Monday, July 13, 2009

"Scandal of the Public Evangelical?"

This article (posted 2nd July 2009) by Mark Galli of Christianity Today, makes an interesting observation about ongoing public perceptions of the American evangelical image. The way he presents them shows public Christian figures have turned professed evangelicalism into a 'scandal.' My question, can these three examples be fairly representative of a true 'scandal?' For every piece of 'bad publicity,' what about the 'good?' More often than not, bad news sells. We must take that into consideration. I shall first summarize briefly Galli's article. Then I shall give some of my reasons why Galli's arguments are flawed for at least 4 reasons.

Three Examples = 'scandal?'
Scandal #1 - Carrie Prejean
As Miss California who champions conservative evangelical beliefs, she argues against gay marriage, only to be dethroned later.

Scandal #2 - Gosselins of "Jon and Kate plus 8" fame
As devout Christians hoping to be a positive witness on the TV screen, they are now in the process of a bitter divorce.

Scandal #3 - Mark Sanford
A prominent politician who professes conservative Christian faith, he admitted adultery.

Galli goes on to say that these "Christians could have been models of our faith." He then goes on to point out that while it is a noble thing for Christians to strive their best to practice their faith publicly, they should not forget that Christianity is about grace. He made a sharp observation that many well-meaning Christians try to avoid 'cheap grace' through acts of good works. He then says that the "flaws of Jon and Kate" reflects the movement's flaws.

His main point is that sometimes, Christians themselves try too hard to be Christians. They do so to the point that they forget that Christianity is not about accumulating good works upon good. It is about grace unlimited. Yet, for Galli, the problem with evangelicals is that they feel 'grace' is not enough.

My Comments
Galli argues it rather well, but I find them not convincing enough for four reasons.
  1. Why single these examples out?
    I remember a time when I was working as a network and systems administrator. At that time, no news is truly good news. People read their emails without any hiccup. Their printers work fine and IT operations seem like a breeze. Of course, a lot of efforts have been put in to ensure that systems remain in tip-top conditions. All it takes, is an unexpected outage, and the phones will start to ring. The 'villain' becomes the systems guy. In other words, when nothing happens, nobody notice. When something happens, everybody sits up and take notice. For Galli to bring out 3 prominent figures above, why not highlight 3 other non-prominent people who ARE making a positive change in the world? An opportunity missed to present a balanced picture?

  2. A Representative Pool?
    Can people like Prejean, the Gosselins and Sanford form a true picture of the evangelical community? I believe that even non-Christians are clever enough not to generalize. While these three popular personalities 'could' have been role models, the truth is, none of them, even if they did not fall, can ever claim to be role models. Anyone who claims to be one ought to shudder and try to avoid the limelight. Rick Warren is one such person who attempts the live low-profile life, despite his fame and popularity. He hardly grant interviews and prefers to concentrate on ministry rather than TV. A true role model must be quiet and keeps a low profile.

  3. Scandal of Idolatrous Human Perception
    The real 'scandal' is actually idolatrous perception. Firstly, one can unfairly project expectations on public figures. The human person is never perfect. If the press and media decides at the onset to tarnish a public figure, they can always find a way. One way is to continually pressurize a public person like a stress-test, to see when and how they fall. This reminds me of "Schadenfreude" which is a German word to describe people's fascination into "bad things that happen to other people." (see my article here)

    Secondly, what about 'role models' that turn into idols themselves? Isn't that more dangerous? For instance, it will be sad that Mother Teresa become so idolized that people worships her rather than the God she worships. If role models turn into idols, such models become more dangerous than an amalgamation of Prejean-Gosselin-Sanford combined!

  4. Galli's Audience
    I believe that Galli may be writing to a specific target audience, who need to make some sense of the current state of American evangelicalism. As people who strive to live an honest and exemplary Christian life, their efforts to be a positive witness to non-believers may have been hindered by questions surrounding: "What about the other Christians?" In other words, Galli's article is for a specific group of people, not Christians in general.

    Role models may be important, but they do not fully represent Christians overall. Who knows, in our efforts to make 'role models' out of anyone, not only will we unconsciously make them out to be idols-for-Christ, we may even cause them to stumble in the process, through prolonged exposure to high expectations.
Galli's conclusion that Christianity is one of grace is something I agree with. Yet, his article ought also to actively behave like a message of grace, to be shown to the three unfortunate persons he highlighted in the first place. Don't forget, that Christ died for all. That includes Miss Prejean, the Gosselins as well as Mr Sanford.


1 comment:

Rosie Perera said...

Well said, Conrade. Excellent post!

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