Tag Archives: Pew Foundation

Billy Graham and the Unintended Consequences of Exerting Influence

The Cell Leader Coordinators were discussing a recent spate of articles last week. They were all quoting the Pew Foundation’s research on the impact of evangelicals on evangelism in the United States. Then up popped Billy Graham, the evangelical par excellence, in the Sunday paper (most likely fronting for his son, Franklin). I want to talk about the Pew study in a minute, but first I want to dispute with Rev. Graham’s exhortation, which is a good example of what the study is talking about.

For one thing, no 93-year-old should have such a beautiful head of hair. Very disturbing. I will dare attribute it to the blessing due a tireless evangelist.

But as for some other things…

1) When did the American people have their hearts turned toward God? Was it when they considered slaves 3/5 of a person? Was it when they were cleansing the continent of Indians? Was it when they dropped the bomb on Nagasaki? A lot of Americans have been Christians, but the government was not designed too well to reflect their faith, or at least it rarely has — maybe when the Marshall Plan bailed out Europe, or maybe when George Bush decided AIDS was actually a problem. There are exceptions to the godless rule, but what era are you remembering?

2) How people have sex, how families are made, and whether the government can dictate our convictions are important “issues.” But I can’t see why they make this election “critical.” For an evangelist the question should start with Jesus, not issues. Why in the world did you not mention the fact that the person whose stand on the issues your prefer happens to be a leader in a non-Christian religion? There’s an issue for you.

Unless something has changed in Barack Obama’s life since 2008, his Christian testimony is well known. You can watch him say it on YouTube. If the evangelist is going to get involved, one would think he’d vote for the evangelized. Just saying. I’m not matching your thinly-veiled endorsement of Romney with my thinly-veiled endorsement of the drone president. Just saying.

3) For a Christian to try to exert political power in the name of his “definitions” seems so worldly to me! Saying that the Bible “speaks” still seems like a strange anthropomorphism to me. The definitions are not Lord, Jesus is Lord. The Bible doesn’t save me, the resurrected Jesus saves me. Any power we, as the church, exert in the election should come through the example of our self-giving love that we can define for people who are moved by the presence of God’s grace in it.

There is so much that is disturbing here. But I will pray with you that America and the whole world turns their hearts toward God. Some of the Christians will indeed, be turning back.

But I want Pew to talk to you, too.

The October 10 issue of Newsweek is an example of what many publications are printing. The Pew Foundation found that “Nones” are on the rise. That is, for the first time, there are now as many Americans who claim no religion as there are white evangelicals. Both groups make up about a fifth of the population. The number of Americans without religion is on track to surpass the “born-again” population. About a third of adults under 30 don’t associate themselves with any faith, compared with only 9 percent of those over 65. This is not, the report suggests, simply a result of a general youthful tendency toward irreligion. “[Y]oung adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives,” the report says.

Some theorists believe young people are rejecting religious labels precisely because they have become intertwined with so-called conservative social policies. The report quotes Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell’s book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, which argues that as the religious right gained power, young Americans “came to view religion … as judgmental, homophobic, hypocritical, and too political.”  You think?

People of the dominant strain of Evangelicals have become the anti-evangelists of the age. Perhaps the cost of full-page political ads all over the country could have been used for better ends. At the end of September the candidates had also expended a lot of money on influence: 1.3 billion dollars on the publically accountable campaign, another 65 million dollars by unaccountable PACs on Mitt Romney’s side. Do evangelists think anything about that?