Saturday, August 20, 2016

Evangelical Lethargy

Why is it so hard to get evangelicals to simply love people without pretense?

Notice I said "evangelicals" rather than Christians. As evangelicalism became a movement, it became a label that means so many things beyond (or in conflict with) the term "Christian". The fact that "evangelicals" have become a voting block seems to officially deem the term as dead with regards to its original meaning.

In any case, I've found it interesting that, as I've become involved with refugee resettlement initiatives in Northwest Arkansas, evangelical churches have been some of the most difficult to work with. That is, so far, they're among the least likely to get involved and have the most questions not related to logistics or practical matters. They have the most "spiritual" objections.

The most oft-stated area of concern is the non-proselytizing clause, though I'm loath to say it is really the primary issue. In any case, that non-proselytizing clause (which originates form the U.S. State Department) has been the number one stated reason for saying, "We don't think this best fits our mission at this time," or similar phrases. Here's what I find uncomfortable about this:
  • Despite the frequent blurring and blending of the two, evangelism and proselytism are not the same. Rather than explain the differences myself, you can read a brief synopsis or a more complete description for yourself.
  • Most people I know who are part of churches, evangelical or otherwise, don't really share their faith anyway. Few people talk about it with their non-believing neighbors, colleagues, etc. I make no judgement on these people; I'm just stating a reality. To somehow reject caring for refugees for this reason seems to hint at pretext rather than authenticity.
  • I don't see that the Bible ever makes sharing the gospel a prerequisite for loving someone tangibly. The parable of the Good Samaritan certainly doesn't. Many miraculous healings don't mention it, and after some healings (e.g. this healing of ten lepers), only one person actually heard more of the message (that we know of, at least). I'm not saying that the gospel and service should be separate, but the Bible seems to say that the only prerequisite for helping someone is that they are human.
  • Many people from these churches are interested and even excited, but it the pastor or mission board or some other governing body ends up shooting down the idea. It seems these people should be the most aware of the distinctions between evangelism and proselytism.

As I said, it sometimes seems like the non-proselytizing clause is a pretext for the real reason, but I'm not sure what that real reason would be. It sometimes feels as if the real reason might be related to the other churches that are participating, namely, mainline denominations, often of a more liberal orientation. I understand not wanting to affirm a theology that conflicts with your own, but when (a) the operating organization is a non-religious, interdenominational non-profit, (b) the goal is to help those in need, and (c) participating groups don't have to work with other groups, I simply don't understand how that could be a barrier.

So, I'm left with the question I began with: Why is it so hard to get evangelicals to simply love people without pretense?

As a side note, could it be one of these reasons?

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