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On the Scandal of Evangelical Conscience
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09/15/05


"Once upon a time there was a great religion that over the centuries had spread all over the world. But in those lands where it had existed for the longest time, its adherents slowly grew complacent, lukewarm, and skeptical. Indeed, many of the leaders of its oldest groups even publicly rejected some of the religion's most basic beliefs.

In response, a renewal movement emerged, passionately championing the historic claims of the old religion and eagerly inviting unbelievers everywhere to embrace the ancient faith. Rejecting the skepticism of leaders who no longer believed in a God who works miracles, members of the renewal movement vigorously argued that their God not only had performed miraculous deeds in the past but still miraculously transforms all who believe. Indeed, a radical, miraculous "new birth" that began a lifetime of sweeping moral renewal and transformation was at the center of their preaching. Over time, the renewal movement flourished to the point of becoming one of the most influential wings of the whole religion.

Not surprisingly, the movement's numbers translated into political influence. And the renewal movement was so confident of its beliefs and claims that it persuaded the nation's top political leader to have the government work more closely with religious social service organizations to solve the nation's horrendous social problems. Members of the renewal movement knew that miraculous moral transformation of character frequently happened when broken persons embraced the great religion. They also lobbied politicians to strengthen the traditional definition of marriage because their ancient texts taught that a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman was at the center of the Creator's design for the family.

Then the pollsters started conducting scientific polls of the general population. In spite of the renewal movement's proud claims to miraculous transformation, the polls showed that members of the movement divorced their spouses just as often as their secular neighbors. They beat their wives as often as their neighbors. They were almost as materialistic and even more racist than their pagan friends. The hard-core skeptics smiled in cynical amusement at this blatant hypocrisy. The general population was puzzled and disgusted. Many of the renewal movement's leaders simply stepped up the tempo of their now enormously successful, highly sophisticated promotional programs. Others wept.

This, alas, is roughly the situation of Western or at least American evangelicalism today."


Ronald J. Sider is professor of theology, holistic ministry, and public policy and director of the Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also president of Evangelicals for Social Action.

An article is excerpted from his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience and appears on the ChristianityToday.com site at the following link: http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2005/001/3.8.html

In an earlier post I stated that Dobson, Falwell, Robertson and the other speaker-outers with demagogic tendencies do so from relatively safe places which almost entirely consist of moralizing. The assumption seems to be that preaching morality will get them what they want most safely since it's hard to betray your loyal following if you "stick to your guns" about what got them riled in the first place.

Along with the idea that humanity would be better served if those of the greatest influence spoke directly to the greatest and most enormous moral wrongs as did, for example, Martin Luther King, the opportunity to touch the sinners - even the hearts of those sincerely liberal dissenters - might be greater.

But they refuse to do so, perhaps with more finesse and slickness than we've seen attempted in these discussions (where the refusal to speak directly to the more urgent moral issues is obvious) while - much like Bush the debater - restricting themselves to "safe" topics and criticisms that have proven useful.

The Sider article doesn't refer to the global immorality that is happening as a result and in large measure of the actions of our Christian in the White House and those who first supported his candidacy in the late 1990's.

The Sider article does however raise questions that the Christian celebrities AND apologists here ought to speak to, justify or reconcile with their religious rhetoric, theology and friendly superiority.


(1) "Gallup and Barna," laments evangelical theologian Michael Horton, "hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general."


Isn't the calibre of public broadcast entertainment and its exceeding popularity in the Red-State heartland of evangelical religion an example of that?



(2) Divorce is more common among "born-again" Christians than in the general American population. Only 6 percent of evangelicals tithe. White evangelicals are the most likely people to object to neighbors of another race. Josh McDowell has pointed out that the sexual promiscuity of evangelical youth is only a little less outrageous than that of their nonevangelical peers.



Where in fact is all the fruit of the "New American Christian Theology" growing if not in the Bible Belt?



It is not surprising that George Barna concludes, "Every day, the church is becoming more like the world it allegedly seeks to change."4 We have very little time, he believes, to reverse these trends ... ... What a tragedy for evangelicals to declare proudly that personal conversion and new birth in Christ are at the center of their faith and then to defy biblical moral standards by living almost as sinfully as their pagan neighbors.



Something is amiss here. The bridge they're selling - which many are persuaded to purchase - isn't very elevated over the immorally polluted waters and, having passed on to the bridge, the road seems to lead to the same thing it's supposed to carry people above.



(3) Even more interesting is what has happened to evangelical giving. The Ronsvalles compare the giving in seven typical mainline denominations (affiliated with the National Council of Churches) with the giving in eight evangelical denominations (with membership in the National Association of Evangelicals). In 1968 the eight evangelical denominations gave considerably more than the seven mainline denominations. While the mainline denominational members gave 3.3 percent of their income, evangelicals gave 6.15 percent. While this is significantly more, the evangelicals on average still gave less than two-thirds of a tithe. By 1985 mainline folk had dropped their giving to 2.85 percent of their income and evangelicals to 4.74 percent. By 2001, mainline members had recovered slightly to 3.17 percent, but evangelical giving kept dropping and was at a mere 4.27 percent.15

As we got richer and richer, evangelicals chose to spend more and more on themselves and give a smaller and smaller percentage to the church. Today, on average, evangelicals in the U.S. give about two-fifths of a tithe.


I've always had a thought about this. If one were to really challenge his own faith and express the passion of the Good Samaritan, what better way to do it that take that payday tithe amount and buy food and goods that you - the individual - will generously distribute to the poor with no interference from middlemen and TV evangelists with their church funds and administrative costs?

When I was an active Mormon, my giving included a full tithe plus smaller periodic donations that totalled upwards of 12%. When I proposed the above idea, my church leaders told me that I was misusing the Lord's money and supposing myself wiser than the Lord's chosen.

Confessing that I fall more in the percentage range of the mainliners today in terms of my own giving, when I do give from time to time, I do it my way. What would a mega church leader tell me?


(4) • Sexual Disobedience
A story in the New York Times reported that, according to census data, in the 1990s the number of unmarried couples living together jumped a lot more in the Bible Belt (where a higher percentage of the total population are evangelicals) than in the nation as a whole. Nationwide, the increase was 72 percent. But in Oklahoma it was 97 percent, in Arkansas 125 percent, and in Tennessee 123 percent.20


The same people who are so loudly and angrily preaching against the trash in our streets haven't cleaned up their own front yards.


Barna found from a 2001 poll that cohabitation—living with a member of the opposite sex without marriage—is only a little better among born-again adults than the general public. Nationally, 33 percent of all adults have lived with a member of the opposite sex without being married. The rate is 25 percent for born-again folk.22

Professor John C. Green is an evangelical political scientist and director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. Green is one of the best statisticians in his field and has studied how Americans feel about morals and ethics using several national surveys. He divides those he labels evangelicals into two categories: traditional evangelicals (who have higher church attendance, a higher view of biblical authority, etc.) and nontraditional evangelicals.23 What are their attitudes on premarital and extramarital sex? Fully 26 percent of traditional evangelicals do not think premarital sex is wrong, and 46 percent of nontraditional evangelicals say it is morally okay.24

And extramarital sex? Of traditional evangelicals, 13 percent say it is okay for married persons to have sex with someone other than one's spouse. And 19 percent of nontraditional evangelicals say adultery is morally acceptable.25 Fortunately, Green finds that evangelicals fare better than mainline Protestant and Catholic Christians on these issues, but the number of evangelicals that blatantly reject biblical sexual norms is astonishing.

What about pornography? Citing a recent survey in Leadership magazine, Steve Gallagher says, "Tragically, the percentage of Christian men involved [in pornography] is not much different that that of the unsaved."26


The glass house that liberals live in is about the same size as that in which their reform-minded critics dwell. In actuality, regarding morality, neither ought to be tossing rocks.

But those who do have a problem with Jesus - a real problem with the mote and the beam which, in their case, is the beam and the beam. "Do what I say, not what I do." seems to be the order of the day. My peccadilloes are trivial even if they are identical to the other sinners whose peccadilloes are an offense against God.


(5) • Racism
In 1989 George Gallup Jr. and James Castelli published the results of a survey to determine which groups in the U.S. were least and most likely to object to having black neighbors—surely a good measure of racism. Catholics and nonevangelical Christians ranked least likely to object to black neighbors; 11 percent objected. Mainline Protestants came next at 16 percent. At 17 percent, Baptists and evangelicals were among the most likely groups to object to black neighbors, and 20 percent of Southern Baptists objected to black neighbors.27


What's with this? What's with this in America? Is this why it's so easy to look the other way about killing in Iraq or evangelical insensitivity to other religious cultures among tsunami victims.


I ask the question again? Which is the greater evil in the world, abortion in the U.S. or U.S.-sponsored military killing of babies AND their pregnant mothers in Iraq?

And all we get in response is SpongeBob Squarepants and disingenuous questions about sexual identity?



Evangelicals rightly rejected theological liberalism because it denied the miraculous. In response, we insisted that miracle was central to biblical faith at numerous points including the supernatural moral transformation of broken sinners. Now our very lifestyle as evangelicals is a ringing practical denial of the miraculous in our lives. Satan must laugh in sneerful derision. God's people can only weep.


The rest of the article continues at this point under the heading: Rays of Hope and to encourage that you all click the link and read the article from which I've posted excerpts in italics, I'll end now.



The Scandal of Evangelical Conscience - ChristianityToday.com

Arthur & Lietta Ruger 2002-2008. The American Choice is a  political internet journal based in Bay Center, Washington. The views expressed not authored by Arthur or Lietta Ruger are the writers' own and do not necessarily reflect those of The American Choice or SwanDeer Productions. Permission of author required for reprinting original material, and only requests for reprinting a specific item are considered.

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