It is interesting to see how differently Baptists can react to the growing religious and political pluralism in our midst. Some do so with such fear.
In his April 24 editorial (“Dare to be the ‘bad guys’ of the future”) in The Christian Index, newspaper of the Georgia Baptist Convention, editor Gerald Harris paints a fearful picture of America — with public education, secular government and tolerant attitudes making life hard on good ol’ evangelical Christians.
“Be prepared to endure the slings and arrows of those who are tolerant of everything but manifestly intolerant of Bible-believing, Christ-loving, soul-winning Christians,” he warns.
Leaning on Josh McDowell for support, Harris concludes that evangelical Christians are the “good guys” who are becoming “the bad guys in the United States.”
This bunker mentality produces an “us vs. them” perspective that makes life into an ongoing battle against those who are different.
If evangelicals are deemed “the good guys,” then what does that make my Jewish neighbor, my Roman Catholic coworker or my nonreligious in-law?
Is tolerance of others really worse than designating those who do not share one’s narrow faith commitments and corresponding political perspectives as “bad guys?”
Harris, like others who share this reaction to pluralism, gives the false notion that American evangelicals are powerless victims who get picked on by bullies. With our constitutional guarantees of religious liberty this is an affront to those in the world who genuinely suffer for their faith convictions.
Though evangelical Christians dominate the airwaves and fill political positions from local school boards to the Oval Office, the fear does not wane.
Harris warns: “[W]e may be only one presidential election away” from having a leader who won’t call the nation to prayer during a national tragedy. (Apparently, the president is to be our spiritual leader — a pastoral, as well as political, role.)
However, the biggest problem with “us” (good guys) vs. “them” (bad guys) is that it creates only two options for how to relate to those who are different: Convert them (so they become like us) or conquer them (so they won’t pick on us).
Designating oneself and those just like oneself as “the good guys” — and marinating that arrogance in a fear of those who are different — can only lead to the devaluation of others. They can only be seen as either a threat or a target.
Such an attitude seems amazingly at odds with how Jesus related to the wide variety of people he encountered. He seemed more concerned with offering grace, mercy and healing than dividing people into two groups and handing out white and black hats.