In what way can we began to change the myths and perceptions of social movements and those involved? In a similar realm, some groups of Evangelical Christian are now facing a wall of criticism invoked by people who have skewed public perception of Christianity over the past decades. Most social movements are facing the same wall: somehow the media has portrayed social movements in a bad light, skewing public perception of what goes on, what is achieved and who is involved. In many cases, good does come about from these social movements, but media outlets do not want/choose to include these stories in their news. During the recent presidential inauguration, media outlets showed protestors raising a ruckus at security checkpoints, focusing on fighting and arguments between the sides. Few focused on the cause that protesting groups were attempting to promote. For many Americans, it is also the case of a lens in which the world is viewed. A more open-minded approach to seeing the news and interpreting what is seen and a better understanding of social movements in general will certainly help Americans to more effectively comprehend the actions of social movements.
My one response at the level of content has to do with your remarks about evangelical Christian movements (which ones in particular did you have in mind? Militias? Anti-abortion? Home schooling? Traditional family? Abstinence-only sex education?). My thought is that there is a colloquial, mainstream distaste for what is perhaps a set of inaccurate stereotypes of the folks involved in these movements. At the same time, the evangelical perspective in general seems to me to have won, at least in terms of political representation. They have a U.S. president who regularly pursues policies that are compatible with their agenda (e.g. constitutional amendment on straight marriage, abortion and family planning policies, charter schools, abstinence-only education, federal funding for faith-based non-profits). So it makes me wonder whether the movement’s seeming “victimization” holds water. Perhaps the antagonism directed at the movement(s) is actually a response to the existing power structure and the Christian Right’s influence in that regard as opposed to a challenge to that power. Am I making sense?
Making sense? Oh yeah! Here’s why…
I made a mistake in the first piece by referring to “some groups” (as now underlined) and not further discussing who I included in those groups. I’m going to try to set the groundwork for what I’m trying to say, mostly for myself but also to give anyone reading (Christian or not) this a context on which to understand what I’m saying.
In past centuries, people who call themselves Christians have added on line after line of doctrine and interpretations of what The Bible is meant to reference. Christians, still today, use any number of translations of The Bible which contain numerous translation errors—the King James Version, perhaps the longest-standing single translation, has thousands of translation errors. American Christians especially believe that what we see now in English is the best reflection of what happened 2,000 years ago. In Texas a number of years ago, a high-ranking political figure said, “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me,” during a discussion on adding Spanish as a second official state language. That ignorance alone has hurt Christianity in America, and many times it is only after seeing the church (inclusive of all local churches worldwide) in another context, another culture, in another language, that Americans see a glimpse of the true flavor of Christianity.
In the past 20 or so years, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell have taken to the airways to report THEIR views and to attempt (usually a futile effort) to make the American people conform to their views. Falwell and Tim LaHaye founded The Moral Majority in 1979; the same year, Richard Land “helped engineer his 16-million-member [Southern Baptist Convention’s] 1979 shift from moderacy to hard-line (fundamentalist) conservativism.” Each was recently honored by Time as one of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals.” Their attempts at forcing people to conform to their way of thinking, their way of believing, their way of living and their way of politicizing and indoctrinating a narrow-minded generation of American Christians.
Fortunately, there was one other man who made the Top 25: Brian McLaren. Time labels McLaren as a “paradigm shifter,” a title that he deserves to wear. A former college English professor who has had no formal religious education, McLaren is certainly leading a new movement amongst younger Christians and Christians who have become tired of the hard line drawn in the sand by Falwell, Robertson and others. Time says that McLaren was asked at a conference last spring to give his thoughts on gay marriage. McLaren responded, “You know what, the thing that breaks my heart is that there’s no way I can answer it without hurting someone on either side.” This “Emerging Church” is, as many seminary professors put it, nothing new; rather the movement reclaims the ways of the Church of hundreds of years ago. While no church has ever been perfect, The Emerging Church is seeking to follow the example of Christ more closely: not following Jerry Falwell more closely. And as Time notes, the Emerging Church is attempting to “to deconstruct traditional church culture yet remain true to Scripture.”
Many times, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson take the blame for what Christianity in America has become. Certainly they are the two most prominent spokesmen for their cause. They, and others, have so successfully shaped the minds of American Christians that many believed that it would be a sin to vote for anyone other than George W. Bush in the November election. People believed that they had the right in any political arena to voice their opinions and inform anyone who differed that they were sinners and would be punished by God accordingly. I’m not sure what Bible they’re reading, but mine says that if you are judging, “you too will be judged” ( Matthew 7, Luke 6, John 8 ).
And so it stands, many American Christians have let “truth” stand at a list of points that one should live by, rather than telling about The Bible that shares a message of the love and forgiveness of God and Christ. There is certainly right and wrong, but many Christians have made that the #1 criteria of being a Christian. Gay marriage and abortion have become the soapboxes on which American Christians preach to the rest of America. Within the church, these Christians insist that anyone who disagrees with them on either of these two points is no “real” Christian and will certainly burn for eternity in hell under eternal damnation.
It might be surprising that I was born in, raised in and still go to a Southern Baptist Church. The Southern Baptists seem to be the epitome of judgment. It has become more important to have a denominational name associated with yourself than to live out a life of love and helping others that Jesus spoke of. And so it goes. The name “Christian” in America has come to mean something other than what The Emerging Church believes. It isn’t a cult, it isn’t a harsh movement going into battle against anyone who disagrees. It’s simply a collective of Christians who are tired of hating and being hated, and who want to love and help others more than anything else. It does not mean taking away our backbone and becoming “flip-flops” (all previous political association aside…).