Turning Perception on Its Head

Every once in a while, you run across something that truly changes the way you look at things. That happened for me with last Tuesday’s Daily Show (which, thanks to my DVR, I only got around to watching Friday evening).

On the show, Jon Stewart interviewed Jim Wallis, author of God’s Politics and an avowed evangelical Christian. You can see an excerpt of the interview here, but in a nutshell, Wallis made the case rather eloquently that the right wing does not speak for all evangelicals.

The Republicans — according to Wallis — would have us believe that gay marriage and abortion are the only two “moral values” of interest to evangelical Christians. Wallis’s belief is that given the overwhelming attention given in the Bible to things like poverty and honesty, those should be much higher on the scale of importance. (For the record, it would appear that Wallis’s book levels some equally harsh criticisms on the left, though they weren’t as much in evidence in this particular interview.)

I have never had a problem with people either having or expressing their faith. My “eternal hostility” is reserved solely for those who would choose to impose that belief upon those who do not share it. To date, I’ve always thought of evangelism as — by its very nature — crossing that line (or at least coming awfully close). And since the more rabid crowd is the one that tends to get the most news coverage, I’d seen nothing to dispel that impression. I don’t wonder that I’ve painted the group with an inappropriately large brush. (It probably doesn’t hurt that the psychotics in power are more than eager to imply a one-to-one correlation between evangelical Christianity and support for them.)

But Wallis comes across as pretty much the antithesis of the angry, superior, contemptuous, Bible-thumping evangelical we’ve seen far too much of — he appears reasoned, inclusive, nonjudgmental... in other words, a normal guy who just happens to be Christian.

It remains to be seen whether Wallis’s movement will gain enough traction to overcome the knee-jerk wingnuts who — up until now — had formed the basis of my impression of the evangelical movement. But now I’m a great deal more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.


At 6:08 PM, Kori said...

Very interesting. I have said it before, and I'll say it again: being a Democrat and being a Christian are not mutually exclusive. His point about poverty and honesty are very well-made, and were actually expressed by Howard Dean recently (I believe on "Meet the Press," but it may have been another Sunday morning news show). Dean spoke about how Democrats needed to reach out to prolife members of their own party, because prolife Democrats are people driven by deep moral conviction about life in all it's forms, and choose to be Democrats as the Democratic party so often champions the social programs that help those in poverty---those whose lives are constantly at risk. As a Catholic, I know that there is no "right to life" party just as there is no "help the meek" party and no "defend the least among us" party. I just vote my conscience, and 95% of the time that leads me to the Democrats.

In terms of Christianity as a whole, I have often thought that alligning the faith almost entirely with the Republican party has a corruptive effect on the faith. As Republicans have become the "conservative moral value" party, many believers have taken to them wholeheartedly without questioning the GAZILLION ways that they just may not be representing Jesus here on earth. Ignoring the AIDS crisis in Africa while engaging in needless war in Iraq is not exactly the most Christian mission I've ever seen. No political party holds the keys to God's mission for us here on earth.

Also interesting today, Bill, especially for a "Daily Show" fan like you, is an interview on NPR's "Fresh Air" with Stephen Colbert. Did you know that he is a practicing Roman Catholic? Apparently, I'm in very good company! Here's the link:


At 7:00 PM, Bill Coughlan said...

I did not know that, though “This Week in God” is one of my absolute favorite bits on the show. Adds a bit more perspective to it.

As he points out in the Fresh Air interview (thanks for the heads-up, by the way), the segment is not about poking fun at religion, but at the use of religion in a hypocritical or destructive fashion.


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