The Wrong Perception (Jerry Jenkins)

posted by behrman

I find it depressing, though I suppose inevitable, that Evangelicals are all painted with the same brush. I hope we are not guilty of the same generalized thinking as we engage the culture. Yes, we extend across a wide philosophical spectrum from the Jim Wallises and Tony Campolos to the James Dobsons and Gary Bauers, but where we land on the political landscape should not be how we are judged.
The New Testament makes clear that we should be known for our love for one another. It seems to me that the more political we get, the less loving we appear.

As long as we’re using left and right terminology, do those of you on the left face these same issues within your camp? Do you squabble with each other over tone and direction and ultimate goals? Do you feel demonized and generalized when one or two on your fringe makes some ludicrous pronouncement, and do you wish to separate yourself from them and show the world that while you may hold some opposite views, you are well-intentioned, sane, and thoughtful?
Because of my writing and my belief in Christ and my reverence for Scripture, I have been lumped with extremist fundamentalists of other faiths whose convictions lead them to what they believe is justified violence against their enemies. Nowhere does Jesus advocate that for His people. As I’ve said, we are to love our enemies and do good to those who despitefully use us. We have a message (the definition of Evangelical is truth teller or news spreader), and we’re not so naïve to think it is not offensive or even divisive in a pluralistic society.
Maybe I shouldn’t care what opponents think about us, but I feel compelled to say, judge us by those who most closely follow the teachings of Jesus to feed the poor, clothe the naked, rescue the dying. We may be pro-life and express it in ways that make it appear we don’t care about women and their freedom and their bodies (though we believe we are standing for the very right to life of unborn women too). We may believe Jesus said He was the only way to God and — most regrettably — express this is ways that seem condescending or triumphal, when we should simply be presenting something about which we think others should come to their own conclusions.
So, disagree, scoff, reject if you must, but don’t assume all Evangelicals closed-minded and spiteful. I’ve often said that if I had a neighbor who truly believed that the only way to heaven was by wearing a purple necklace, I might find this humorous or even repugnant, but I would be offended if he didn’t at least tell me. Not telling me for fear of my negative response would prove he doesn’t really care about me.

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Jim T

posted October 28, 2007 at 5:57 pm

We have a message (the definition of Evangelical is truth teller or news spreader), and we’re not so naïve to think it is not offensive or even divisive in a pluralistic society.
It is also important that you not be so arrogant as to assume that your message encompasses the whole truth, that there is nothing more to learn, or that you as a mere mortal can fully grasp the infinite. A little humility (“this is the truth as best as we understand it”) would help build bridges instead of walls.

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posted October 28, 2007 at 8:11 pm

“…judge us by those who most closely follow the teachings of Jesus to feed the poor, clothe the naked, rescue the dying…”
That’s precisely what leftists already judge evangelicals on. Liberation theology, communism, progressive-liberalism, engaged buddhism, anarchism, and humanism are all such judgments of christianity’s astounding failure to feed the poor, clothe the naked, and rescue the dying.
Addressed sparsely in most of this discussion (but hinted at with Jeff Sharlet’s reference to the free-market and references to evangelicalism’s opposition to FDR, etc.) is the particularly american-branded embrace (and advocation) of the free-market, capitalism-as-christian politics which directly oppose any political intervention in the lives of the poor that addresses the hierarchy of economic power.
Perhaps i’m one of those people on the fringe who make ludicrous pronouncements to which Jenkins is referring, but Jeff’s earlier point concerning the humble denial of power needs some attention: political power also has real effects upon the economic lives of the people under its influence.
If evangelicals/christians want to be judged according to Jenkin’s insistence, then let’s rumble, mate. But i think you’re being dishonest about this, and about the powerful marriage between corporate/capitalist greed and american evangelicalism, about the contortionist trick of pastors and religious leaders supporting political goals that maintain unbalance poverty and misery not just in america but in the rest of the world.

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Dallas Jenkins

posted October 29, 2007 at 2:56 pm

Any argument can be won by simply saying, “I don’t believe you,” or “I think you’re being dishonest.” Fine, case closed. Jerry (my Dad) is lying. You win.
But maybe, just maybe, we Christians tend to be conservative politically because we believe that the free market and capitalism actually help poor people more than hurt them. And that maybe, just maybe, we want to be able to choose how we help the poor with our money, as opposed to handing it over to the most economically inefficient institution in America, the government. And that maybe the stats were true in the 80’s, that charitable donations went up when taxes went down. And that the stats are true that evangelicals out-give non-evangelicals, even when accounting for inter-church giving, across the board, and it’s not even close. And that it’s true that my non-Christian friend doesn’t give money to any secular children’s orphan charities overseas because the only ones she can find are Christian-based.
That’s because political intervention nearly always ensures that the “hierarchy of economic power” stays exactly where it is. I’m active in a church in the urban poor area in Venice, California, and my work there has convinced me more than ever of the destructive and debilitating pyschological and economic effects of government controlled housing, welfare, public education with no choice…the list goes on and on. It’s no coincidence that California/Los Angeles is the most socialist and government-intervened area in the country…and also the most economically screwed.

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posted October 29, 2007 at 4:16 pm

“I find it depressing, though I suppose inevitable, that Evangelicals are all painted with the same brush. I hope we are not guilty of the same generalized thinking as we engage the culture.”
With the use of terms “leftist”, “liberal”, and “ungodly” flowing so easily from the mouths of so many evangelicals, I fear that the broad brush is used far more often by folks in your camp that folks in mine.

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posted October 29, 2007 at 4:21 pm

Dallas posts: “And that maybe, just maybe, we want to be able to choose how we help the poor with our money, as opposed to handing it over to the most economically inefficient institution in America, the government.”
Dallas, what is stopping the evangelical churches in this country from eliminating the need for government welfare in their communities? Here in my hometown we have over 70 churches that self-identify as evangelical. Many of these churches have memberships in the hundred, a few approaching 1000. We even have a few mega-churches that have been built recently.
Yet, when we try to fill the calendar at the local Salvation Army kitchen for Sunday Evening meals, it is always the mainline Protestant churches that provide the food and people to serve the hungry who come for a simple meal on the Lord’s Day evening. When the larger evangelical churches are approached about it, it’s always, “we’ll get back to you on that” and they never do.
Even my Unitarian-Universalist church, with a membership in the 50s, takes three weekends a year (Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Sunday, and the Sunday closest to Christmas) because these weekends are hardest to fill. Why is that?
Why is it so hard for evangelical Christians to help the poor in their own communities? What is stopping them, Dallas?

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Dallas Jenkins

posted October 29, 2007 at 9:51 pm

Well, there’s never a “need for government welfare,” except in a few cases as a TEMPORARY safety net. Government welfare hurts the poor, and unemployment has gone down since welfare was reformed in the 90’s. The “need” for the poor is for more businesses and a successful economic structure that creates jobs. What’s better for a poor person? A meal on Christmas, or a job and good education? And who does the hiring in this country? Wealthy or middle class people owning businesses that are encouraged to innovate, grow, and prosper.
Now when you’re talking about the extreme poor (the homeless who go to the Salvation Army for meals), there are obviously a lot more nuanced issues that go into those situations, and solutions aren’t easy. I do know that any homeless person in America can find a Christian shelter or charity and get help if desired; could evangelicals be more aggressive in “taking it to the streets,” rounding up some of the extreme poor and figuring out a way to solve this nationwide issue? Perhaps.
I don’t know about some of the larger evangelical churches you’re describing. Some of them probably have their own programs. It’s Christians who started the Salvation Army, it’s Christians who fund and operate 99% of the private homeless and jobless shelters and charities in our country, and it’s Christians who are doing more charitiable giving than any other people group. These large churches (including the mega-church I attended in Louisville) have dozens of programs for single mothers, the jobless, those struggling with addictions, etc. I can’t think of a single problem a poor person has that couldn’t be addressed seriously at a program at the mega-church I attended. So maybe those churches were focusing their resources there instead of an outside program’s Christmas meal, I don’t know.
We’re not going to come to political agreements in a short blog like this. My primary interest is in dispelling the notion that the Republican perspective is less compassionate or considerate of the needs of the “least of these.” It seems like the main point being made here is that Christians are contradictory because they claim the teachings of Jesus while not believing in more governmental intervention for the needy. I’m offering the possibility that maybe it’s because we believe that private works better than public when it comes to truly being effective. The evidence backs it up. Private social programs work so much better than public social programs it’s not even close, and the vast majority of private social programs for the needy are Christian. So why is there a “need for more?” Maybe it’s because non-Christians aren’t doing enough.

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Dallas Jenkins

posted October 29, 2007 at 10:09 pm

The last paragraph of my first post was a response to the following statement (for some reaoson it didn’t show up in my post):
“american-branded embrace (and advocation) of the free-market, capitalism-as-christian politics which directly oppose any political intervention in the lives of the poor that addresses the hierarchy of economic power.”

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posted October 29, 2007 at 10:52 pm

Dallas Jenkins seems a little too ready to equate non-evangelical attempts to address poverty as “government intervention.” A re-reading of my earlier post would elucidate his error. Communism/socialism is only one way of addressing that problem (notice my inclusion of anarchism, engaged buddhism, humanism) in my list of responses.
However, it does seem a uniquely american-evangelical mistake, though having sat through sermon after sermon on god’s unique blessing of america in the mega-church i grew up in (Oliver North was a guest speaker, as were Charles Colson and James Dobson during our fourth-of-july worship services), i will not pretend that jenkins’ et. al.’s equation with american free-market policies and god’s plan is merely co-incidental.
You have money. Mega-churches have lots of money (the weekly budget for my ex-church was 40,000 dollars in 1995, the last time i attended), and they rely heavily on the wealth-accumulation of members in order to run those “charitable programs.” of course there will be no criticism of an economic climate that allows such generous contributions, particularly with pastors of such churches making in excess of 100,000 dollars/year (the salary of Hayes Wicker, First Baptist Naples in 1995, for example).
We approach things differently, of course. I, having never made more than 15,000 dollars a year in my 16 years of working (and half of those years less than 8000 dollars), probably am not living in god’s blessing, and maybe i suffer from the envy so common among those who have lived on the street (i have slept in bushes in city parks). Certainly i am not privy to the great calculations of largesse plaguing christian charities and churches, nor the comfort of knowing how best to use all that money, resting easy in the belief that christian=free-market principles are right for the world.
And fortunately for evangelicals, because of my low income, i have no power to change this. Rest easy, christian soldiers. those who notice that the hand which feeds them is connected to the hand that holds the reins of power are too hungry, under-clothed, or in prison to put up any real fight.

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posted October 30, 2007 at 1:03 am

“What’s better for a poor person? A meal on Christmas, or a job and good education?”
Which better fulfills the mission Jesus gave the church? A sanctuary that holds 2000 or working with Habitat for Humanity to build affordable homes for folks wanting to escape government-run housing complexes?
As the original questioner asked…what is stopping churches today from stepping up to the plate and, instead of building bigger barns, sharing the harvest with those in need in their community? Surely with the number of people who claim Christ in this nation, and with the ever growing number of churches, such a large movement could eliminate much of the poverty we have in this nation today.
Why isn’t it happening? Why hasn’t it happened? What is holding the church back?

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posted April 20, 2008 at 9:39 am

Mr, Jenkins does not want to be lumped in with Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and others like that (including the neocons who took over the Bush white house) who proclaim, in the vernacular, “my way or the highway [to hell].” He also asks if Democrats ever have factions, or feel embarrased by sonmeone who makes a bonehead statement. The simple answer, from a lifelong Democrat is, of course! Because we are people, we will disagree and say dumb things.
The difference between Democrats and right-wing Republicans is, Democrats do not usually throw God in to the mix. We do not say somthing like: “My position is right, because God says so, and therefore all who oppose my position are not only wrong, but anti-God and hellbound sinners.” As long as the Republican party endorses this sort of thing, there will be people who lump all conservatives into the same barrel.
Maybe, if Mr. Jenkins is tired of the scorn heaped on Republicans, he should work to bring them back to the party of Barry Goldwater, not the party of Ronald Reagan. Goldwater was conservative, and stridently so, but he NEVER resorted to using religion to base his politics. He would tell Democrats they were wrong, and they would tell him he was wrong, but nobody then said “you are a hellbound sinning anti-American traitor for believing what you believe.” That sort of thing came in with Reagan, and has poisoned Republicanism ever since.

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