Bridging the God Gulf
Last week I attended the Nexus: Global Youth Summit on Innovative Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship. Hosted by Jonah Wittkamper and Search for Common Ground it was one of the most international conferences I have attended in years. While a good portion of the participants currently live in the States as they have settled here after attending US colleges, their homes and families are all over the world. It is an international culture but still a subculture of people who have similar values and have been socialized by their family wealth, political persuasions, educations (private schools leading to Ivy League) and decisions to “make a difference” by both funding and creating foundations and non-profit organizations that address social problems in the world. Forbes magazine covered it and described it as “hundreds of participants including young wealth-holders, entrepreneurs and philanthropists from around the world …dedicated to transforming the narrative of wealth away from materialism to social responsibility.” I came away from it with a couple of strong impressions.
First, I had the same feeling of being an outsider as when I earned a degree at Harvard Divinity years ago. Our being evangelicals from the South the assumption by many was that we ate fried chicken every night, barely made it through high school, only read the Bible and had never ventured above the Mason-Dixon Line. I was curious to see if those perceptions were still alive in the children of my peers…and they are. Nick Kristof’s recent article in the New York Times is true in the way he points out that we have been our own worst enemies by creating and perpetuating “blowhard scolds” who exude religious smugness. “Partly because of such self-righteousness the entire evangelical movement often has been pilloried among progressives as reactionary, myopic, anti-intellectual and if anything, immoral.” He goes on to hold up the late Dr. John Stott as an example of just the opposite in our evangelical culture. “He was a humble scholar whose 50-odd books counseled Christians to emulate the life of Jesus – especially his concern for the poor and oppressed – and confront social ills like racial oppression and environmental pollution.”
That leads me to my second impression. While my liberal, wealthy, progressive, highly-educated friends have many reasons to think the way they do about evangelicals, it is our challenge to help them see us in a different light. Again quoting Nick Kristof. “But in reporting on poverty, disease and oppression, I’ve seen so many others. Evangelicals are disproportionately likely to donate 10 percent of their incomes to charities mostly church-related. More importantly, go to the front lines at home or abroad in the battles against hunger, malaria, prison rape, obstetric fistula, human trafficking, or genocide and some of the bravest people you meet are evangelical Christians (or conservative Catholics–similar in many ways) who truly live their faith.
“I’m not particularly religious myself but I stand in awe of those I’ve seen risking their lives in this way — and it sickens me to see that faith mocked at New York cocktail parties.
“Why does all this matter? Because religious people and secular people alike do fantastic work on humanitarian issues — but they often don’t work together because of mutual suspicions. If we could bridge this “God Gulf ” we would make far more progress on the world’s ills.
“And that would be, well, a godsend.”
He is right isn’t he? It would be a godsend if we had more opportunities like Nexus to listen to each other and as Os Guinness says find a way to live together despite our deepest differences.