Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Religious Right and their “Perverted” Gospel

 Anyone who seeks social respectability and identifies himself with the Religious Right has to be nuts. This much maligned group is held in contempt by the secular culture and even by other Christians! Even our youth try desperately to distance themselves from this stigma, and it’s no wonder.

Roland Martin, a syndicated columnist, author and self-identified Christian, also thrusts his pen against the despised Religious Right:

  • What has happened over the last 30 years is the religious right has perverted the Bible to fit its narrow view of what Christians should pay attention to. Abortion and homosexuality. Nothing else matters.
  • Well, my Bible is bigger than that. My faith is bigger than that. And my Jesus Christ cares about more than abortion and homosexuality. Please, make your case about those two issues. But don't talk to me, Rev. Graham, Franklin Graham, or any other right-wing evangelical, about the sanctity of life when you are silent about such things as Trayvon Martin being gunned down or police brutality taking the lives of innocent Americans.
Martin is right about a number of things. Christians have a biblically-mandated duty to pursue justice and to care for the needy. In fact I’ve never heard a Christian deny that the Bible mandates these things. Nevertheless, Martin suggests that evangelicals are relatively insensitive to the plight of the poor and needy. However, the stats indicate something else:

  • In 2001 American evangelicals gave a mean of $3,601 per capita to nonprofit organizations, which is high when compared to other demographic groups.
  • From 1968 to 2000, members of U.S. evangelical Protestant denominations gave larger dollar amounts and larger portions of income to their churches than did members of mainline Protestant denominations.
  • In 2001, American evangelicals gave four times as much, per person, to churches as did all other church donors in 2001. Eighty-eight percent of evangelicals and 73 percent of all Protestants donated to churches.
This certainly doesn’t mean that evangelicals should pat themselves on the back. Admittedly, we fall far short of our calling. But how do evangelicals compare to the least religious? Robert Putnam and David Campbell, in their book American Grace, conclude that “religious Americans are more generous.”  Here is some of their evidence, drawn from national probability samples:

  • The most religious 20% of Americans give an average of more than $3,000 a year to charity, the least religious 20% give about $1,000.
  • In terms of percentage income, the most religious Americans are four times as generous as the least religious, giving about 7.5% of their income compared to about 1.5%.
  • The most religious Americans give more money to religious causes (obviously) and to secular causes. In particular, they favor organizations that benefit the needy and young people.
  • The most religious volunteer more often, to both religious and non-religious causes.
Admittedly, Christians understand their responsibility to the needy in a different way than the secularist or even Martin. They assume that the government should have the prime responsibility for the needy, and we need to agitate for reforms. However, there is indisputable evidence that entitlement programs have caused dysfunction to their target population - marginalizing the bread-winner, destroying families and creating a permanent underclass.

Sadly, the government has claimed this turf for itself, displacing providers that had one time filled this need. However, where these displaced providers had been able to exercise the necessary humanity and discernment – something essential for helping people – the government has instituted bureaucracy, inefficiency, inhumanity, red tape, and everything else that would encourage an entitlement mentality. It is therefore no wonder that evangelicals aren’t campaigning for more government control.

Martin censures the evangelical for not marching on behalf of Trayvon Martin, also censuring us for having “perverted the Bible to fit its narrow view of what Christians should pay attention to.” Of course, we have a biblical mandate to pursue justice! Admittedly, the white evangelical church was largely absent in the Civil Rights movement, and this neglect grieves many of us. However, if we don’t know that an injustice has actually been done, as in the case of Trayvon Martin, it is foolhardy to take action.

Ironically, when evangelicals do raise their voice in opposition to a clear injustice, like abortion, the media and the universities become livid with contempt, claiming that we are pushing our religion upon them – legislating morality. Darned if you do; darned if you don’t!

However, I am cheered to see many evangelicals promoting causes where the injustice is blatant, like in sexual trafficking.

Martin also cites the evangelical church for its silence regarding “police brutality.” I had been working for the New York City Department of Probation for 15 years and had heard a number of probationers complain about police brutality. However, I was in no position to assess their claims. I could only deal with issues where I had firsthand or verifiable knowledge. And sometimes this knowledge brought me into sharp conflict with my department.

Martin seems to assume that because we have not pursued institutional change in this area, we therefore have “perverted” the Gospel. Although we evangelicals are far from perfect, I find his charges grossly unfair. Do I get an “amen?”

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