The problem in this case has to do with most people’s understanding of the term “evangelical,” which is commonly used as a synonym for conservative Christian, non-Mainline Protestant or, least often accurate, fundamentalists (while fundamentalists are certainly evangelicals, most evangelicals are not fundamentalists).
(W)hat caught my eye this time was a recent New York Times story by veteran religion writer Laurie Goodstein, which makes a solid attempt to add some clarity on the diversity of âevangelicalâ views on at least one issue that is hard to label as âliberalâ or âconservative.â
Thus, the headline: âCoalition of Evangelicals Voices Support for Palestinian State.â This coalition is stressing that both Jews and Palestinians have rights âstretching back for millenniaâ to territory in the Holy Lands. These leaders have issued a letter calling for the creation of a Palestinian state that includes the âvast majority of the West Bank.â
Now, who are these people?
The letter is signed by 34 evangelical leaders, many of whom lead denominations, Christian charities, ministry organizations, seminaries and universities. They include Gary M. Benedict, president of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, a denomination of 2,000 churches; Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary; Gordon MacDonald, chairman of World Relief; Richard E. Stearns, president of World Vision; David Neff, editor of Christianity Today; and Berten A. Waggoner, national director and president of The Vineyard USA, an association of 630 churches in the United States.
âThis group is in no way anti-Israel, and we make it very clear weâre committed to the security of Israel,â said Ronald J. Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, which often takes liberal positions on issues. âBut we want a solution that is viable. Obviously there would have to be compromises.â
Once again, you can see how hard it is to use political labels in this context â especially in a short news report.
What in the world does it mean that Sider and company often take âliberal positions on issuesâ? That is simply far too vague. What issues? Is it âliberalâ to favor economic justice? Is that politically âliberalâ or theologically âliberalâ? Sider, by the way, is consistently pro-life and a doctrinal conservative on sexuality issues.
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