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    Monday, November 06, 2006

    Familiar Christians

    I have lately met more and more Christian Evangelical people.

    A brief summary is that the Bible and local teaching authority can be a
    powerful thing, even without Catholic tradition and depth.

    These folks are not the odd folks on TV like Creflo Dollar, or Pat Robinson,
    or Oral Roberts.

    There is a lot of 'me and Jesus" and "Jesus as butler" with a pliable
    definition of just what the Bible message happens to mean to them at a
    particular moment in their lives.

    There is also an honest un-attachment to doctrine. If one local church's
    preaching is not to their liking, they easily move to another. More honest than
    the pew-sitting Catholics that only give half hearted assent to their faith, and
    mumble their own beliefs to themselves at the points in life where Christianity
    meets the human condition.

    These Evangelicals try to be good people in the Christian definition they
    understand. There is a lack of humility to learn, but it is honest, since there
    is less to learn. How many Catholics are humble enough to learn by knowing their
    place, and acknowledging their betters? For most Catholics this never occurs to
    them, hence we end up in the same place.

    Good people trying to be good as they understand good. Not exactly heroic,
    but perhaps for all of Christian history, typical. Salvation by faith alone,
    nevermind the definition.


    By Michael Gerson

    Nov. 13, 2006 issue - During my time in the White House, the most intense and urgent evangelical activism I saw did not come on the expected values issues—though abortion and the traditional family weren't ignored—but on genocide, global AIDS and human trafficking. The most common request I received was, "We need to meet with the president on Sudan"—not on gay marriage. This reflects a head-snapping generational change among evangelicals, from leaders like Falwell and Robertson to Rick Warren, focused on fighting poverty and AIDS in Africa, and Gary Haugen, confronting rape and sexual slavery in the developing world. Since leaving government, I've asked young evangelicals on campuses from Wheaton to Harvard who they view as their model of Christian activism. Their answer is nearly unanimous: Bono.

    Many evangelicals have begun elbowing against the narrowness of the religious right, becoming more globally focused and more likely to consider themselves "pro-life and pro-poor." Depending on your perspective, this may be creeping liberalism or political maturity. But where did it come from?

    First, in reacting against the harsh tone of some on the religious right, many have been led back to the text of the Bible itself.

    Second, this new evangelicalism is, in part, a positive legacy of the religious right. One of the important innovations of religious conservatism in the 1980s was the discovery of common cause between evangelicals and Roman Catholics after generations of mutual bitterness. Early pro-life events featured busloads from Liberty University marching beside Knights of Columbus carrying statues of the Virgin Mary, in the best democratic tradition of taming durable differences. Over two decades, evangelicals came to view John Paul II as almost one of their own, admiring his balance of firm orthodoxy and global concern for the poor and oppressed. And for many, including me, Roman Catholic social thought provided a more sophisticated model of social engagement than a fractured Protestantism had produced. Evangelicals began to talk of subsidiarity (the imperative to respect and strengthen value-shaping institutions of community and family) and solidarity with the poor, and the pursuit of the common good, in ways that were not allergic to government.

    Third, the global focus of the new evangelicalism also reflects a major historical change: the southward shift of Christianity. The center of gravity of the Christian world is now arguably in central Africa, with more than a third of a billion Christians on that continent. Many American congregations have developed church-to-church ties with this rising African Christianity. Some American Episcopal churches, fed up with North American theological liberalism, have formally associated with more-orthodox developing-world bishops. Sociologist Robert Wuthnow estimates that 1.6 million American Christians took short-term foreign mission trips last year, creating a generation of church leaders with a direct, often life-changing experience of the needs, vitality and heroism of the developing world.


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