So, here’s a typical and awesome story. I’ve met a whole bunch of people with a progression similar to this. There were at least a few other people with the same basic story there tonight; I also met a bunch of these guys on my visit to Ozark Christian College; and I’ve met scattered others.
“Ted” is about 23 (I think), really tall, blond, with a smile that never leaves his face. He grew up in a conservative evangelical family, going to a small country church in South Dakota.
His church had thread of historical connection to the Mennonites. He remembers in high school talking to a Mennonite pastor who served briefly at his church about pacifism.
Ted couldn’t understand how the guy could oppose just wars of liberation or self-defense (like, I suppose, Iraq—this would have been the early days of the war). The pastor told him, “I used to feel the same way as you. Just read the Word of God and see what it has to say.”
Ted didn’t take him up on that challenge right away. . .
From there according to this blog post, Ted put this challenge away until he was older, when in college he encountered Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz, which made him decide to take the old Mennonite Pastor’s challenge seriously. (and a lot happens after that)
My own journey was different in some ways, but in many ways is similar. And I know many others that have similar stories, of coming from the majority American evangelical* protestant understanding of war, to one that I would argue is more rooted in what Jesus taught.
I guess I bring all this up to say that I think that progressives shouldn’t write off reaching out to Evangelicals. Some already are believers in non-violence (i.e. Evangelicals for Social Action are a prime example), but many others can be persuaded if you are willing to speak their language and relate to them using the Bible.
* The words “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” are often conflated and confused in the popular media, but I’m using the term Evangelical very precisely, to refer to Protestant Christians who place a high emphasis on scripture, who believe that accepting Jesus as one’s savior is essential to salvation, and that the Christian journey is one that is primarily about nurturing and growing in a spiritual relationship with Jesus. I would say too that Evangelicals tend to place a great deal of emphasis on the role of the laity in the church, and tend to see their ministers not as priests but rather as fellow Christians equipped and called for special works.
Fundamentalists on the other hand (the Christian kind) are a sub-set of Evangelicals, who have very rigid and dogmatic views on scripture, namely that there is one right way to interpret it, and that right way (with a few obvious to them exceptions) is the literal method. Most Evangelicals are not Fundamentalists.
I myself used to be an Evangelical. I still share lots of common ground with them, but I do have a more universalist theology and am more of an old school Anabaptist. I also have lots of common ground with the Emergent church movement, particularly on its emphasis on dialogue instead of proselytizing.