I realize that “the media” is not a monolith. So I’m using the word generally here.
However, I keep seeing the following narrative played out in scores of interviews, commentaries, and pundit discussions across the TV news networks, magazines, and the Internet.
So while there are certainly exceptions, I’ve identified nine common lies perpetuated by people in the media. Granted, there are enough vocal evangelicals to bolster each of these stereotypes, so the media isn’t completely responsible. But nuance is necessary here. Thus this post.
Lie 1. Evangelical Christians are intolerant. “Intolerance” is the new clay word that is used to strong-arm an entire group of people who dissent from the conventional wisdom. Thus if a person believes that Jesus is the only way to receive eternal life (as most evangelicals do), they are deemed “intolerant” because the conventional wisdom is to believe that eternal life doesn’t exist. Or if it does, Jesus is but one way among many ways to obtain it. In short, “intolerance” has been redefined by many in our time to put pressure on those who dissent from the status quo. Granted, some evangelicals are (unfortunately) intolerant of anyone’s beliefs but their own. But many are not.
Lie 2. Evangelical Christians hate gays and lesbians. Unfortunately, some Christians despise those in the LGBT community. However, there are many Christians who understand marriage in the traditional way (exclusively between a man and a woman) yet genuinely care for LGBT people. Interestingly, President Obama was against same-sex marriage not too long ago. I don’t recall anyone saying that he hated gays or lesbians at the time.
“What I believe is that marriage is between a man and a woman . . . What I believe, in my faith, is that a man and a woman, when they get married, are performing something before God, and it’s not simply the two persons who are meeting.” Obama in an Interview with WTTW Chicago public television in October 2004.
“I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage . . .” Obama in an October 2010 interview with Joe Sudbay while expressing a struggle over the issue and evolving attitudes.
There are evangelical Christians who break with the traditional view of marriage and homosexuality. But the suggestion that all people who affirm the traditional view of marriage hate gay people is patently false.
Lie 3. Evangelical Christians vote Republican. Some do, however, many vote Democrat, Libertarian, Independent, and some don’t vote at all, thinking that voting is to pick up the sword and affirm the Empire (see Yoder and Hauerwas on that score).
Lie 4. Evangelicals are a monolith. This is hardly the truth. As I argued in Beyond Evangelical, the evangelical coalition is incredibly diverse on all fronts and it’s fracturing. So much so that the word “evangelical” must be redefined today. On its own, the word is practically meaningless.
Lie 5. Evangelicals are mostly concerned about outlawing abortion, having limited government, getting prayer back in schools, standing against gay rights, gun control, and evolution being taught in the public schools. While some evangelicals believe all of these things, many do not. And among those who would agree in principle with the ideas, they are not priorities. On the contrary, many evangelicals are supremely concerned with the environment and the plight of the poor.
Lie 6. Evangelicals are warmongers. Some evangelicals support war in certain cases, others do not. In fact, many evangelicals are vocally opposed to it.
Lie 7. Evangelicals are hypocrites. The original meaning of the word hypocrite is someone who pretends or puts on a show. Thus a person who speaks out against the use of handguns, but owns and uses handguns themselves would fit the definition. Hypocrisy doesn’t mean imperfection or the ability to make mistakes. All Christians are imperfect and all have made mistakes in their lives. The rare exception being Jesus of Nazareth. So while hypocrisy is present in the evangelical community, it’s also present in every people-group and movement on the planet.
Lie 8. Evangelicals hate President Obama. It’s unthinkable that a genuine Christian would hate anyone. “Hateful Christian” is an oxymoron. Nevertheless, many evangelicals love Obama yet disagree with many of his policies. Other evangelicals support Obama and affirm many of his policies. If an evangelical Christian hates anyone, they are violating one of the central commands of the Bible – something which all evangelicals claim to believe in.
Lie 9. Evangelicals set homosexuality above every other kind of sin. Some certainly do, unfortunately. But many view it as no greater a sin than gossip, slander, outbursts of anger, and lying (pointing to Paul’s “works of the flesh” lists where he puts slander and outbursts of anger on the same par as gross sexual sins). And as previously stated, some evangelicals do not believe that homosexuality is a sin. (That’s another conversation for another time.)
In summary, don’t be swept away by these lies even though someone with a bigger megaphone than yours happens to be heralding them.
Looking for More? My book, Beyond Evangelical, was written to and for evangelical Christians. It discusses the changing shape of evangelical Christianity and provides evidence that there is a growing trend among Christians who do not fit the Progressive Left or the Christian Right. These are evangelicals who have moved beyond the traditional ideological categories on either side.