My last post was on assuming the worst about “Those Evangelicals” and the liturgy. This week, I thought Those Evangelicals deserved their own post. But first, I should explain what I mean by Those Evangelicals.
Who are Those Evangelicals?
No matter your theology or politics, everybody can have Those Evangelicals.
If you’re a conservative, Those Evangelicals are the people who read Rachel Held Evans and vote Bernie Sanders and use words like “social justice” and “fair trade coffee.”
If you’re a liberal, Those Evangelicals listen to James Dobson and vote Ted Cruz and use words like “sanctity of marriage” and “American exceptionalism.”
And if you’re like me and like pretending you’re a moderate, you could have Those Evangelicals on both sides of you.
There are characteristics that apply to Those Evangelicals. All of them:
- Disagree with us on “core issues.” This sounds important and serious, and sometimes it is. Some of the arguments we have are on fundamental matters of Christianity.
Other issues aren’t as “core” as we think. Sometimes they’re just our group’s pet issue of the moment. Because we see the issue defended so often on our newsfeeds, we assume it’s more fundamental than it is.
But either way, the result is the same. We feel that the church in our time must take strong action toward our core issue. Everything depends on it. And Those Evangelicals just don’t get it.
- Disagree for the worst reasons. Of course, the only way Those Evangelicals could disagree with us is some deficiency in their character. Liberals assume the “only explanation” for conservatives clinging to their antiquated views is blind adherence to a vanished past, and bigotry toward those who are different. Conservatives assume the “only explanation” for liberals jumping from traditional Christian teachings is a gravelling desire to appease the world, and a terror at being viewed as irrelevant by today’s culture.
The thought that people could disagree for principled reasons never occurs to us.
- Must be wrong about everything. Eventually it goes beyond the core issues–we’ll reflexively disagree with everything Those Evangelicals say. No matter how innocuous the statement is, or how little context we have, whenever one of Those Evangelicals says something, we will get offended and disagree.
For me, there’s one author who’s popular with my evangelical friends of. . . a certain political bend. For reasons I can’t quite explain, she drives me crazy. Every time I even glance at one of her re-tweets on Twitter, my heart rate goes up and I start composing diatribes against her in my head1.
- Make us feel self-righteous. This is the most fundamental reason of all–every time we disagree with Those Evangelicals, we feel smarter. And holier.
This last factor is what makes Those Evangelicals so fun–and dangerous. When I’m with a group of friends who agree with me, we all crack jokes about Those Evangelicals and how ridiculous they are. Then we laugh and pat each other on the back and congratulate ourselves on our own rightness.
As fun as that is, focusing on Those Evangelicals is bad for us. As you can probably guess, there are several reasons for this, too:
- It creates a bubble. It’s easy to see why. If our opponents are ruining Christianity with their bad reasoning and poor character, why should we have anything to do with them?
It’s amazing how easy it is to create a bubble of people who agree with us on everything. We can block the newsfeeds of any of Those Evangelicals on Facebook. We can only follow people on Twitter who already agree with us on everything. We can only read the news sites that confirm our worldview. And, as it turns out, everyone we follow has the EXACT same view of Those Evangelicals as us!
Eventually, we get to the point where we’re never challenged, and can’t imagine how anyone could come to a different opinion unless they’re an idiot or a terrible person. You know, like Those Evangelicals.
- It depersonalizes the other side. If we get to the point where we don’t actually know any of Those Evangelicals, and we don’t bother learning their ideas, then Those Evangelicals stop being people. Instead, they’re more like internet goblins–heartless, disembodied monsters who troll the waves of social media to destroy everything you hold dear. Luckily, you and people like you are here to save the day.
- It leads to pride. This is the end result of bashing Those Evangelicals. There’s intellectual pride. Congratulating ourselves on our own wisdom for seeing through the errors of Those Evangelicals. There’s also moral pride. Because, of course, the fact that we hold the correct opinions and Those Evangelicals hold the wrong opinions doesn’t just mean we’re smarter–it means we’re better people. We have the moral courage to Take a Stand for Truth when the degenerates around us fall away. If only everyone could be more like us, the world would be a better place….
The solution to this thinking is simple, but it’s also difficult–getting to know Those Evangelicals. Going out to dinner with them. Reading a book they recommend. Disagreeing in a civil way, trying to understand their point of view.
None of this means that we should abandon all of our theological and political convictions. It also doesn’t mean that we should sweep all our differences to the side and pretend we agree on everything. But it does mean that we should view the other side with charity. This goes beyond simply understanding their arguments–it means getting to know them as people.
If all of Those Evangelicals are internet goblins without souls or minds, it’s easy to stand in prideful judgment. But if Those Evangelicals include people we actually know and like, the pride and judgment are harder to come by.
Does anybody have good advice for getting to know people from the “Other Side”? I suppose you could also guess who that writer is who drives me nuts. But you should know I plan on denying everybody suggested…
1 I’d say who this author is, but that’s better suited for my other blog: “A Million Writers who Bug Me.”