Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

'Divided by a Common Faith': Evangelicals in the United States Are Increasingly Estranged from Their Counterparts Almost Everywhere Else

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

'Divided by a Common Faith': Evangelicals in the United States Are Increasingly Estranged from Their Counterparts Almost Everywhere Else

Article excerpt

As we race toward the 2004 presidential election, the United States is a deeply divided country. At the very center of this divide is a seriously polarized church--polarized by politics more than theology. The American church is not only split by contentious issues such as abortion and the sanctioning of gay unions, but also by issues of domestic and foreign policy.

For example, a Feb. 17 to 19, 2003, Gallup poll showed that those who defined themselves as members of the Religious Right were much more likely than the general public or even other active church-goers to support a preemptive war on Iraq. Those who called themselves evangelical or "born again" were also more likely to support the war than the general public, although at a more modest rate than the Religious Right.

Few Americans seem to realize that the church in other industrialized countries is not nearly as divided over this issue. In Fact, most evangelical leaders in Britain, Australia, and New Zealand--in contrast to their American cousins--were opposed to the war. What accounts for this surprising difference between many American evangelical believers and their global siblings?

MY WIFE, CHRISTINE, and I took the first United flight to Britain after the horror of Sept. 11 to attend a Micah Conference on integral mission at Oxford, sponsored by the World Evangelical Alliance. As the moderator, David Boul, opened the conference, he explained its purpose: to start a much-needed conversation among evangelicals from all over the world on how to integrate word-and-deed mission in a way that takes seriously the biblical call to justice and mercy.

Then he turned toward the handful of us Americans in the room and expressed his sincere sorrow at the consequences of the terrorist attack. He assured us that Christians all over the world were praying for us and our sense of loss and grief. He very gently reminded us that while this first terrorist attack within our own borders was a new experience for Americans, it was a fairly familiar reality for those from other countries attending the conference. He concluded by stating that while no one could deny the horror of the loss of innocent life in this attack, the conference focus was on the 25,000 innocents that die every day throughout our planet from hunger and malnutrition.

Evangelicals from other parts of the world not only have a different perspective on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks than many American evangelicals, many of them also have a very different view of the decision by George W. Bush and Tony Blair to invade Iraq.

Christine and I flew to Melbourne, Australia, not long before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. On February 15, Melbourne was the first of some 600 cities around the world to participate in the largest set of anti-war rallies in history, involving some 10 million people across the globe who publicly expressed their opposition to the planned war in Iraq. An estimated 150,000 people marched in Melbourne in the largest protest that city had seen since the Vietnam War protests of the '60s. We had the opportunity to talk with a number of evangelical leaders while we were in Melbourne. They not only all favored the anti-war protests, a number of them were involved with other church leaders, business leaders, and students in helping to organize the march.

HOW DID EVANGELICALS in other English-speaking countries view the war in Iraq? The Evangelical Alliance, the largest umbrella organization in Britain, representing more than a million evangelicals and nearly 7,000 churches, has spoken out in opposition to the war. Joel Edwards, the general director of the Alliance, wrote in a statement published February 2003, "We urge ... President Bush and Prime Minister Blair to resist the temptation to declare war unilaterally...." Their statement began, "At a time when the world is widely presumed to be in a 'countdown to war' with Iraq, the Evangelical Alliance has reiterated the continued need for diplomacy to try and settle the dispute without a conflict which could destabilize the already delicate balance of international power. …

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