Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Wave that Red Flag

For the last week or so, little red flags have been sprouting from the passenger-side windows of Abilene vehicles. At first I thought we had landed a major-league sports team. But today I noticed that the flags read "LIFE" in bold black letters.


I mean, I can only assume that they're trying to raise funds to help preserve LIFE for hungry people, 24,000 of whom die every day. ( Maybe they're going to start by trading in their $20,000 Honda Element for ... oh ... a $3000 Honda Civic.

I could be wrong, though. Maybe they're protesting the 2,100 American troops and 30,000 Iraqi civilians who have been killed in the latest Iraq war. ( Maybe they're going to start by taking that wretched "dubya 2004" sticker off their rear window.

Whatever they're doing, I'm sure it's an honest attempt to help real, live people, not just an attempt to push a political agenda.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Book Review: The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, by Ronald J. Sider

Even before I read The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, I suspected that Evangelical Christians weren't particularly moral people. And the first chapter of Sider's book, "The Depth of the Scandal", goes a long way toward confirming my suspicions. Sider quotes statistics that paint a damning picture of Evangelicals, including their high rate of divorce, their appalling tendency toward abuse, and their disappointing attachment to money.

But even though I'm skeptical about the morality of Western Christians, I still have hope. Despite the Church's history of disappointing behavior, I still think Jesus had it right, and I still believe God has the power to turn sinners into saints. So after reading the first sad chapter, I hoped that Sider would share some bright examples, some lighthouses of Christian community and Christian morality.

I was disappointed.

Sider spends the rest of the book spinning his wheels, treating us to a dull 100 pages in which he insists that right doctrine, church discipline and small groups will turn the church around.

Now when it comes to contrasting the wealth of Christians with the poverty of the world at large, Sider is a refreshing respite from the ambivalence of most Evangelical preachers. In a particularly barbed passage, Sider writes, "Not one evangelical pastor in ten comes even close to talking as much about the poor as the Bible does."

But these bright spots are overshadowed by Sider's preoccupation with ineffective solutions and his odd pet issues, which pop up up so predictably that one begins to suspect that odd pet issues are a prerequisite to being an evangelical. Legislation is suggested as a way to create a more Christian nation. A biblical worldview is equated with traditional evangelical doctrine. The enlightenment, post-modernism, evolutionary theory and the occult are all fingered as hastening the downfall of Christian morality. And in one of the book's saddest passages, the racism that Sider decries is practically assumed:

Our people, especially congregational leaders, need to see poverty firsthand. Mission trips, either across town to spend a weekend with an African American or Latino congregation or to another country in Africa or Latin America, can be powerful change agents. (italics mine)

Sider would have ended up with a much better book if he had spent more time trying to understand the problem, and less time trying to mold his pet issues into a generic, whole-church solution. Instead, he spends the last three-quarters of the book chipping away at his own credibility, and by the book's end, the interesting and useful ideas in his first chapter have disappeared into a mess of orthodoxy and unlikely solutions.