Thursday, May 26, 2005

An Unholy Alliance?

David Brooks has a good editorial today regarding a natural alliance between liberals and evangelical Christians on today's social ills (mainly poverty). Often, the goals are the same, but the philosophy is different. If we spent less time fighting each other on the philosophy, and spent more time dealing with the reality, maybe we could get something good accomplished.

A Natural Alliance

...My third thought, which may be more profound than the other two, is that we can have a culture war in this country, or we can have a war on poverty, but we can't have both. That is to say, liberals and conservatives can go on bashing each other for being godless hedonists and primitive theocrats, or they can set those differences off to one side and work together to help the needy.

The natural alliance for antipoverty measures at home and abroad is between liberals and evangelical Christians. These are the only two groups that are really hyped up about these problems and willing to devote time and money to ameliorating them. If liberals and evangelicals don't get together on antipoverty measures, then there will be no majority for them and they won't get done.

Now, you might be thinking, fat chance. There is no way the likes of Jerry Falwell and Barbara Boxer are going to get together as brother and sister to fight deprivation. And I say to you: All around me I see bonds being formed.

I recently went to a U2 concert in Philadelphia with a group of evangelicals who have been working with Bono to fight AIDS and poverty in Africa. A few years ago, U2 took a tour of the heartland, stopping off at places like Wheaton College and the megachurch at Willow Creek to urge evangelicals to get involved in Africa. They've responded with alacrity, and now Bono, who is a serious if nonsectarian Christian, is at the nexus of a vast alliance between socially conservative evangelicals and socially liberal N.G.O.'s...

And when I look at the evangelical community, I see a community in the midst of a transformation - branching out beyond the traditional issues of abortion and gay marriage, and getting more involved in programs to help the needy. I see Rick Warren, who through his new Peace initiative is sending thousands of people to Rwanda and other African nations to fight poverty and disease. I see Chuck Colson deeply involved in Sudan. I see Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals drawing up a service agenda that goes way beyond the normal turf of Christian conservatives.

I see evangelicals who are more and more influenced by Catholic social teaching, with its emphasis on good works. I see the historical rift healing between those who emphasized personal and social morality. Most of all, I see a new sort of evangelical leader emerging.

Millions of evangelicals are embarrassed by the people held up by the news media as their spokesmen. Millions of evangelicals feel less represented by the culture war-centered parachurch organizations, and better represented by congregational pastors, who have a broader range of interests and more passion for mobilizing volunteers to perform service. Millions of evangelicals want leaders who live the faith by serving the poor...

(Full Op-Ed)


Boomr said...

The problem I see with that "natural alliance" -- and I may piss off some people by saying this -- is that the "evangelical" and other fundamentalist Christians do not devote a great deal of time to helping others. They are a rather insular people, devoted more to "saving" themselves and their families and railing against the sins of others, than to charitable works or other, more "liberal" concepts.

Seriously, how many fundamentalist evangelicals do you see actively supporting charities -- other than religious ones? How many of them do you see in soup kitchens, or homeless shelters, or Doctors without Borders, or international relief efforts, or other such social charities? I was raised Southern Baptist, and I can tell you that such activities are not the norm.

The problem with the "natural alliance" is that the liberal concept is mostly one of inclusion, while the evangelical concept is mostly one of exclusion. Only they, the chosen, are saved; only their beliefs are best; dissent from their opinion is sin; anyone who doesn't agree with them is a sinner. It's a very exclusive belief, not exactly in keeping with the liberal ideology.

Dingo said...

I have to disagree with you somewhat here Boomr. I used to agree with you more because I never ran into evangelicals in any of the charitable activities I took part in, but I don't think that is endemic of evangelicals as a whole. Also, there are a lot of Catholic charities that do a lot of good with out preaching at the same time.

Yes, there is a large group of evangelicals that talk a good game, but don't step up to the plate, but there are a lot of liberals who talk a good game and don't step up either.

Boomr said...

Maybe we have to define what we mean when we say "evangelical." Most Catholics -- and Catholic charities -- I would not consider "evangelical." That word to me usually denotes a Protestant or non-denomenational Christian with a strong belief in the truth, accuracy, and infallibility of the Bible, as well as a desire to proselytize. Catholic charities have a long institutional history of participation by both the clergy and the laymen. Not quite so with the more fundamentalist Protestant organizations.

I'm not saying that all "evangelicals" avoid charity work -- or even that they aren't good people with genuninely good hearts. I am, however, saying that by and large the "evangelical" population is more concerned with: (1) saving themselves; (2) converting others so they can be saved; and (3) telling non-believers that they're sinners. Just like with any other religion, the most zealous participants are not the charitable types; they're the fighters.