Once in a while I read something I agree with so much I can't improve on it. What I'd prefer to do is simply reprint the other writer's piece and introduce it thusly: "What he said." Unfortunately, the Herald-Leader doesn't pay me for that. So let me recap a splendid column by Nicholas D. Kristof I saw on The New York Times' Web site under the headline, "Evangelicals Without Blowhards."
Then I'll add a few thoughts of my own.
I am an evangelical Christian. Kristof isn't, but he cut to the heart of an issue that affects us daily.
That is, in the larger culture — particularly among social and political liberals — "evangelicals came to be associated for the last 25 years with blowhard scolds," Kristof writes. As a result, "the entire evangelical movement often has been pilloried among progressives as reactionary, myopic, anti-intellectual and, if anything, immoral."
But there's a whole nother side to evangelical Christianity, exemplified by the Rev. John Stott, a British scholar who died recently. He had been named by Time as one of the world's 100 most influential people.
Stott urged evangelicals to imitate Jesus and to prove themselves Good Samaritans toward the poor, the unemployed and the oppressed. He demonstrated the generosity inherent in the Christian faith, Kristof wrote.
Yet Stott was far from alone: "In reporting on poverty, disease and oppression, I've seen so many others. Evangelicals are disproportionately likely to donate 10 percent of their incomes to charities, mostly church-related. More important, go to the front lines, at home or abroad, in the battles against hunger, malaria, prison rape, obstetric fistula, human trafficking or genocide, and some of the bravest people you meet are evangelical Christians (or conservative Catholics, similar in many ways) who truly live their faith.
"I'm not particularly religious myself, but I stand in awe of those I've seen risking their lives in this way — and it sickens me to see that faith mocked at New York cocktail parties."
I haven't traveled abroad, and I've been to exactly one New York cocktail party, but I've spent great chunks of time among evangelical Christians and the lefty intellectual set. I've observed the same phenomenon Kristof pointed out.
I'd rate many of my evangelical friends among the more generous, enlightened and compassionate people I've ever met, and yet my irreligious acquaintances tend to dismiss all evangelicals as hateful, stupid zealots.
I can't tell you how many otherwise thoughtful progressives have sidled up to me over the years and, with a conspiratorial wink, said, "It's OK. I know you're not really one of 'those' people. Not down in your heart. You're too reasonable."
Because I don't wear a swastika on my cap or a Sarah Palin button on my lapel, they assume I can't be among those flakes who believe the New Testament is true, that it means pretty much what it says and that we should try to obey it.
Well, yes, actually, I am.
I don't solely blame liberals for their ill-informed prejudices.
We evangelicals give them plenty of ammunition. We have some of the best people in the world. I'll admit we also have those intolerant, loud-mouthed blowhards to whom Kristof referred. For reasons I can't explain, the same belief system brings out the best in some people and the worst in others.
Significant numbers of evangelicals ignore or distort the teachings of Jesus to align themselves with various far-right whack jobs. They drink the Kool-Aid offered by reactionaries, whose views are every bit as ungodly as those of any Bolshevik.
I have news for you, my brothers and sisters: Jesus didn't have a political party. I'm not saying he would be a liberal Democrat if he were walking the streets of Central Kentucky today. But Jesus sure as heck wouldn't be a conservative Republican, either.
The gospel of Jesus Christ isn't liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican. It simply is. It transcends petty man-made political philosophies.
In fact, for centuries, evangelical Christianity was considered not conservative but the most radical and liberating social force in England and America.
Jesus and the first- century apostles had explicitly favored the poor over the rich, the sick over the healthy, outcasts over the in crowd and sinners over the smugly self-righteous. Losers, they said, were God's favorite people.
And given that evangelicals largely read the Scriptures and believed them, they favored such people, too.
From John Newton and William Wilberforce, who led the campaign to outlaw the slave trade in Great Britain, to William Jennings Bryan, the most liberal presidential candidate in U.S. history, evangelicals spearheaded nearly every progressive cause of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries: abolition, public education, child labor laws, prison reform, fair treatment of Native Americans — you name it.
So yes, I too would like to see secular progressives become less condescending toward a religious movement that encompasses tens of millions of wildly diverse and frequently praise-worthy individuals.
But I'd also like to see a lot of my fellow evangelicals start putting less faith in Fox News and more faith in the Good News.