Thursday, 12 April 2012

our friends from across the pond

It's a popular debate around my table, the E-word... (no, not Everton - though Paul Rideout's goal in the '95 FA Cup Final remains possibly my earliest memory of getting very upset at a football match, only later matched by my sister mocking my tears ten minutes from the end of the Champion's League final in '99. I digress.)

Within the sphere of faith in the UK, evangelical does not have the same connotations, perhaps, as it does on the other side of the Atlantic. Sadly outside those who understand such distinctions, i.e. the majority of 'normal' people, the difference is meaningless. Six months ago I wrote about the struggle with this label - of being an evangelical - in that whilst I heartily subscribe to the tenets, I also desire to be placed on a different planet from some of those who are best-known and associated with the label.

The world continues to turn. This parish has much respect for Norn Iron's own William Crawley, the BBC's intelligent and thoughtful presenter and producer, and so is cheered to read his latest blog post, in response to finding himself in a room where a change in what American evangelicalism means was obvious to him.

It would be a mistake to assume that American Christians speak with only one voice -- on any issue...

This new generation of Christians have a very different approach to the role of religion in public life...

Instead of a focus on narrow religious or political agendas, they argue that the church should campaign for the common good of society -- standing up for the rights of others, particularly the poor and the marginalised; they are passionate about the need to develop civility in political discourse, where citizens can fundamentally disagree about some basic issues in a spirit of respect while building coalitions on common interest. And, perhaps most significantly, they are standing up against the idea that Christians should seek to build a theocracy.

Instead, this new generation of Christian leader advocates a kind of 'principled pluralism', where difference is protected and respected under the law. That means that you don't outlaw another person's perspective or life-choices simply because they fail to comply with your own theological perspective.

To their credit, I have found the majority of US-born 'evangelicals' I know to be very much of this tribe. Whether we like it or not, the definitions used for American Christianity are those which will often define the rest of us as well in the eyes of a watching world, and so it's encouraging to observe that that same world may be beginning to see things in less black and white terms. The vocal minority will always drown out the well-intentioned majority in the modern mass media, but that doesn't mean we have to put up with their practices - and it seems that slowly but surely, US Christianity may just be waking up to this.

(It's just a pity that it won't necessarily affect the way in which, come November, many pastors will instruct their flock to vote. C'est la vie.)

You can read the full text of Crawley's blog post here.

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