REAL compassionate Evangelicalism
Recently a writer called me on it, so I admit it.
I laugh at the religious buffoonery of such politicians as Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, and a whole slew of others.
But in all sincerity, Dear Reader, it’s not me that’s making a mockery of anyone or anything. It is they themselves that through their pompous, pretentious actions and boisterous comments hold true Christianity up to ridicule.
Believe what you may, but no politician has a direct line to the Creator who patiently advises them on their political plans and promotes their partisan aspirations. Still, not since Moses have so many people claimed such open access to the Burning Bush.
On the other hand, I don’t laugh, but rather I despair at the spiritual “leadership” of such men as John Hagee, James Dobson, Donald Wildmon, and others of their ilk.
Frankly, I don’t expect much from these people or their followers.
The sad fact of life is, the Religious Right in these United States have largely stolen Jesus and if you don’t believe like they believe, or if you don’t pray like they pray, or if you don’t use the right catch-phrases they use, you just aren’t “blessed,” doncha know?
While too many people in these United States continue to be focusing on the religious silliness of a small group of politicians who lay sole claim to the Heavenly Mansions Seal of Approval; while Gov. Rick Perry tries harder and harder to prove to that what this nation really needs is the Christian equivalent of Sharia law; while Bachmann tries to juggle her time and energy between religious fervor and Tea Party favor; huge things take place in the evangelistic world that I expect most people in this country don’t even know about.
For example the, Rev. John Stott died last week.
John Stott was arguably one of the most influential evangelical leaders and teachers of the last century.
Rev. Billy Graham considered him a mentor.
But ... Stott never ranted and raved a political message. He never claimed his country was the best in the world. He didn’t contend to have an inside track to God, (no more than any other sincere person in prayer.) As opposed to the many leather thumping charlatans we have railing from pulpits around this county, Stott was a humble man.
Stott, a quiet and conservative Englishman, described himself and other true evangelicals as “ ... a plain, ordinary Christian.”
As opposed to the anti-intellectual trend so prevalent in the Religious Right and pseudo-conservative wing of politics today, Stott studied in some of the best universities in the world, graduating with highest honors in French, German, and Theology.
He spoke other languages and didn’t think English was a gift from God. He believed in asking questions and searching the Scriptures for answers.
He was one of the most powerful preachers and teachers in the world, but refused to dumb down the Bible.
Stott wrote something like 50 books. I’ve read a couple of them, including The Radical Disciple. (By the way, most of the royalties from his books were turned over to various charities. As opposed to the polyester suited preachers on American TV, Stott did not get rich from his “service to God.”)
He wrote Basic Christianity which in many ways laid out the framework for modern evangelicalism.
He was a powerful, powerful intellectual who spent as much time discussing theology with street cleaners and baggage handlers as he did with clerics and theologians.
Stott believed that evangelicalism could never be disconnected from the real world and recognized the tremendous need for an active social welfare outreach as commanded by the Bible.
In an interview with “Christianity Today” a few years back, Stott noted that neither “Love your neighbor” and “Go and make disciples” were exclusive commands.
“If we truly love our neighbor we shall without doubt tell him the good news of Jesus. But equally if we truly love our neighbor we shall not stop there.”
Stott recognized that true believers needed to not only listen to the Word of God, but were also called to listen to the world around them. He called it “double listening.”
Stott had a long reach. His influence was arguably greater than any American evangelical theologian — including Billy Graham.
But in a world in which Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and John Hagee, (one of Rick Perry’s favorites), hold sway, you just don’t hear about guys who say there is a Biblical responsibility to be good stewards of this earth and good neighbors to every person - no matter what the faith or ethnicity.
He believed strongly that the Bible and the science of evolution were not contradictory, and cried out for environmental responsibility.
His evangelism was based on a compassionate reading of the Bible.
He didn’t need the angry God stuff.
And by the way, he never fudged his conservative theology. For example, he spoke out harshly on issues of abortion and homosexuality, but at the same time he embraced those people.
The Rev. Stott was one of my theological heroes - and a conservative one at that — balancing off Thomas Merton, Father Edward Schillebeeckx, and Hans Kung.
These men of God have something to say that was worth hearing.
But Michelle, Rick and the Religious Right hucksters who call themselves spiritual, or spiritual leaders are simply boring and rather than listening for God in the hurricane of politics would be better off listening for “the still small voice.”
They would be much better off reaching out to the world, than they are reaching out to their “base.”