Earlier this week I was featured in an online article
for ultra-conservative WORLD magazine about how younger evangelicals are leaving conservatism. Now I've come across a similar article in the New York Times, an op-ed piece by liberal columnist Nicholas Kristof entitled "Evangelicals a Liberal Can Love"
. He points out that an increasing number of evangelicals are listing issues like poverty or the genocide in Darfur as more important to them than abortion or gay marriage. He notes that:
Today, conservative Christian churches do superb work on poverty, AIDS, sex trafficking, climate change, prison abuses, malaria and genocide in Darfur. Bleeding-heart liberals could accomplish far more if they reached out to build common cause with bleeding-heart conservatives.
His main point is that liberals, rather than mocking evangelicals, ought to give them credit where it is due and work together on common causes, while at the same time still engage in criticism and debate on those remaining areas of disagreement. He writes:
It’s certainly fair to criticize Catholic leaders and other conservative Christians for their hostility toward condoms, a policy that has gravely undermined the fight against AIDS in Africa. But while robust criticism is fair, scorn is not.
In parts of Africa where bandits and warlords shoot or rape anything that moves, you often find that the only groups still operating are Doctors Without Borders and religious aid workers: crazy doctors and crazy Christians. In the town of Rutshuru in war-ravaged Congo, I found starving children, raped widows and shellshocked survivors. And there was a determined Catholic nun from Poland, serenely running a church clinic.
Unlike the religious right windbags, she was passionately “pro-life” even for those already born — and brave souls like her are increasingly representative of religious conservatives. We can disagree sharply with their politics, but to mock them underscores our own ignorance and prejudice.
So now both WORLD magazine and the New York Times are recognizing a shift away from the extreme conservatism among evangelicals, Beliefnet
does an analysis showing that the Religious Left is the same size as the Religious Right, the Pew Research Center
posts statistics showing that younger evangelicals are increasingly less Republican, and the Associated Baptist Press
reports on a panel of evangelical leaders at George Washington University talking about how evangelicals are broadening their priorities to include issues beyond those of abortion and homosexuality. Across the board it appears that people are taking notice of the fact that Christians care about more than just sexual morality, and that "Christian" and even "evangelical" is not necessarily synonymous with "the Religious Right". All positive signs in my opinion.
posted by Mike Clawson at 3:29 PM | Permalink
At 2/08/2008 09:28:00 PM, No Name Preacher
Indeed positive signs.
Hopefully some of that will work its way into NW Ohio, the great bastion for Right wing conservatism. Christian and Democrat are not to be spoken together in this area. :)
At 2/11/2008 09:43:00 AM,
One thing worth pointing out that comes across in Kristoff's article is that many of those whom he is describing are conservatively evangelical in their theology and (probably) at least lean in a conservative direction in their politics. That has been my experience anyway, in dealing with some of the Christian aid groups that he describes. While one can be a political and/or theological liberal/progressive and care for the poor, one can also be of the other stripe and do so as well.
The false dichotomies get thrown around in both directions.
At 2/11/2008 03:53:00 PM, Mike Clawson
Yes, most of these articles have to do with how evangelicals are moving more to the "left" recently. (Though personally I think it has more to do with them becoming more aware of global social justice issues and less to do with political labels.) What a lot of these articles don't ever note is how the mainline churches have already been there for some time now. I often have a hard time convincing my atheist friends, for instance, that there are actually millions and millions of Christians in this country who are not and never have been a part of the Religious Right - that there are more than a few major denominations out there with very progressive statements on everything from war, to racial and gender equality, to poverty and economic justice - and that they have been behind these things for decades now.
At 2/11/2008 04:24:00 PM,
That's true Mike, many people for whom the religious right is the only "church" they know are ignorant of what has gone on in the mainline churches. They are also often ignorant of other "ministries of mercy" that spring from very conservative, evangelical roots. I've heard about the ministry below for years because my Grandparents knew its founders. Supposedly (in terms of raw numbers) their minisrty served many times more poor in Calcutta and throughout India than Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity, with whom they also often partnered. They are very conservative - Assemblies of God, you know, of the CBN ilk. Spending their whole lives doing the sort of work many Americans think people on the "religious right" don't do.
Huldah Buntain: Fifty Years in Calcutta
-Fifty Years on the Field
In 1954, with a 1-year-old daughter, Mark and Huldah found themselves on a ship to Calcutta, the beginning of a voyage that would take them across the Atlantic for three months on two ships. Their first approach to their new home was up the narrow and treacherous Hooghly River.
“It was like entering the mouth of a dragon,” Huldah says. “The murky water resembled sewage flowing down a wide gutter, only this current contained dead dogs and cows and even the skeletal remains of a human body."
Huldah, widowed since 1989, still lives in the same apartment and runs the ministry she and her husband began 50 years ago. From its humble beginnings, the Calcutta Ministry has grown to include more than 800 churches, an entire educational system, several Bible colleges, a hospital, a nurse’s training center soon to become a college, and a teacher’s college. Huldah oversees and visits them all. She spends roughly three to four months a year in her Calcutta apartment. The rest of her time is spent traveling throughout India and the world.
Huldah is responsible for ministry in 11 Indian states, including 230 million people. Thirty thousand children from these regions are in Mission of Mercy schools.
Computers have changed the face of India. Huldah says that if you have a problem with your computer and you call a tech support line, you are most probably speaking to someone in India for help. And unlike the early days when she moved there, you can now buy electronic equipment and modern appliances. You don’t have to ship them from America.
But poverty still crushes in Calcutta. For one reason, there are 18 million residents living in a nine mile by four mile area. And between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. during the week, the population swells to 25 million. Some of Huldah’s own employees see their children only on weekends because they travel in from such a long distance. They leave home before their children are up and return after the kids are in bed so that they can earn a wage in the city.
Hope for the Future
At 79, will Huldah Buntain retire? “NO!” she says emphatically. The satisfaction of changed lives is far too great. She recently met a young doctor and his nurse/wife in Toronto who were “our children.” He was a boy from an extremely poor region who had come to a Mission of Mercy school and later married a nurse trained in Huldah’s nursing training center.
Huldah’s ministry is literally helping blind eyes see. Another of her recent success stories involves the 100 blind students taught at one of her schools. After being observed by a doctor, five blind children in the Mission of Mercy Hospital were selected to receive a unique eye surgery allowing them to see and read. Another 20 students are being screened to determine their possibilities for this surgery.
Huldah will release a 50th anniversary book at the end of this year outlining some of the miracles God has accomplished in India through His servants Mark and Huldah.
For Huldah, the investment in thousands of lives is a thrill. Of the 1,500 people on Mission of Mercy’s staff, Huldah is excited to point out that two-thirds of them came through Mission of Mercy’s programs as children. Seeing another generation come along keeps her excited and moving forward.
Huldah Buntain is truly one of those people who, when the end has come, will have a whole host of witnesses for whom she has been the vehicle by which they came to Christ.