Evangelicals for pluralism

Time Magazine recently did a piece on evangelicals bridging the racial divide. It describes the work that Willow Creek founder … Continued

Time Magazine recently did a piece on evangelicals bridging the racial divide. It describes the work that Willow Creek founder Bill Hybels and his colleague Alvin Bibbs (men that I know personally and respect greatly) are doing to make 11 o’clock on Sunday morning a vision of the American ideal of racial harmony instead of — as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said — “the most segregated hour the week.” It involves everything from growing minority membership to including references and worship styles from the African American tradition into services. Like any big change, this has involved sacrifice. When Hybels had his ‘conversion experience’ about America’s race problem (after reading a book that Alvin Bibbs, an African-American, passed on to him), he committed to making Willow a model of the solution. Going against the 24-year history of Willow Creek, Hybels started preaching about the importance of engaging race as a justice issue. A few years later, he threw down the gauntlet: bridging the racial divide is “part of who we are, and if it can’t be part of who you are, you probably need to find a church that doesn’t talk about this issue.” He lost members, but living more deeply into his faith made the sacrifice worth it.

This is what I love about evangelicals, about religious people period, actually. Their willingness to follow a cosmic sense of what’s right, even if there are earthly sacrifices to be made.

I believe evangelicals are the most powerful culture-shaping force in America. Hollywood has reach and glamor, Harvard has intellectual muscle, but both are tainted by charges (some true, some unfair) of elitism. Evangelical Christianity is a middle America movement with huge numbers, loud microphones and an ethos that huge swaths of this country – whether they sing praise songs in church or not – identifies with. Take my mother, an Indian Muslim woman who lives in suburban Chicago and teaches accounting at a community college. Imagine my surprise when I walked into her home the other week and she was listening to Christian radio! “What’s this about?” I asked. “I like the soothing voice and the music. It’s always positive and never dirty.”

Most importantly, when evangelicals engage cultural issues, those issues turn. That’s why so many people were excited when Rich Cizik, then VP of the National Association of Evangelicals, put his stake in the ground around the environment. The best example of this may be AIDS. In 1985, the image of AIDS was a gay bath house in San Francisco that the culture should curse. In 2005, the image of AIDS was an orphan in Africa that the world should help. Evangelicals helped create the first image, and then after many had real-world experiences of the devastation in Africa, tore that image down and erected the second one. That is astounding cultural power.

And now some evangelicals are taking on the issue of the faith divide. A few years ago I had the great honor of speaking at the Q Conference, a gathering that explores new issues relevant to the evangelical community. I’ve written about how Rick Warren and Jim Wallis have increasingly reached out to Muslims and how Skye Jethani, an important young preacher and writer, has been eloquent on this issue . My colleague and friend on Obama’s Faith Council, Pastor Joel Hunter, had the youth group at his Northland Church participate in an interfaith service week with a Muslim-Christian Service project.

Pastor Bob Roberts has just put out an excellent book on this topic, Real-Time Connections. It describes Bob’s travels in Vietnam and the Muslim world, his friendships with non Christians, and his commitment to serving others of all faiths not primarily to make them Christian but to make himself more Christian.

It is a beautiful, brave book. And it gives me a ton of hope. Notre Dame political scientist David Campbell says that evangelical churches taking on race can be the final step in America’s transcending our original sin. I believe if evangelicals bridge the faith divide, we could make the 21st century one characterized by interfaith cooperation rather than religious conflict.

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  • justillthennow

    Hello Coloradodog, Perhaps you can re-read the essay, but with a more open mind and heart. You have evangelicals as stone, perhaps, unwilling to change or grow. Maybe that is not the case, it just requires the right combination. Like for all of us.I am usually one who has a more dim view of the elitism of Evangelism, and blame them for many troubles in society. And I kinda think I am right for that! But that does not mean that I am ultimately right, and everyone and every organization and organism can change. Can you?

  • coloradodog

    Evangelicals (by their very definition) for pluralism is an oxymormon. It’s like saying Huckabees for gay rights.

  • Counterww

    And what troubles do you lay at the feet of evangelicals?This should be rich.

  • Paganplace

    “”This is what I love about evangelicals, about religious people period, actually. Their willingness to follow a cosmic sense of what’s right, even if there are earthly sacrifices to be made.””The only problem is… The ‘sacrifice’ is usually a scapegoat.

  • justillthennow

    Counterww, “And what troubles do you lay at the feet of evangelicals?”Good Lord, CWW, what a silly question! What troubles of the western world would not be a result of evangelicals or the majority christian leadership that has been at the helm politically and socially for hundreds of years? Evangelical dynamics far predate the Spanish Inquisition and expansion of the Lord’s Realm to the New World. Convert or kill the heathen natives! We can fast forward to neo-con evangelical civilian leadership in bed with evangelical military command to carry forth the banner of Christ into the heart of the middle east. It is only in more recent decades that evangelical fervor has had to get a grip on it’s inner violence and need to control.I talk to my inner lover, and I say, why such rush?Kabir

  • spidermean2

    justillthennow, the reason you’re a fool is because you don’t only spread lies but truly believe in them.You are not an evangelical so you wouldn’t know waht it means and waht it believes in.Neo cons are a combination of people. Cheney believes in gay marriage and that doesn’t make him an evangelical, idiot.The military hierarchy burned the Bibles in Afghanistan. That alone says that these people were not evangelicals, idiot.

  • justillthennow

    Hello spidermean, Ahh, what hole of ignorance did you crawl out of today? Same one, as all the tunnels are connected as well as dark?I am not utterly in self delusion around evangelism, you sweet believer. I have been there. Graciously, praise God, I found my way out of those dark cul-de-sacs.I was not asserting that all neo-cons are evangelicals. However, there is no shortage of those true believers in neo-con ranks. And our favorite recent worst president EVER W. was the titular head of a neo-con conspiracy that was just so sure they knew the real Truth. A true evangelical, that one! He inserted as many of his brethren into every governmental orifice as was possible during his double term. Performed his presidency with the same stumbling blindness that afflicts those that voted him in.Whatever Bible burning you may be referring to, (was this not the Bibles that were written in Farsi for distribution toward Muslims for the purpose of easier conversion to Christianity?), does not make any proving that military command as well as culture is permeated by Evangelicals. If that is what you were attempting to support.Have a delightful day, Spidermean.

  • justillthennow

    One more quick swing, Spidermean,”the reason you’re a fool is because…”I am happy to be proven a fool, if that is what I am. I often have been!What gives a fool hope for upliftment is the recognition of this truth, and acceptance of it, and from there the choice can be easier made to leave foolishness. You on the other hand believe that you are wise, while noone around here thinks you are anything but a fool….Pax Romana!

  • spidermean2

    justillthennow wrote “while noone around here thinks you are anything but a fool…”It doesn’t matter what everyone believes. My aim is to spead what the Holy Book believes.

  • spidermean2

    George Bush, although he was not perfect, is to be praised coz his efforts of supporting the missile defense program made half of America safe.On the other hand, Bill Clinton and Obama made the other half (the liberal democrat states) unsafe. Im not so sure if that is to be praised.While most liberal America don’t believe in missile defense shield, China is not as much that as idiotic coz right now, it does have one also.

  • amos3_3

    Willow Creek Church will be the next Mega Church, after Saddleback Church to fall this year. Judgment begins at the House of God.

  • coloradodog

    I think it’s great evangelicals are working to close the racial divide but pluralism is more than racial differences. When evangelicals embrace the love of Jesus to include those different in religion, gender, language, politics and sexual orientation will be the day I cheer for them. But, by their very definition of holier-than-thou, my-way-or-the-highway religious beliefs and moral decrees, they are a long way from embracing true pluralism.If Christians threw away their Bibles, stopped cherry-picking scriptures for their moral and political agendas and embraced only the words of Christ, they would be a lot more like Him.In the meantime, they stir up cultural, political and religious division in their righteous might to covert or condemn those different – not a lot different than the Muslims many of them demonize.

  • justillthennow

    Spidermean,”It doesn’t matter what everyone believes. My aim is to spead what the Holy Book believes.”If that is your intent then, it seems to me, you fail miserably. All I hear from you when you post an opinion is a dark tongue. Jesus’ Compassion and Liberal and Liberation message, and His Love, do not pass your lips. Or your fingertips on yon keyboard write.As for G W, further proof of the previous statement. GW was a abomination in the line of American Presidents. He was all about war and rescuing the world from Gog and Magog, in his little mind. He ruined our reputation as he ruined our economy, spending all on explosive devices while giving the elites and superrich of Wall Street and Washington the petroleum based slip and slide handshake. His presidency reeks, and though already viewed as loathsome it will slither into the history books as an evil slide into infamy for America. With no missile defense shield in place. His religious beliefs led him, and unfortunately us as well, into a pit of despair that we we have a long challenge rising out of. Although I am sure he continues to preach the benefits of a Biblical education and indoctrination. Just as you say you do, SM. Vive ignoranemus!