Monday, September 28, 2009

Why Are Evangelicals Misunderstood?

The conversation with Elisheva has been interesting to me, and I have carried much of it around in my head over the last week. We are getting far afield from “Why Are Jews Liberal?” But perhaps not. The question “Why Are Evangelicals Misunderstood?” by most of the world, including Jews, may be a larger part of that question than I originally thought. The accusations in comments sections of blogs may not be a good sampling. Yet those tend in the same direction so often that they likely indicate some percentage of the misunderstanding.

American Judaism is in greater danger from intermarriage and assimilation than it is from pogrom. As a consequence, Jews are more at risk from Catholics, Lutherans, and other mainstreamers than they are from evangelicals or even fundamentalists. They are in greater danger still from the gentle secularizers of society. That would seem pointlessly obvious, almost taunting – except the fear expressed about current Christians is nearly always pointed at evangelicals, not Episcopalians and such. This is so similar to the hostility toward evangelicals expressed by the secular folks, and even mainstream Christians, that I suspect there is much more overlap than credited. Jews, especially liberal Jews, focus their resentment on evangelicals for much the same reasons that secular people and mainstream Christians (especially liberals) do. This is not Tribal: Jewish, but Tribal: Arts & Humanities Culture.

Odd that the conversation with Elisheva triggered this line of thought, as she seems more an exception to this. Still she may find that some part of this resonates with her, and this may at minimum give her fresh eyes to look at those inside her tribe(s?) and out.

Strengths and weaknesses are often intertwined, and the great strength and weakness of evangelicalism is that it looks back in history only about 200 years, skips 18 centuries, and focuses again on the 1st C of the common era. Regarding the European historical events which Jews and secularists raise in accusation against Christians, the evangelicals agree with them entirely. They also consider that a completely separate issue from their own Christianity. The Crusades? The Inquisition? Exactly. That’s where the church went wrong and we’re trying to get away from. That wasn’t us. Roman Catholics come in for especial criticism, but pretty much all the liturgical European churches come under suspicion. It is a bit ironic that it is I mentioning it, as I consider this distancing of evangelicals from Christian tradition a problem. They are far more beholden to these European versions than they realise or acknowledge, and where they differ I believe they are often wrong. So I, who seem to have no ancestors (Swedes and Englishmen) who persecuted Jews, am the one who feels the connection to both the good and evil of the Church through the ages, and enjoins evangelicals to embrace that connection.

Yet they have a point, not often granted them. They are quite intentional and emphatic in pursuing a 1st C Christianity, reinvented into America. For them to regard what transpired between approximately 300 – 1600 CE as having nothing to do with them is not ridiculous. It is hard to see what they could have done to make their disassociation more plain. To evangelicals, the Holocaust was enacted by typical lapsed Europeans who had reverted to semi-paganism. Americans were the rescuers. Crusades, same thing – and they are largely unaware that Jews were killed in it anyway.

It is the same perhaps, as Americans whose families immigrated after 1870 wondering why they are getting blamed for slavery and being told they owe reparations.

For those who always hold the history of the church in Europe in mind, I can readily see why the term “Christian Nation” would strike fear into the heart, and my suggesting that it is a rather mild problem must seem an evasion. Yet I say it nonetheless. When evangelicals speak of a Christian nation, there are some for whom that bitter anti-Semitism is a reality. But for most, it is more like how Americans look at Canada. Oh yeah, we forgot about you guys. Well of course you aren’t true Americans. How could you be? And we do think you go wobbly at the wrong times. But really, we weren’t trying to exclude you with all our comments that “America is the only country that this…”, or “Nowhere but America are the people…” You guys are pretty much okay, actually. Would it help if we said “North Americans” instead? (Cf “Judeo-Christian,” a phrase Jews tend to find patronizing or inaccurate, but does sum up what evangelicals mean once they’ve had a chance at a second draft. Is it right? No, but it is a far different evil than is popularly imagined.)

The anger of evangelicals often comes not from hostility but from the question Why are you siding with them (the secular) instead of us (the religious)? I can answer much of that myself and will in an upcoming post. But I wanted this out there before I went further.

1 comment:

karrde said...

Interesting, indeed.

I haven't followed the comments-debate too closely on this one.

As to the historical blinders of evangelicals, I believe your comments are apropos.

The pattern of belief I was raised in answers to the description evangelical.

My parents tried to teach me a broader view of Church history; I don't know how well it took. I do know that most of my fellow-churchgoers have a view of Church history with an empty middle. But I don't know if any other believer would think the same of me.

Other than that, I have little to add.