Posts tagged with: evangelicals

There’s lots to digest and consider in a new Barna report on poverty:

A new national survey by The Barna Group regarding people’s perspectives on poverty shows that Americans are quite concerned about what they perceive to be a significant and growing challenge facing the nation. The survey also showed that most people are actively involved in trying to alleviate poverty, although they typically believe it is primarily the government’s job to do so. The religious faith of adults appears to have a limited influence on how people perceive and respond to poverty.

One of the sentences in that introductory paragraph that jumps out at me, of course, is the sense that most people “typically believe it is primarily the government’s job” to combat poverty.

But then I ran across this paragraph, which is rather more inspiring:

Worthy of note is the divergent perspective of evangelicals. They were among the groups least likely to see poverty as a job for the government (55%) and were the group most likely to see it as a matter for churches to address (14%). The only other group that was similar was Christian Revolutionaries – the people who indicate that their highest priority in life is living for God and who possess a worldview that is based on biblical principles. Barely half of the Revolutionaries (52%) assigned poverty primarily to government agencies, while 11% said it was predominantly a church responsibility.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say when I’ve given this report a closer read. Feel free to weigh in as well.

A new initiative pioneered by Sojourners/Call to Renewal is called “Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” Included in the platform are “calls for bills that would push for border enforcement while improving guest worker programs and offering chances for illegal immigrants to obtain legal status,” according to the NYT.

The NYT piece points out the potential for this to be a unifying issue for evangelicals, even though few if any prominent politically conservative evangelicals are overtly associated with Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. “The concerns of the coalition mirror those of many evangelical leaders who have often staked out conservative positions on other social issues or who have avoided politics entirely,” writes Neela Banerjee as she points to the cases of Dr. Richard Land of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Rev. Joel Osteen.

The signatories to the group’s open letter include the executive director of my denomination, Rev. Jerry Dykstra of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Some of the language in the letter is a bit mealy-mouthed, as might be expected, but I think the statement does capture the spirit of some of the most relevant scriptural principles.

Perhaps the section that some conservatives will find most problematic is the fourth principle: “We believe in the rule of law, but we also believe that we are to oppose unjust laws and systems that harm and oppress people made in God’s image, especially the vulnerable (Isaiah 10:1-4, Jeremiah 7:1-7, Acts 5:29, Romans 13:1-7).”

Many argue that the rule of law regarding illegal immigration needs to be reinforced and respected first, before any of the proposed guest worker or amnesty programs can be effective, no ifs, ands, or buts. And it might also be debatable precisely how a shared “set of common moral and theological principles” ought to be translated into public policy. This raises the question of what is the intent or purpose of law.

The letter says that immigration reform must be “fair and compassionate.” Is the end of the law justice? Love? Mercy? Peace? All of the above? I’ve been trained to understand the normative principle for social ethics, and the behavior of supra-personal entities or institutions, to be justice, as distinguished from (although not opposed to) love. It seems to me that Christians working out of a shared and common sense of obligation to love our neighbors can have legitimate and valid disagreements over precisely these sorts of questions.

With all that said, I think the letter gets it mostly right, at least on this point:

“The current U.S. immigration system is broken and now is the time for a fair and compassionate solution. We think it is entirely possible to protect our borders while establishing a viable, humane, and realistic immigration system, one that is consistent with our American values and increases national security while protecting the livelihood of Americans.”

Every single day courageous and faithful Christians in Zimbabwe are suffering and dying through their resistance of the brutal reign of president Robert Mugabe. You would never know this is true from the lack of interest or response of conservative Christians in America. Of all the causes that are taken up by the Christian Right I have not heard a single voice lifted on behalf of the church in Zimbabwe and their struggle to resist the reign of terror led by President Mugabe.

In January, eight high-profile Christian leaders were arrested by security forces as they, and hundreds of supporters, opened a new office of the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance, an international agency that promotes non-violent resistance to Mugabe’s rule. But Mugabe’s government continues to crack down on this resistance as the nation faces total economic and social collapse. Zimbabweans struggle to survive with an inflationary rate of 1,700% as well as widespread unemployment and profound poverty. More than 3/4ths of the people live in poverty, unemployment is at 80%, and hordes of people are escaping to South Africa as refugees. Mugabe has led the nation since 1980 and every call for political and social reform has been met with more force and resistance. Other African leaders are complicit in allowing this to happen, including the president of neighboring South Africa.

Thankfully, the Lutheran World Federation has called on the international community to respond. And the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, with 75 million members in 216 countries, has also urged action by a pan-African Union to act to end this oppression. I support the actions of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches as a Reformed Christian.

While the Christian Right struggles to "rescue" America it almost universally ignores the plight of the poor and oppressed around the world, as well as in our own country. Evangelicals are rarely heard from when issues like Mugabe and Zimbabwe rise to international attention. Why? Could it be that what I have called our "America-centric" mindset is in fact a form of worldliness? Could it be that we simply don’t care about profoundly Christian concerns beyond our own land unless they represent efforts to win individual souls to Christ through our flawed approaches to mission?

Look, I believe the free-market is needed to help Africa lift itself up economically and to experience and practice real freedom. But the free-market will not work when the leadership is corrupt and the economy is a disaster because of oppressive governments. The problem is simple–most of the world doesn’t care enough to do anything about Zimbabwe. While we fight a war in Iraq, ostensibly to build freedom and to protect our own national interests and what we believe to be peace in the Middle East, we treat places like Zimbabwe as unimportant at the very best. To my mind, something is very wrong with this picture. Evangelicals need to join their Catholic and mainline Lutheran and Reformed brothers and sisters in resisting Mugabe and fighting for true reform in Zimbabwe. If we will not defend the helpless and the weakest then our witness will be blunted and our prophetic edge, if we still have one left, will be lost entirely.

Pray for Zimbabwean Christians. Better yet, do something about Zimbabwe if you have an opportunity. Your brothers and sisters need you to truly love them. Talking about politics is easy, doing something that saves lives and cultures is what really matters. Consider James 2:12-26. I don’t hear much serious preaching on James in our conservative churches. I fear that I know why. We are American Christians first, and kingdom Christians second, if at all. We love the message of faith, but we shun works of mercy and compassion when it costs us something. Something is very wrong with this picture.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, March 22, 2007

Non-evangelicals and progressive Christians continue to throw their support Rev. Richard Cizik’s way. Now the Institute for Progressive Christianity has released a statement commending “the courage and Christian concern displayed by Rev. Rick Cizik and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) for recommending preventive action on the issue of global warming.”

Given the care that Cizik has ostensibly taken to distance himself from radical environmentalists, both of the secular and religious variety, and the care with which he has attempted to connect creation care with other evangelical political issues like abortion, I wonder just how welcome these expressions of solidarity really are.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine recent events surrounding the conflict amongst evangelicals over global warming political activism. In “Evangelical Environmentalism’s Moral Imperative,” I compare the shape of the argument to the debate over the last decade on the topic of poverty.

In the same way that conservatives were accused of not caring for the poor because they opposed an expansive welfare state, critics of climate change politics are being portrayed as not caring for the environment. To the extent that conservative critiques have not made it a point to sharply distinguish between global warming and the broader moral mandate to steward the earth, they deserve blame for this state of affairs.

This fault is exemplified well in the recent letter from James Dobson and others to the National Association of Evangelicals questioning the activities of Rev. Richard Cizik, who is actively promoting federal policy on climate change. The Dobson letter (PDF) challenges global warming but only notes pro-life issues, marriage, and sexuality as “the great moral issues of our time.” While the letter doesn’t explicitly exclude stewardship of the environment as a “great moral issue,” its omission from this list can easily give the impression that the letter’s signatories don’t find environmental stewardship to be a compelling moral imperative.

But it also falls to the responsibility of evangelicals who favor government action to combat climate change to acknowledge “the commitment of their opponents to ‘care’ of the creation, even amidst the sometimes pointed disagreements over the means and institutions responsible for that care.”

Read the entire commentary here.

I also recommend Andy Crouch’s recent review in Books & Culture of Roger Gottlieb’s A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet’s Future, in which Crouch writes that Gottlieb’s book “could not be more calculated to inflame the suspicions of the politically and theologically conservative.” Crouch also outlines some of the recent activities and perspectives of groups like the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

Update: Bob Francis of Sojourners/Call to Renewal, reacting to reader comments, acknowledges that “whether the issue is poverty or the environment, well-meaning Christians differ on solutions.”

Kathryn Joyce at The Revealer writes about “the real point of contention between Dobson, Bauer and Perkins on the one hand, and Cizik, on the other. Not so much that Cizik is drawing energy and outrage to global warming and away from gay marriage and abortion, but that, in the mind of many conservative Christians, choosing between pro-life or environmental activism must be a zero-sum game.”

Speaking of a “red-letter hermeneutic,” for which I criticize Vince Isner of the National Council of Churches, Tony Campolo says that the new group of evangelical activists, who “transcend” partisan politics, has decided to go by the name of “Red-Letter Christians.”

“By calling ourselves Red-Letter Christians, we are alluding to the fact that in several versions of the Bible, the words of Jesus are printed in red. In adopting this name we are saying that we are committed to living out the things that He said,” writes Campolo.

They chose that name because “progressive evangelicals” might be construed in such a way as to be seen as “a value judgment of those who do not join us.” If it’s one thing these “red-letter Christians” don’t want to be seen as, it’s judgmental. After all, “Do not judge” appears in red letters in the Bible.

Of course, this doesn’t really mean that the agenda of the “red-letter Christians” is not progressive. Thus, Campolo speaks of the “progressive social agenda we espouse.”

Who’s the “we”? Just mainstream evangelical types like, “Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine; Richard Rohr, a well-known Catholic writer and speaker; Brian McLaren, a leader of the Emergent Church movement; the Rev. Dr. Cheryl J. Sanders, a prominent African-American pastor; the Rev. Noel Castellanos, a strong voice in the Hispanic community, and several other outstanding Christian communicators.”

I suppose that Vince Isner of the National Council of Church’s outreach thinks that expressing his support for embattled Rev. Richard Cizik of the NAE will help show that Cizik is really part of the evangelical mainstream, and not only on issues related to stewardship of the earth.

That said, it might better serve Isner’s purpose if in the course of doing so he didn’t blatantly insult traditional Christian belief. Here’s a key paragraph from Isner’s bit, referring to Jerry Falwell:

So let me get this straight: Satan is real and global warming is the myth. What was I thinking? And Jerry – thanks for straightening me out what mattered most to Jesus – I had no idea it was abortion or gay marriage, I guess because he never mentioned it.

From the first part, I guess we are meant to think that it is self-evident that Satan isn’t real and global warming is.

And on the hot-button political issues of today, Isner takes the typical progressive Christian tack, arguing from the silence of Jesus for the foundation for a basic assumption of permissibility. Jesus didn’t say much about nuclear weapons either, but to point that out would just be anachronistic.

I’ll also refrain from saying more about the problematic elements of a hermeneutic that would extract the explicit (red letter!) words of Jesus as the canon within the canon. But what makes Isner’s use of such interpretation so confusing is that it’s simply inconsistent…after all, Jesus does more than just “mention” Satan, right?

So is Isner’s rhetorical strategy successful? According to Barna (2006), the following is how evangelical Christians self-identify. Decide for yourself whether it, along with what you know about the evangelical view of scripture, fits well with the points Isner makes:

67% of evangelicals describe themselves as “mostly conservative” when it comes to political and social issues (compared to 30% of adults nationwide), 26% describe themselves as somewhere in between (compared to 50% of adults nationwide), and none call themselves liberal (compared to 11% of adults nationwide).

More on the evangelical “civil war” here. If Cizik ever was looking for a new job, I’m sure the NCC would welcome him with open arms. Whether or not Cizik would reciprocate is the real issue.