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The Media Say "Good Riddance" to Evangelicals
Media reports that declare Christian movements dead provide an excellent opportunity for Evangelicals in Canada to tell their story.

What are we to make of the recent New York Times pronouncement of the death of the religious right in the United States and the withering away of Evangelicals in the political arena? To hear them tell it, the Earth just flipped on its axis and all's finally well with the world.

The obvious problem for mainstream media is that this is all complex stuff…

The problem is, this isn't the first time mainstream media in the U.S. or Canada have declared Christian movements (conservative or otherwise) dead. The religious right died when Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992 and died again when he was re-elected four years later. Fundamentalism (an off-shoot of evangelicalism) was declared dead in 1925 after the famous Scopes Trial. And Christianity was supposedly in decline with the social revolution of the 1960s.

No one seemed to have noticed Evangelicals at the forefront of the social gospel movement here in Canada or the Jesus People movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The coming year will bring much debate in the U.S. about the influence of Evangelicals during the runup to the presidential election. That debate may even spill into Canada as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives decide what to do with the socially conservative wing of their party.

This is an excellent opportunity for Evangelicals in Canada to tell their story because much of the debate about them in the U.S. and in Canada is based on ignorance.

Evangelicals are a mysterious group because they actually take their faith seriously The four tenants of the evangelical worldview are generally 1) faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, 2) the centrality of the Bible as the word of God, 3) an emphasis on individuals being converted from sin to salvation and 4) the belief that the faithful must participate with God in proclaiming the Gospel.

The obvious problem for mainstream media is that this is all complex stuff. They love to lump anyone who agrees with the above into a neat little box and label them "the religious right." At most, between six and 14 percent of Canadians fall into the Evangelical definition, with perhaps 35 percent of Americans being Evangelicals of one stripe or another.

Most media assume Evangelicals all vote the same way—Republican in the U.S., Conservative in Canada—and react to social issues like the family-values firebrands who hate homosexuals and abortions and loved Billy Graham before he let DC Talk and Steven Curtis Chapman into his crusades.

The reality is that typical Evangelicals probably give more to charity, volunteer more and are more involved in their children's publicly-funded school than their than non-religious neighbours.

It is unfair to peg the many Canadians who only darken the door of a church for a marriage or a funeral as godless hedonists, bad neighbours and poor parents. Similarly, it is unfair to classify Evangelicals as anything other than well-intentioned people struggling to make their world a better place.

It is heartening to see the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), through its Centre for Research on Canadian Evangelicalism, taking the lead on educating Canadians through their new Church & Faith Trends periodical.

This web-only publication is first-class in both content and intent, judging by its first issue and the list of solid academics like John Stackhouse, Andrew Grenville and Mark Noll who sit on its advisory council. This type of leadership contradicts silly anti-God attacks such as Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Sam Harris' Lettersto a Christian Nation. Certainly Church & Faith Trends will give balance to what should be an important public debate—provided media and other elites have an open mind.

Evangelicals today need strong leadership and a little humility such as the kind displayed by Bill Hybels when he made the shocking confession that his Willow Creek-spawned "seeker-sensitive" movement has produced a generation of warmed-over Christians who aren't disciples of Jesus Christ but rather, touchy-feely bystanders in the Christian life.

In Canada, we'll need to follow the example of EFC president Bruce Clemenger, who wasn't afraid to go to New York with other Evangelical leaders to dialogue with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahamadinejad. As Clemenger said afterward, "People of faith have an obligation to talk, to acknowledge issues and speak about them respectfully, and encourage governments to do the same."

Does it sound like Evangelicals are going to go away?

Joe Couto keeps his fingers on the pulse of Canadian politics through his Toronto-based advocacy company, Tourniquet Communications.

Originally published in ChristianWeek, December 2007.

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