People love freedom. Its a natural response of the human spirit to appreciate independence and autonomous rationality. They love it. Although sometimes they voluntarily curtail their own freedom for some idea of a greater good (such as religion), they love the fact that it is theirs to begin with.

So it comes as no surprise to me that the public has grown wary of the activities of evangelicals – activities like that described in this blog many, many times – activities which seek to curtail, coerce and control other people – to take their freedom away. Evangelicals, usually the good guys in society, have recently started to notice a shift in public opinion that’s gotten them nervous…. so much that some key evangelicals met last week at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary outside Boston to talk about it. They wanted to dispell some of the ‘myths’ about evangelicalism, namely, “that they are anti-intellectual; that they seek to create a Christian government in the United States; and that their belief that salvation comes only through Christ is intolerant and aims to silence other religious expression.”

Well, we know that evangelicals tend to be anti-intellectual and we know they are intolerant (and in their valid opinions, rightly so). Those are a given. So lets talk about the other two: that they seek to create a Christian government in the United States and aim to silence other religious expression. Timothy Tennent, professor of world missions at Gordon-Conwell, said evangelicals have no desire to impose Christianity on unwilling Americans. He says, “I want to protect the right for a Buddhist to be a Buddhist in America. I want to protect the right for a Muslim to be a Muslim in America. … But I still want them to know Christ.” Ok.

So evangelicals can live happily with all kinds of other religions. Why is it, then, that they seek to LEGISLATE on issues that concern them, rather than simply try and persuade others to believe what they believe and behave as they behave? The problem with what Tennent says is that, if it were true, evangelicals would not consistently attempt to force others by law to conform to Christian principals. It strikes me as ironic that a movement that, in its birth, withstood persecution and state coercion to the highest degree in order to stand for what they believed should now be attempting to persecute and coerce others for doing the same.

Evangelicals have attempted not only to weight American law toward Christian ideals but to make the American government explicitly Christian, even where it was not already. The phrase, “One nation under God” did not, contrary to what many evangelicals would have us believe, derive from any of the Founding Fathers in the infancy of the United States. It came about through the influence of evangelicals, in the 20th century! If what Tennent says is true then evangelicals would be happy to allow government to be entirely, unequivocably UNinfluenced by Christian teaching.

The common denominator that could define law in America is NOT Christianity. It is FREEDOM. The freedom to do as you like, regardless of what religious teachings it may or may not violate, so long as it does not enfringe on the equal rights of another, is the single principal that could fulfil the stated ideals of Timothy Tennent. That means that if someone wants to be a homosexual, a prostitute or a sex shop owner then evangelicals must use means other than law to persuade them that they are wrong. It means accepting that it is wrong to force others to do as YOU believe. It means respecting their God-given free-will.

To reassure Americans that evangelicals do not want to take their freedoms away, evangelicals will have to dispell their myths through more than just words at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. They must respect the rights and freedoms of their fellow citizens.

But, like a pew-dweller, bored by a weekly sermon, I’m not expecting any miracles.

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John Wright

johnwright@softhome.net