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It Matters What Others Think
The Global documentary, Hip 2 B Holy, presented a “kinder and gentler face” of Evangelicals than generally is portrayed by the media.

The mirror held up to Canadian evangelicalism, as presented by Global TV news anchor Kevin Newman in the documentary, Hip 2 B Holy, broadcast on May 25, shows a kinder and gentler face than the one often seen in other media portrayals of the evangelical movement. The program suggested that Canadian Evangelicals are friendly folk – “quintessentially Canadian” really – and could be good neighbours after all.

It’s unusual to see a documentary like this that lets Canadian viewers see the compassionate heart of Evangelicals…

Or are they? The answer hinges to a large extent on Newman’s perception of the “voice” of Canadian Evangelicals. It’s shown to be less strident and politically charged than that of their noisy cousins to the south, but, says Newman, “the race is on to define a Canadian evangelical voice before the American voice takes over.”

Comments like this demonstrate an ambivalent undertone to Hip 2 B Holy. After all, despite how nice the Evangelicals featured in the program might be about it, it’s clear they still want to change you into “one of them.” On the other hand, the documentary does suggest that the evangelical voice is one that deserves to be heard among the plurality of voices in Canada.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has engaged in that plurality in many different ways over its 45-year history. It has done so not so much with a sense that it deserves to be heard but out of the belief that God’s love for the world can be expressed through careful articulation of scripturally-based principles that relate to God’s concern for those who are most vulnerable in our society. The desire to see justice done for all people, not just us, is our answer to the question posed to Jesus: “Who is my neighbour?”

Despite its ambivalence, it’s good to see a documentary that lets Canadian viewers see the compassionate heart of Evangelicals. Do I say this because I want us to be seen as nice people, because I want us to be well-liked? Does it matter whether or not we are perceived as being good neighbours?

While I don’t mind the idea of Evangelicals being well-liked and considered good neighbours, the important thing here is our mission to join in God’s work of reconciling all people to Himself through Jesus Christ. Fair-minded media portrayals matter because they help to till the soil for the good news about God’s love. If the perception is that Evangelicals are mean and unkind people, then the message of God’s love has a much harder time getting through. If Evangelicals are shown to be willing to listen to non-Christians and to engage in conversation with them, then a really significant barrier to communicating the good news of new life in Jesus has been removed.

David Haskell, author of Through a Lens Darkly, makes the point well in an interview about his book, scheduled to appear in the upcoming issue of Faith Today magazine: “It’s like a farmer preparing a field. The media prepare people’s hearts, making it easier for some ideas to grow and other ideas to be rejected. If Evangelicals are concerned about sowing and growing the seeds of the Gospel in the hearts of others, they should be concerned [about the generally negative media images of evangelicalism].”

After all, the reason why younger people in particular are connecting with Evangelicals is because of the human factor: they know they are being listened to, rather than talked at. The success of the Alpha course, for instance, isn’t due to smart packaging; it’s because each individual person is valued for the story that they have to tell – a story that, as their evangelical friends listen and respond with Holy Spirit-tuned ears and hearts, will reveal ways in which God has already been at work in their lives.

God can get past negative media images, of course, but having barriers to conversation removed is a big help to those who are listening with humility to non-Christians and drawing them into the Christian journey by helping them to understand their own stories.

Aileen Van Ginkel is Vice-President, Ministry Services at The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and a member of the board of Alpha Canada Ministries. For more information on the evangelical movement in Canada, see the Centre for Research on Canadian Evangelicalism webpages on the EFC website.




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