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Old 09-19-2011, 01:50 PM   #1
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Op-Ed: The Truth About Evangelicals

Column: The truth about evangelicals – USATODAY.com

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These days, it's hard to turn to liberal websites, public radio or MSNBC without encountering some "investigation" or "exposé" of a splinter, marginal figure, such as David Barton or John Haggee, from the evangelical world — followed by some tenuous if not tortured connect-the-dots link to a presidential or congressional candidate. Most recently, Rachel Tabachnick's Web piece on the New Apostolic Reformation has generated ink and air.

I'm as left wing a Democrat as they come, and I have lived among and reported on evangelicals for nearly 20 years. Let me tell you, this sensational, misleading mishegas has got to stop.

The truth is, the political center of gravity of American evangelicals is in the Sun Belt suburbs, not in rural Iowa, much less Wasilla, Alaska. Think Central Florida's vaunted 'I-4 Corridor,' critical to carrying this swing state, where the last GOP presidential debate was held in Tampa and the next one will take place this week here in Orlando. These evangelicals are, by and large, middle-class, college-educated and corporate or entrepreneurial.

Yes, they tend to vote Republican and oppose gay marriage — although there is a growing generation gap on these issues among younger evangelicals, according to recent Pew Center studies.

"We evangelicals cringe like everyone else at the prominence given to marginal groups labeled with our name," says the Rev. Joel Hunter, an influential megachurch pastor in Orlando and an ideological centrist. "We know their numbers are small and their influence is grossly exaggerated, but we are not surprised that the majority of common-sense believers are not given equal attention in a society fascinated by extremes."
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Old 09-19-2011, 02:06 PM   #2
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i'd like some help with terms.

wikipedia describes evangelicals and evangelicalism thusly:


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Evangelicalism is a Protestant Christian movement which began in Great Britain in the 1730s[1] and gained popularity in the United States during the series of Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th century.

Its key commitments are:

* The need for personal conversion (or being "born again");
* A high regard for biblical authority, especially biblical inerrancy;
* An emphasis on teachings that proclaim the saving death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ;[2]
* Actively expressing and sharing the gospel.


how can any of those commitments be seen as "common-sense"?

i mean this seriously.
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Old 09-19-2011, 02:07 PM   #3
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nathan1977, are you trying to start a debate on what evangelical Christians really are like, contrary to popular belief?

Because I read the whole op-ed and its really about Jewish attitudes towards evangelicals.

I don't know, I just feel if you're going to quote an article, you should also show what an article or op-ed is really about. Just IMO.
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Old 09-19-2011, 02:45 PM   #4
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nathan1977, are you trying to start a debate on what evangelical Christians really are like, contrary to popular belief?

Because I read the whole op-ed and its really about Jewish attitudes towards evangelicals.

I don't know, I just feel if you're going to quote an article, you should also show what an article or op-ed is really about. Just IMO.
Just found the article interesting. Expresses what I think a lot of evangelicals think about themselves, and posits the notion that evangelicals may be more nuanced in their personal, ideological, and political convictions than they are given credit for.

While it's true that the author (a Messianic Jew) is reacting to an "Upper West Side" (his words) reaction to strains of Christianity, particularly Zionism, much of what he sums up as a (mis)perception of evangelicalism is common to many critics. Found his observations valuable and wanted to share. Hope that's okay.

@Irvine: I'm not sure that, for an agnostic, faith comes off as all that common-sense, so I'm not sure if we'll ever see eye to eye on the subject. I'm just suggesting that it may be possible for someone to be both a devout believer and a thinking, rational individual, as opposed to a flag-and-gun-waving (and race-baited) Tea Bagger.
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Old 09-19-2011, 02:50 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Irvine511 View Post
i'd like some help with terms.

wikipedia describes evangelicals and evangelicalism thusly:


how can any of those commitments be seen as "common-sense"?

i mean this seriously.

Also, I've met a lot of Christians who constantly confuse evangelism with evangelicalism.
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Old 09-19-2011, 04:23 PM   #6
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@Irvine: I'm not sure that, for an agnostic, faith comes off as all that common-sense, so I'm not sure if we'll ever see eye to eye on the subject. I'm just suggesting that it may be possible for someone to be both a devout believer and a thinking, rational individual, as opposed to a flag-and-gun-waving (and race-baited) Tea Bagger.


but it's not the presence of faith, it's what's being asked for someone to consider themselves an evangelical.

our president is someone of deep faith, but he is far from being an evangelical.

i see the "e" word as being more about the method of practicing one's faith, and not about the depth of that faith. i'd imagine that many of the most zealous are also the most insecure in their faith.
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Old 09-19-2011, 05:49 PM   #7
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but it's not the presence of faith, it's what's being asked for someone to consider themselves an evangelical.
Generally speaking, evangelicals are a pretty self-selecting bunch, and as a whole, evangelicalism is a non-denominational collection of a whole mess of denominations. There are many red-headed stepchildren that unfortunately fall into that category. As a result, the "key commitments" according to Wikipedia are less about a stringent measure than the elements that are common to evangelicalism as a whole.

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i'd imagine that many of the most zealous are also the most insecure in their faith.
I'm not sure how you define zealotry, but that's a pretty far-reaching statement which is probably worth unpacking in another thread.
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Old 09-19-2011, 06:40 PM   #8
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well, whether fair or not, "evangelicals" i understand as a mostly political term.

i am sure the term can be self-applied to many people who wouldn't fall under this political definition, but political strategists from both parties have a fairly clear idea of who "evangelicals" are, where they live, and how they vote.

i agree that's a very simplistic way of understanding people, but that's also politics.

i am sure lived-in reality is different for a great many people. i also know that, for example, while Memphis comes from a very religiously conservative background, his family are not evangelicals. so i at least am aware that it's not just a catch-all term for all politicized Christianity, and i also am aware that it's much more of a Mountain State/Sun Belt thing than it is Southern Baptism or Midwest Lutheranism or Big City Catholicism.

but it seems to me that a politically liberal evangelical is more likely seen as the red-headed stepchild, and not the politically conservative evangelical.




what about you Nathan? are you an evangelical? what does the term mean to you?
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Old 09-19-2011, 07:30 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Irvine511 View Post
well, whether fair or not, "evangelicals" i understand as a mostly political term.
It's become that way; it was not always thus.

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i am sure the term can be self-applied to many people who wouldn't fall under this political definition, but political strategists from both parties have a fairly clear idea of who "evangelicals" are, where they live, and how they vote.
Perhaps, but it's pretty clear from the article I posted that there is a sub-set of the evangelical movement that those strategists focus on. Circles within circles.

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but it seems to me that a politically liberal evangelical is more likely seen as the red-headed stepchild, and not the politically conservative evangelical.
Maybe. I've been in both rooms, and I'm pretty sure the other side is always perceived to be the red-headed one, no matter which side it is.

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what about you Nathan? are you an evangelical? what does the term mean to you?
Until the term became so highly-politicized, I would have called myself evangelical. I sometimes refer to myself as non-denominational, which doesn't usually mean a lot to anyone, but usually refer to myself as a follower of Jesus, which is a much-less loaded term than "Christian" or "Evangelical". (Though I did have a general at Paramount about a month ago, and one executive -- who is both conservative and Christian -- introduced me to the other executive as a Christian, so I guess we're never completely free of perception.)

I resonate with evangelicalism in the sense that I believe that faith should be lived out. I pray before meals, for example, even while out in public. However, I don't pray out of some desire to "evangelize," but simply because it's important for me to remember to be grateful, no matter where I am. This is contrast to modern Episcopalianism, which is a much more private faith, or Lutheranism, which is much more structured and liturgical in its practices, or Presbyterianism, which is rigorously intellectual in its approach. Evangelicalism incorporates aspects of these denominations, but still takes a high view of Scripture, as well as the importance of a personal walk with God, and Jesus' call to be good news in the world. (The unfortunate reality however is that a lot of Evangelicals interpret that call as "be bad news in the world" -- leading to lots of "God hates you" signs which are, generally speaking, both a bad idea and not even true.)
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Old 09-19-2011, 08:50 PM   #10
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It's become that way; it was not always thus.
true, at least in the past 50 years, the marriage of politics and the people know as evangelicals really picked up steam with Reagan in 1980 and likely reached the height of political influence when James Dobson and others were given veto power over Harriet Miers' nomination to SCOTUS. i think the power this subset of self-identified evangelicals has peaked, and while there will always be people who vote how their church tells them to vote (liberal or conservative or whatever), it seems like a lot of the GOTV machinery isn't what it used to be.



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Perhaps, but it's pretty clear from the article I posted that there is a sub-set of the evangelical movement that those strategists focus on. Circles within circles.

certainly Obama agrees with you. i thought he did a fairly adept job (and has done a good job) of being someone who is clearly Christian, but in a non-threatening, non "evangelical" way ... however inaptly that term might apply.


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Maybe. I've been in both rooms, and I'm pretty sure the other side is always perceived to be the red-headed one, no matter which side it is.
it may come down to sheer numbers.



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I resonate with evangelicalism in the sense that I believe that faith should be lived out. I pray before meals, for example, even while out in public. However, I don't pray out of some desire to "evangelize," but simply because it's important for me to remember to be grateful, no matter where I am. This is contrast to modern Episcopalianism, which is a much more private faith, or Lutheranism, which is much more structured and liturgical in its practices, or Presbyterianism, which is rigorously intellectual in its approach. Evangelicalism incorporates aspects of these denominations, but still takes a high view of Scripture, as well as the importance of a personal walk with God, and Jesus' call to be good news in the world. (The unfortunate reality however is that a lot of Evangelicals interpret that call as "be bad news in the world" -- leading to lots of "God hates you" signs which are, generally speaking, both a bad idea and not even true.)

that's for the explanation. this seems very thoughtful and very considered, as well as coherent.

my question then is about the word "evangelize" -- from which we get evangelical. it's clearly a verb, and it's definition involves the word "conversion," both of one's self as well as others.

does this definition apply to you? are there ways in which you evangelize that might be more subtle than the "you're going to hell, i need to save you" stereotypes many of us have been exposed to?
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Old 09-19-2011, 09:42 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by nathan1977 View Post
While it's true that the author (a Messianic Jew) is reacting to an "Upper West Side" (his words) reaction to strains of Christianity, particularly Zionism, much of what he sums up as a (mis)perception of evangelicalism is common to many critics.
Actually, Pinsky belongs to a Reform synagogue in Orlando (I'd never heard of him before, so I skimmed the introduction to A Jew Among the Evangelicals online out of curiosity--I couldn't see a "Messianic Jew" having the moxie to make the "Upper West Side" slam in the pages of USA Today, plus he kind of takes a swipe at "Messianic Jews" toward the end of the article). I do agree though that the tendency towards monolithic perceptions of "evangelicals" as one giant 'redneck' extremist freakshow is considerably more widespread than his framing suggests. I think that's in large part because of something Pinsky touches on but doesn't fully tease out, namely the tendency to reflexively associate evangelicals with the South. (And of course, for their part many Southerners, evangelical and otherwise, harbor equally paranoid assumptions about New Yorkers/Californians/etc...I experienced both ends of this Northeast Jews-vs-Southern Jews thing he refers to growing up, so this is all very familiar to me.)
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Old 09-20-2011, 12:53 AM   #12
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my question then is about the word "evangelize" -- from which we get evangelical. it's clearly a verb, and it's definition involves the word "conversion," both of one's self as well as others.
Actually, this isn't exactly accurate. The word "evangelize," as Wikipedia so helpfully reminds us, has its root in the Greek word "evangelion" and is translated as "gospel", "glad tidings" and "good news." So evangelization actually has historically very little to do with converting anyone, but rather simply spreading good news.

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does this definition apply to you? are there ways in which you evangelize that might be more subtle than the "you're going to hell, i need to save you" stereotypes many of us have been exposed to?
Jesus said that he came to seek and save the lost; elsewhere he says that he's not come for the healthy, but for the sick. I think a lot of evangelicals have spent a lot of years trying to convince people that they are sick. That's not really what Jesus did. He spent time with people who already knew they were hurt, broken, etc -- people who had tried to survive through other means and couldn't, people who had been kicked aside by the flow of culture and society. The ignored, the judged, the misunderstood. I think a lot of Christians waste a lot of time trying to convince people who have no need of God that they do, and wind up missing the people who already know.

As a result, my wife and I have left behind churches that have been safe and suburban, who have been so caught up in politics that they forget about people. Now we're connected to a church that actively feeds and clothes the homeless, gives them job training and helps them get rehabilitated into society. It's a church where the scent of cigarette smoke and last night's party hangs thick in the air -- a place where 30% of the weekly offering goes right back into meeting the needs of those who need it most. I also support and work with organizations that work to end human trafficking by funding start-ups to help women in developing countries achieve financial independence.

These are sort of the organizational ways in which I'm trying to be more engaged in being good news in the world. My wife and I have started doing marriage counseling with some friends, a same-sex couple who were having some real challenges this year; I think we've helped them get some better tools for relating. It's helped them, and it's helped their kids. I hope it's made a difference. They've certainly been a blessing to us.

In terms of talking about my faith, I'm trying to get away from religious language as much as possible. I think anyone who has any degree of self-awareness (and is older than 25) knows that there are broken patterns and self-destructive behaviors that we are all prone to, and whether you call it "sin" or "dysfunctional behavior," there are places where we're all broken, and further, places we can't heal ourselves. My personal belief is that a walk with God can. But I can't tell someone that unless I've met and walked with them for a while, in the same way that people have met and walked with me, and along the way have understood where I'm broken and where I need help and healing.

I'm not going to condemn someone who's standing on a street corner yowling into a microphone about the four spiritual laws. Different people need different things, and there might be some who engage with God through that. (Heck, some people "get saved" by watching Christian television, which proves to me that miracles due exist, because that stuff is god-awful.) But I remember shivering in line at a Best Buy two years ago on Black Friday. Some (perhaps) very well-meaning people got up on a literal soapbox and started preaching about Hell, damnation and Heaven, and everyone in line shut them up. I thought, "if those people really wanted people to pay attention to them, they'd have paid for a thousand coffees to get handed out." But that would require loving people more than loving their message, and I'm trying to do more of the former and less of the latter. At least, it seems to me that that's what Jesus did.
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