I try to listen to and read across the spectrum of opinion. At times, in fiction and in reporting, I've heard Christianity bashed by certain segments of the left (certainly not all the left -- there are many Christians on the left, and many very respectful non-christians -- but just as there are angry right wingers, there are angry left wingers). Most often, it is the fundamentalist Christians who are equated to the taliban and the warmongering fundamentalists in Islam. And we hear the crusades trotted out, and abortion clinic bombers, and we hear about Pat Robertson's personal jihad against Hugo Chavez -- and we're left the impression that these represent the vast majority of evangelical/fundamentalist Christians.
And so it was quite refreshing to read Lamin Sanneh's book Whose Religion is Christianity? Sanneh is a Gambian native who teaches world mission at Yale divinity school -- he defends the rise of a distinctively African version of Christianity in the face of what he sees as Western Secularism (remember, he is in New England -- he likely sees Secularism as the dominant mode of thought in America). The book is mainly a response to Secularist critics who see a rise in Christianity as a bad thing. He addresses them point by point, showing how Christianity has had an ennobling effect on Africa (though he does have an unfortunate tendency to use the term "pluralism"; his use, however, is that of Christian pluralism -- many denominations, many tongues, many expressions of one faith -- he's not using the term explicitly in connection with interfaith pluralism). He even addresses the oh-so-often-used crusades dismissal of Christianity by showing that era as a season when the church lost sight of the teaching of Christ. He reminds us that for centuries the church has had a guilt complex over it -- only Christianity could produce such ongoing remorse for actions 900 years ago. Where are the Islamic scholars repenting for that faith's centuries of expansion by the sword? You get the idea -- read the book for more.
Then I saw last week's World magazine which contained two editorials, one about abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph, the other about Pat Robertson's unfortunate comments about assassinating Hugo Chavez. Here we have the "fundamentalist" christians at World Magazine giving unequivocal condemnation of such deeds. Christianity is a relgion of peace and kindness -- Indeed, Christianity, as opposed to secularism, has the moral grounding to say that the deeds of Rudolph and the speech of Roberson is wrong. Period. Secularism, if it is honest, has no bedrock firm moral foundation upon which to condemn such extremism.
All that to say -- Evangelicals/Fundamentalists are not the fire breathing trogdolytes that they are portrayed as in popular media. We love our children, we enjoy a good joke, we raise a glass every now and again in good spirits, and we're willing to correct our own.
So here's to World Magazine and Professor Sanneh - you receive credit where credit is due.
Soli Deo Gloria