Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Evangelicals know how to communicate. That might mean everything.

Last week I had breakfast at the Tastee Diner with an old friend from Grad School. He's Evangelical in the common sense (that is, not like I am Evangelical). Ordained Baptist, he walks in Evangelical circles. ("the evangelical cabal, is I think how he put it.)
He was in DC to speak at an evangelical conference called reform. (Made me wonder if anyone who doesn't know 16th century history would accuse Lutherans of being reformers anymore.)

Evangelicals are reforming, especially in light of poverty. Jim Wallis and others of Sojourners are one of the drivers of this growing, good trend in evangelicalism. There's been a shift away from focus on personal moral issues (gender, sex) and toward public moral issues (poverty, peace-making etc.)

As my friend described his recent work on peace-making and how the Church can become a leader in not only tending the wounds of war, but also intelligently engaging the powers that be to work for creative peace, I had one response. It's the same response I not so respectfully have when I hear Jim Wallis (who I do respect) talk about putting ending poverty at the center of religious moral life:
Duh.

My breakfast partner is a good enough friend that I could say that: Duh, followed up with something like:

"This is all great stuff, but there's nothing new about it. The mainline protestants, heck, the Catholics, have been working on this for centuries. The Lutherans have people around the world engaged in creative peace-making. What about the Quakers? They know this stuff cold. What makes you late-comer evangelicals think you are so on the edge of some new discovery about the gospel???"

He agreed that the theological work, the biblical work, and the community work to put poverty and peace-making at the heart of our active christian lives has already been done well, for centuries, by a number of traditions. Lutherans are among them.

But then he came back at me with a good, no a great point. I'm paraphrasing:

"You have all this great stuff, but how do you communicate it? Have you read the Pope's encyclical on the economy? It's basically unreadable. You might have tradition and a canon of literature behind you, but without communication, it's pointless. We evangelicals, we know how to communicate. People listen to us because we know how to talk"

Point well-taken.

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