I’m a jaded old reporter who isn’t shocked by much. I’ve covered heinous stories like the John Wayne Gacy trial, political corruption at the highest level, and kids sold by a parent on drugs. But one story this week caught me by surprise.
Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in California, lost his adult son to suicide after the young man’s battle from birth with severe mental illness. The loss of a child in such a painful way was tragedy enough, but I was stunned by some of the reaction to it on the Internet.
The immediate outpouring of condolences was no surprise. He is a father with a worldwide platform, who had lost a beloved son. What I didn’t expect was the vicious, sick online attacks of Warren, in the wake of his family’s loss. Some were from non-believers who oppose his views on particular issues and some were from people within the family of faith who felt what happened was some kind of divine judgment for unpopular stances Warren has taken.
God help us. Has it really come to this?
I’m not here to debate Rick Warren’s positions on anything, except to say I admire his efforts to “walk the talk.” He takes no salary from his megachurch, donates 90% of his book royalties to worthy cases, and works tirelessly on reconciliation, AIDS, care for the poor and other crushing issues.
But I do want to challenge two popular notions: 1) that all people who call themselves Christians are alike and move in lockstep, and 2) that evangelicals (like Warren) are the weird, embarrassing stepchildren in the family of faith–zealous, self-righteous, fringe folks.
First, there is actually more diversity under the umbrella of Christianity than almost anything I can think of. Frankly, I wish believers could agree on a few more things. By one account there are 41,000 “denominations” or organized groups within Christianity–50% Catholic, 37% Protestant, 12% Orthodox, and 1+% “other.” Among the 800 million Protestants, there are hundreds of further sub-categories, including evangelicals. In fact, evangelicals show up in lots of denominations, as well as their own subset.
Bottom line? To say that everyone who calls himself a Christian believes the same thing is like saying all people who drive Ford trucks are rednecks or all people who like sushi are effete snobs.
Second, evangelicals are not the same as radical fundamentalists. The basic definition of an evangelical is someone who believes:
- Christ is God’s Son, not just a prophet or wise person
- the Bible is the inerrant and complete revelation of God and his plans for humanity
- conversion to a personal faith in Christ (often called a “born-again” experience) is God’s requirement for salvation, and
- evangelism or sharing God’s message of “good news” is something God asks of those who follow Christ–to be ambassadors of the gospel.
I’m an evangelical. Don’t worry. You don’t need to hide your women and children. I don’t believe snakes heal people. I don’t stand by the side of the road showing people pictures of dead fetuses, although I’m pro-life. I don’t throw slurs and curses at gays, muslims, welfare mothers, and people who engage in pornography, although I believe God has addressed those issues clearly in the Bible–for our own good–just as he has addressed adultery, gossip, selfishness, greed, and dozens of other human issues. And I pay attention to what he says.
I don’t believe I’m better than you. I screw up often, which is why I’m ecstatic that God loved me anyway, invited me into his family, and sent the Holy Spirit to help me each day to get it right.
I’m a bridge-builder, but that doesn’t mean I am without convictions. Why is it considered weird for me to pursue my faith with the same passion you pursue your sports team or environmental issue or political position? Besides, faith or lack of it has a lot bigger consequences than whether your team wins.
I suffer setbacks like everyone else. I bleed when I’m injured. I cry when I’m slandered. I dance when life smiles on me. And I try my darndest to love the people Jesus loves (which is everybody), even when I don’t agree with them. I can love people without needing to agree with them. Jesus did it.
Some of my fellow believers say, “Jesus stood up against the evildoers. He was willing to go to the cross for what he believed. We must push back and stand up for our convictions!”
To which I say…Jesus didn’t put people on a cross. He put himself there for us…out of love…so we wouldn’t have to bear the consequences of our actions.
Can we all get back to building a world where love wins? God will help us sort out the details.