We have been discussing the willingness of many evangelicals, especially among those in leadership, to take liberal criticism of us at face value and to develop a strategy based on that criticism. Since there evaluation of us tends to boil down to evangelicals being judgmental, hateful, bigoted people, the strategy for regaining the favor of the secular community in general and liberals in particular consists of demonstrating to them that we are really nice people.
This is a losing strategy because, as we have seen in the previous two posts, evangelical behavior was never the issue to begin with, but instead it was liberal hostility toward God. Therefore, it makes no difference what we do, it will not change their attitude.
This reality manifests itself in politics. Conservative politicians are chastened by liberals for being mean-spirited people who want to cut school lunches and make granny eat dog food. The latest such assault is found in the Republican “war on women.” The fact that liberals through advocating abortion have murdered millions of women apparently doesn’t count, even when in countries like China abortion has been used predominantly as a weapon specifically to destroy girl babies.
Virtually countless other illustrations could be advanced to demonstrate that liberal assault on conservative politicians has nothing to do with conservatives not being nice and everything to do with liberal quest for power. As a result, the strategy of some conservatives to fix the “being nice” problem fails because conservatives can never be nice enough since that wasn’t the problem to begin with.
The Republican Party warns us whenever primaries roll around that nasty, hard-line conservative candidates, ones like Ronald Reagan, could never possibly win, and we only stand a chance if we can nominate nice people like Bob Dole or John McCain. We need people who can reach across the aisle, ones that even liberals will like. The news media tries to help the Republican Party in conveying this message, seeking to explain to right wing zealots that they must compromise, drop social issues, tone down their rhetoric, and support reasonable, really nice moderate candidates. This particular time around they are trying to help us understand that Jeb Bush meets that description.
What we discover is that once Republicans choose even a very nice candidate in the primary, during the general election he is never nice enough to satisfy liberals. We also discover that in picking a very nice candidate we compromise our convictions, stand for nothing, lose the base, and consequently lose the election. Niceness is not a winning strategy.
The same is true with evangelicals. So many evangelical leaders take liberal criticism about evangelicals not being nice to heart, and in response call us to tone down our rhetoric regarding politics, homosexuality, and abortion, reach across the theological aisle more, become the spiritual equivalents of Bob Dole and John McCain. If only we will be nice enough, the secular world in general and liberals in particular will start to like us, and then we will be able to reach Millennials, moving the evangelical church into the 21st century.
This strategy runs into the same problem encountered in the political arena. We will never like homosexuals enough until we abandon biblical teachings and approve of their lifestyle. We will never love Muslims and Hindus enough until we acknowledge that Jesus is not the only way, but that we are all headed for heaven, each on his own path. In other words, nice is never nice enough until we discard evangelical distinctives and become one of them.
As with politics, this evangelical attempt to be nice enough to mollify liberals not only destroys our distinctives, but also it sucks the life out of the church, resulting in its sickness and shrinkage. Just as with politics, being nice comprises a losing spiritual strategy.
The one evangelical consolation resides in the fact that we have created a nice Jesus, and we have become just like him.