but I'm sure we did. I moved into my world history class, I think we were on the Greeks. And then, it changed. My choir teacher rushed in and frantically told us to turn on the television. We saw the hallways fill with teachers.
I woke up on the morning of September 11, 2001 both nervous and excited. I had spent the last two months slowly proceeding through the application and interview process for an entry-level editorial position at Christianity Today to work with their Christian History and Christian Reader magazines. I'd had multiple interviews and had to write a few research heavy articles along the way. For someone with degrees in English and History and a graduate degree in Missions, it seemed like the perfect job. My final evaluation involved joining the staff at an all day off-campus retreat, where they would be evaluating potential articles for magazines. I was a bit nervous, but an insider in the company had told me the job was mine, so the excitement of finally landing my first real job after school prevailed.
So on the morning of September 11, I arrived at the country club where the retreat was being held and situated myself at the conference table in a room with a panoramic view of the far west Chicago suburbs.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was at home in Washington, D.C. getting ready to go to Sojourners' office. I was upstairs listening to the news on NPR when I heard the first confusing report of a plane crashing into the south tower of the World Trade Center. I immediately called downstairs to Joy and asked her to turn on the television to see what was going on. Moments later, as we ate breakfast together with our three-year-old son Luke, we watched the second plane strike the north tower. I still remember my first response to Joy, "This is going to be bad, very bad," I said.
Of course, I meant more than just the damage to the Twin Towers and the lives lost, which became far greater than any of us imagined at first. Rather, my first and deepest concern was what something like this could do to our country and our nation's soul. I was afraid of how America would respond to a terrorist attack of this scope.
Did anyone else get the feeling, as we watched weather reporters wave their arms frantically in swirling motions across oversized maps of the eastern seaboard -- with their eyes bulging as they pushed out whole paragraphs without a single breath for a period -- that this was all hype?
Last weekend, as Irene passed over town after town in the mid-Atlantic, memories of Katrina did not materialize. By the time Irene huffed over New York City on Sunday morning, and the flood of the century was actually just a really big puddle in Battery Park and a floating lifeguard stand in Long Beach, my fear had transformed into complacency. From there I became cynical. By Sunday afternoon I found myself watching the weatherman's bulging eyes as he repeated the mantra of the day: "It's not as bad as we thought it would be, but it's not over." And I thought: "Boy, they'll do anything for ratings."
But it wasn't all hype.
The evangelical world expands to a far-off horizon and the topographical valleys and peaks cover landscapes that are both long and wide. Many in the media seem to have little knowledge of how large of a space the evangelical map covers. So, with this said, I welcomed Ross Douthat's thoughts in Monday's New York Times. His column, "American Theocracy Revisited," places good markers on the fears that Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann's presidential runs are nothing more than an attempt at theocracy.
In much of the coverage of these two campaigns, the evangelical world gets flatten, stereotyped, and portrayed as only coming from one narrow point. Whether or not you agree with this view, the fact remains that any group that includes Miroslav Wolf, Jim Wallis, RC Sproul, Rick Warren, Joyce Meyers, Philip Yancy, Chuck Missler, Rob Bell, Albert Mohler Jr, TD Jakes, Amy Grant, Tony Campolo, Lucy Swindoll, Debrah Joy Winans, and so many more hues and colors of evangelicalism should not be placed in one bag and shaken into one lumpy mess, while saying that any one of their diverse views politically are the one true color. I know many will view this list and say who should or should not belong, and then justify their choices. A coherent political agenda could not be drawn from such a list of people. But following Jesus and making Jesus known in the world is at the core of each of these people's identity. Many on the list may disagree as to the best way to provide for the widows and orphans, but all would agree that we must care for them.