Sold-Out for Christ, On-fire for God, Jesus Freak . . . These are words that scare people, but are worn with pride by those inside evangelical circles. What thought comes to your mind when you think of Evangelicals? From what I’ve read, I can list a few. Evangelicals are often described as; uneducated, rural, holding onto bronze age myths, forcing their beliefs down others’ throats, controlling the reproductive rights of women, discriminating against homosexuals and being at war with science.
Whenever I look at the Huffington Post or read about Evangelicals from major news outlets, the perspective towards Evangelicals is generally hateful, misrepresented, and intolerant of their beliefs. In a world where being tolerant of all views is idealized, that same toleration of beliefs does not seem to extend to those “religious people on the right.” Society’s perspective of Evangelicals is the same as dust that holds back the gears of a clock from moving forward. People view Evangelicals as blocking progress in science, civil rights, and the betterment of the world to maintain their beliefs in ancient folklore.
Since I grew up in the South, I find humor in watching other people’s bewilderment by and explanations of the actions of Evangelicals. To be fair, several people who grew up with me still view Evangelicals with the same sense of puzzlement as those who didn’t. I understand Evangelicals because I experienced things like the baptism of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, mission trips, and witnessing to others about the sacrifice of Christ. Despite my experiences, I personally have grown apart from the church in time. This doesn’t mean I’ve denounced my faith. In fact, I’ve been able to hold onto to my faith because I believe a good historical case can be made for the life of Christ. Nevertheless, I no longer maintain the belief that the bible is historically infallible or that it was solely inspired by God. There is too much contrary evidence. Still, the church was my home during my most vulnerable years. I’m admittedly sympathetic to the evangelical worldview. Like Katy Perry, our evangelical pasts largely shaped who we are and we can never refute the influence our pasts had on shaping our characters. I bet it amazes her like it does myself, that in times of tribulation (see the lyrics to Wide Awake), our pasts resurface to help us deal with conflict and come to grips with our perception of reality.
So, when I say I understand Evangelicals, I really mean it. I don’t know why their views are attacked as thoughtless or hateful. Somehow, since they are connected to religion, those who oppose their views preemptively accept notions that evangelical positions are simply crazy or devoid of logic. Worst of all, people who disagree with Evangelicals summarize and reduce their views to hate. I hear people say Evangelicals don’t have good reasons for their positions; they just want to control women, minorities, and homosexuals. Often, when I hear people speak of Evangelicals, their descriptions sound as if they are describing extra terrestrials. People can and should disagree with evangelical positions, but I’ve realized the demonization of Evangelicals is so extreme that people have no idea who Evangelicals really are or what they really do. Just listen to this exchange on the Rachel Maddows show.
The problem I have with this clip is when I was younger, we never solely gathered during small group studies or church to talk about the pro-life movement, evolution, politics or gay rights. If that’s what comes to mind when you think of Evangelicals, you are missing the greater point of who they are and what’s important to them. I think as a society, we lose when we choose not to understand someone else’s perspective or point of view. When we fail to respect someone else’s point of view, we regress to accusing them of false generalizations. We simply no longer understand where they are coming from, so we regress to simple explanations that make sense to us. Let me paint this picture in a different light.
People do not understand Buddhism so they travel thousands of miles to come to Korea or Japan to stay in temples or to watch Buddhism in action. Even if they don’t agree with the tenets of Buddhism, they find tranquility in observing the discipline, reverence, and sincerity of those who do. By undertaking temple stays, they are clearly willing to experience another point of view. The differences they have with Buddhism aren’t perceived as threats, devotion to fairy tales (Buddhism does have some strange stories), or of being alien; they are perceived as beautiful.
The tragedy is these beautiful differences exist in our backyard in America. However, as with most things, the deeper involved you become with an organization the more aware you are of its imperfections. The better you get to know someone, the more aware you become of their errors, struggles, mistakes and vulnerabilities. People fail to see the beautiful differences in Evangelicals because they were too close at one point. They were disappointed by someone or were hurt by the church. Maybe what they experienced in real life didn’t measure up to the lofty expectations of religion in their mind.
What people don’t realize is these same problems exist everywhere. The preeminence of Buddhism and Confucianism in Korea has created many wonderful things, but also has its share of problems. If you think women are being held back by Evangelicals in America, you should see the effects Confucianism has on the treatment of women in Korea. Many western women living in Korea have been appalled by what is considered culturally acceptable behavior of husbands and boyfriends. I’m not bashing Buddhism, but watch this clip of a recent scandal by monks in Korea. Where you have people, you will have problems. No religious organization or secular group is exempt from this truth.
Despite its many problems and alien beliefs, westerners are still drawn to the beautiful mystery of a foreign religion because we are largely ignorant of its drawbacks. With Buddhism, we show respect to the beauty of its traditions and the devotion of its followers. We seek understanding with the reasoning and the perspective it brings to its followers. We have lost this same respect and perspective with those of the Evangelical faith.
So here is my question: What would Evangelicalism look like to westerners if it were just as foreign? What would a temple stay look like for someone who wanted to experience the beauty of the evangelical faith? To some in America who grew up in a secularized environment, Evangelicalism is just as foreign. Would these people find beauty in its tradition? Would they find admiration for the devotion of its followers? What would Evangelicalism look like? What happens so hundreds of people gather into those buildings we drive past on Sunday morning? Being that I am from the evangelical movement, I think I can show you what your temple stay with Evangelicals would look like and show you what drives them towards their devotion. It’s not bully pulpit speeches or political pandering. When I was active in church, I never woke up being excited about going to church to hear a speech on being pro-life or a Republican. This video below shows exactly what drives Evangelicals to their daily devotion.
These are teenagers and young adults in this video. They are earnest, devoted, and sincere. They don’t have a political agenda or plot they want to fulfill. What they do is the same as what you do when you wake up in the morning next to someone you love. You hold them as they hold onto you. The difference is, Evangelicals choose to spend their Sunday morning reaching out to hold onto God, and to give him the opportunity and invitation to hold onto them. Did you not see peace in their expressions? Did you not see real joy and love in their faces. Maybe you disagree with everything Evangelicals believe; however, like admiring the sincerity of a Buddhist monk, watching the heartfelt earnestness of a real Evangelical reaching out to God is nothing short of beautiful. This is the real evangelical movement in the backyard of America. This is what Evangelicals really do with their time. If we acknowledged the inherent beauty of their faith instead of epitomizing them as crazy, we would better position ourselves to respect and make compromises with each other. Unless we really respect each other, there will be no understanding or common ground. Both the forces of Evangelicalism and Secularism are here to stay. It is up to us to take the time to understand each other and grow together with our differences.