Are Evangelism, Missions, and Apologetics a Hate Crime?
By Dr. R. Philip Roberts
"All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore,
and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of
the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever
I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of
the world." (Jesus - Matthew 28:18-20).
Given the gleaming confidence of those words, and in light of the appalling
failings of Jesus' followers, that last command goes on contributing heavily
to the evils of national and religious warfare, institutional and individual
hatred, imperialism and enslavement." Reynolds Price, Time, December
6, 1999, page 94.
The Great Commission is now labeled as a contributor to "warfare," "hatred,"
"imperialism and enslavement." Attempts to share the Gospel or to
pray for specific people groups is reported as undiluted bigotry and intolerance.
Traditional Christian outreach
is construed as an attempt to limit non-Christian groups' freedom and rights
or is an expression of ancient religious hatred. This twist on interpreting
various forms of evangelistic activity done by particular denominations
and parachurch groups, is rapidly becoming in much of the press and media,
it seems, commonplace. It is becoming commonplace probably because
of the growing acceptance of postmodernism by many Americans. A relativistic
postmodern worldview that has rejected absolutes, particularly religious
ones, is completely skeptical about any ideology that sounds a note of
certainty about salvation, forgiveness and assurance about a home in heaven.
This skepticism is especially acute when the worldview in question is conservative,
Bible-based evangelical Christianity.
As evangelicals, a first encounter with the intolerance of political
correctness might produce a genuine sense of shock and dismay. "Just
who are the critics of biblical values talking about?" an evangelical
might ask. "Bigotry, hatred, enslavement": surely what Jesus Christ
has brought to our lives is a far cry from those qualities. Rather,
we sense and know from both our own hearts and heads that it is indeed
the love of Christ which compels us to share Him with a lost and dying
world (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14). As well, we sense His love for that world
and want genuinely and graciously to share the Gospel with people everywhere.
But no, the relativistic worldview in which much of our society is immersed
maintains that any religious conviction, particularly if it bears the name
Christian, which holds to absolute truth cannot be based on any other presupposition
but uninformed animosity. Therefore it is to be opposed, and perhaps
in the minds of some, prohibited.
An Urgent Moment
Evangelicals, and our country generally, are in a kairos movement-a
moment of crisis and urgency. It is a period of history fraught with
wonderful opportunities to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But
it is also a period where perhaps more than any other time in the Grand
Experiment called the United States of America, religious liberty might
be seriously imperiled and endangered. Unless Christians are able
to understand the times like the sons of Issachar (cf. I Chron. 12:32)
and are equipped to address the issue of religious freedom from a biblical
and historical perspective, then it is likely that opposition to the work
of Christ will continue and perhaps increase. This article will examine
the developing pattern of instances of allegations of hate crimes being
leveled against evangelicals, and why these charges are being made.
Then we will describe evangelicals' understanding of evangelism, subsuming
missions and apologetics under that rubric, and why the charges of hate
crimes will not stick. Finally, a suggestion will be made as to how
evangelicals should respond.
Allegations of Religious Hatred
The White House
On December 15, 1999 in a press conference at the White House, the Press
Secretary for President Clinton, Joe Lockhart, was surprised when an unexpected
issue was posed-"Joe, the Southern Baptists are still issuing a warning
against Hindus, Jews and Muslims during their special holidays. We
are trying to repair and bring peace to the 21st century, while they are
trying to take us into the 20th century again. Mr. Lockhart, questions
or comments on this?" Mr. Lockhart replied, "I think the President
has made very clear his view from any quarter, .one of the greatest challenges
going into the next century is dealing with intolerance, ethnic and religious
hatred and coming to grips with the longstanding resentments between religions.
So I think the President has been very clear in his opposition to whatever
organization, including the Southern Baptists that perpetrate religious
question was poorly framed in that Southern Baptists had produced prayer
guides for the various religious entities just prior to the High Holy Days,
the Festival of Lights and Ramadan. No warning was issued in them,
but only a request to pray for the material and spiritual welfare of the
groups concerned including the request that they would come to acknowledge
Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It was Lockhart's response that was
the shocker, however. He later apologized. Lockhart said, "I
just didn't think through that question and it was a mistake. Mr.
Clinton would never hold that position.."
Let's give him the benefit of a doubt. He made a mistake, making
comments he shouldn't have and jumped to conclusions. The point is
unfortunately that the conclusion he did jump to was the worst possible
one. He landed in the morass of assumption that anyone who prays
for another person's conversion hates.
The prayer guides produced by Southern Baptists, though tastefully done,
spun off other responses including a Larry King Live show dedicated to
the subject. One participant, Rabbi Schmuley Boteach of Oxford L'
Chaim Society made this comment - "Who would have thought that in the new
millennium we would once again see the prevalence of spiritual dictatorship
and totalitarianism? .The Nazis said there is a problem with the
Jewish body so let's find a solution and these groups (assumably evangelicals)
are saying there is a problem with the Jewish soul, we have another solution.
It is called conversion.these are nefarious and insipid messages which
led to inquisitions, pogroms, expulsions and ultimately the holocaust."
The leap of logic in Boteach's thinking is tremendous. His conclusion
is that Hitler is a soulmate of evangelicals and anyone who claims that
Jesus is the Messiah is laying the groundwork for the next holocaust.
Was this mere ignorance of evangelicalism's convictions and history or
perhaps that of the Nazi movement itself?
Problems of Postmodernism
If it was ignorance, both Lockhart's and Boteach's comments are excusable.
A little education is in order, which we shall come to in a moment.
But perhaps there is genuine bigotry and intolerance here-not on the part
of Southern Baptists and other evangelicals, but on the side of their antagonists-the
Postmoderns. Postmodernism which holds absolutely to the proposition
that there are no absolutes, and that the real truth is that no one can
claim to have the truth, especially in the religious realm, is an avowed
enemy of a movement filled with conviction and religious absolutes like
evangelicalism. For Postmoderns tolerance has been interpreted, not
as a willingness to live peaceably and lovingly with those with whom we
might disagree, but that we must deny that we know or possess objective
truth. No one has the right to claim finality on any matter, particularly
religious issues. Such a position is is interpreted as being intolerant
Notably those religious communities which are not Postmodern in perspective-the
more conservative Jewish and Muslim movements apparently had little complaint
about Southern Baptist's prayer efforts-at least that was expressed publicly.
The reason for this phenomenon was perhaps that they believe that truth
can exist, and that believing they might possess it are eager to make converts
Unfortunately it is not just the religious community that finds fault
with evangelical religious absolutes, but in a frightening way it is also
members of government-those who called upon to defend our Constitution
and freedom to speech and religion.
In the wake of the prayer guides' controversy, seven members of the
U.S. Congress wrote to the Executive Committee Director of the Southern
Baptist Convention - "We were disheartened to learn that Southern Baptists
have published a pamphlet recently, regarding a prayer for Hindus that
uses overly aggressive and insensitive language." While this is certainly
arguable and in my understanding not the case, a later statement in the
letter makes a non-sequitur and gigantic leap of logic. Having expressed
their dismay at what they consider insensitive language, these Congressmen
state - "Your pamphlet has demonstrated.a lack of understanding of the
right of every individual to pursue their own religious beliefs."
What is the connection between praying for someone's conversion to a
different religion and their right to religious liberty? The answer
is none. Rather the issue seems to be that firmly held convictions,
convictions that would lead you to pray for another's conversion and salvation,
are questionable. They incipiently imply a sense of confidence that
cannot be trusted. In the worldview of the relativist and the Postmodern,
yes even Congressmen, those who hold such convictions cannot be trusted,
and apparently have stepped over the line into the realm of ideological
totalitarianism. Therefore such views cannot be tolerated.
Chicago Religious Leaders
examples could be multiplied including the Council of Religious Leaders
Metro Chicago who stated explicitly that SBC evangelism could "unwittingly
abet the designs of those who seek to promote hate crimes by fomenting
faith-based prejudice." What can this statement possibly mean?
There are one of two possibilities - either evangelism itself is a hate
crime or it serves as an encouragement to racists and other genuine bigots
who would stoop to violence. In the first case, an appalling lack
of understanding is apparent regarding who evangelicals are and what their
motives are. In the second case it is a small step indeed from claiming
that evangelism "foments" hate crime to actually calling sharing the Gospel
a hate crime.
An attempt seems to be made to lay the groundwork for stating that no
one who holds firmly to any one conviction has the right to encourage others
to embrace it as well without committing a hate crime.
Federal Communications Commission
Perhaps the boldest attempt by an official government agency to redefine
evangelism as useless and less than worthy of full constitutional protection
came in a decision by the Federal Communication Commission on December
29, 1999, to provide "additional guidance" on what constitutes permissible
programming for a non-commercial educational television broadcast license.1
An affiliate station of the Family Net corporation, Cornerstone Television,
had sought to acquire a non-commercial license when the ruling was issued
by the FCC. What "additional guidance" or limitations were considered?
Among them were that such stations must use at least half of their broadcast
hours for "educational, instruction or cultural" programming and that preaching
and worship services don't fit that category. Any program "primarily
devoted to religious exhortation, proselytizing or statements of personally-held
religious views and beliefs" are not qualified. The focus of such
stations should serve the needs of "the entire community to which they
are assigned.as opposed to the sway of particular political, economic,
social or religious interests."2
Compliance to such "guidelines" would obviously be impossible.
How could any program be focused on the entire community and all needs
represented simultaneously with no particular view being predominant?
If ever such a program has been produced, I for one would dearly love to
see it. It staggers the imagination to consider what breadth and
depth of content that program or programs would entail. If ever an
inclusivist worldview dominated by Postmodern presuppositions sought through
a government agency to control religions, along with evangelical communication
and speech, this move was it.
After the filing of numerous complaints and initial action being taken
by various ministries, including the Southern Baptists' North American
Mission Board, the FCC decided to reconsider its December 29 action.
The decision of December 29 was reversed on January 28 with one dissenting
commissioner. In part the FCC stated - "we see the difficulty of
meeting clear definitional parameters for educational, instructional, or
The motive and perspective behind such action or attempted action seems
to have been anti-religious, and perhaps more particularly, anti-Christian.
The FCC had determined that programming that was religious was of less
value and made little contribution to a community than a generic educational
broadcast. It is dangerous and frightening, very frightening, when
a government agency presumes to serve as a filter and censor for religious
speech and content.
Evangelicals, Evangelism and Religious Liberty
Is the current hostility and opposition faced by evangelicals, and perhaps
more particularly by Southern Baptists, merely a result of ignorance?
Could it be that evangelicals need to do a better job of presenting themselves
to a watching world? Certainly anyone who attempts to understand
what is meant by Christian evangelism and is acquainted with the long and
noble history of evangelical mission activity, and is conversant with our
commitment to religious freedom, would appreciate afresh how incredible
the charge of "hate crimes" is.
In this regard, it is very important to allow a religious movement to
speak for itself. The Lausanne Covenant of 1974 contains evangelicalism's
most widely acknowledged and endorsed definition of evangelism. Endorsed
by thousands of evangelicals, representing hundreds of denominations from
most countries on earth, it states that, "To evangelize is to spread the
good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead
according to the Scriptures.."4
Notable in its definition of evangelism is the acknowledgement that in
times past elements of evangelistic workers may "have compromised our message,
manipulated our hearers through pressure techniques" or may have been "worldly"
in doing evangelistic work. Both the definition of evangelism as
verbal communication and the renunciation of manipulation highlight that
for the broad swath of evangelicals-now almost 700 million around the world-evangelism
must primarily be genuine spiritual and intellectual persuasion.
The Lausanne Covenant added to this perspective the view that, "When people
receive Christ they are born again into his kingdom."5
This concept of salvation is distinctive from proselytization which would
insist on a convert's induction into a church or church-type movement for
salvation to be effected or fulfilled. Evangelicals are just not
interested in seeing people change church membership-we are committed to
seeing them come to faith in the living Lord Jesus Christ and experiencing
His redemption. All of these concepts regarding the meaning and significance
of evangelism cohere to produce an innate commitment to protect religious
liberty-"We therefore pray for the leaders of the nations and call upon
them to guarantee freedom of thought and conscience, and freedom to practice
and propagate religion in accordance with the will of God and as set forth
in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights."6
An evangelistic message based on the inviolability of the human conscience,
the freedom of choice and culminating in a call for complete religious
liberty to follow one's conviction, hardly sounds oppressive and bigoted.
Obviously evangelicals believe in the exclusivity of salvation in Christ.
As well, part of the work of evangelism includes apologetics and occasional
polemics-as Lausanne has stated: "For we detect the activity of our enemy,
not only in false ideologies outside the church, but also inside it in
false gospels which twist Scripture and put man in the place of God."7
But evangelism or apologetics must never be used to violate or manipulate
the consciences of others, restrict their freedoms or be based on anything
but love: "It becomes a stumbling block to evangelism when it (the church)
betrays the Gospel or lacks.a genuine love for people, or scrupulous honesty."8
There is perhaps no more widely endorsed or quoted contemporary evangelical
document than the Lausanne Covenant. Before antagonists are quick
to criticize evangelicals and other Bible-based Christians for their positions
they would do well to review their stated values. These same values
have been reaffirmed and strengthened by the Manilla Manifesto of 1989.
The convocation of world evangelical leaders in Manilla was the successor
to Lausanne 1974 and was labeled "The Second International Congress on
World Evangelization." This congress' statement had the subtitle
"An Elaboration of the Lausanne Covenant 15 Years Later." Along with
its affirmation to exclusivity, "We affirm that other religions and ideologies
are not alternative paths to God.for Christ is the only way", there was
included the affirmation, "We will also work for religious and political
freedom everywhere."9 In a passionate
elaboration regarding freedom the manifesto states, "Christians earnestly
desire freedom of religion for all people, not just freedom for Christianity.
In predominantly Christian countries, Christians are at the forefront of
those who demand freedom for religious minorities. In predominantly
non-Christian countries, therefore, Christians are asking for themselves
no more than they demand for others in similar circumstances. The
freedom to 'profess, practice and propagate' religion, as defined in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, could and should be a reciprocally
granted right."10 It would be
hard to imagine a more straightforward commitment to universal religious
liberty and freedom of speech than this document.
Additionally, of all religious movements, evangelicals have conceivably
the most to gain by the furtherance of religious liberty around the world.
With perhaps tens of thousands of martyrs annually evangelicals have demonstrated
their willingness not only to live by their convictions, but to die for
them as well. The Gospel for them is furthered only by the willing
advocation of its principles by the humanly unfettered wills of converts
to its cause. Religious liberty and free choice are its mainstays.
Open and uninhibited discourse for all peoples in the open marketplace
of ideas is a desire of evangelicals everywhere.
In a recent book-The Churching of America, sociologists Rodger
Fink and Rodney Starke make the case that it is the environment of freedom
that has done much to elevate and strengthen virtually all religious groups
which operate in the United States. The sense of healthy competition
on a level playing field has encouraged all denominations - Protestant,
Catholic, Evangelical, and otherwise - to do their best.
Evangelicals would agree and voice a hearty amen! If the Gospel
cannot withstand criticism and opposition, then it is of little or no value.
In fact, it was for this reason that Christians around the world, even
under persecution have shown such resiliency. The Baptist movement,
of which I am a part, was born in the matrix of persecution with tens of
thousands of martyred Anabaptists, burned at the stake, drowned (more appropriate
for Baptists some would say) in rivers and lakes as well as put to death
by the sword. Even in what would become the United States, Baptists
and other free churchmen were driven from colonies and/or jailed for preaching
the Gospel freely and advocating a non-state church. For evangelicals,
Baptists among them, the freer the religious marketplace generally the
Formulating an Evangelical Response
So what is to be our response as evangelicals to an increasingly hostile
and unsympathetic environment? How do we constructively confront
a media elite, a portion of which is apparently bent on giving Christians
and Christianity as bad a name as possible? Must we simply accept
the inevitable and put up with a degeneration in relationships between
ourselves and those who wish to paint us with the hate crimes brush?
It is, in fact, incumbent on us to use the freedom of speech granted
by the Constitution of the United States of America to argue our position
well. We must either use it effectively or stand eventually to lose
this precious right. No one handed our forefathers religious liberty
on a plate. Rather it was fought for and realized after a long and
arduous struggle. As well, if this freedom is to be maintained it
must be guarded and defended diligently.
Benjamin Franklin, in addressing his fellow would-be-revolutionaries
prior to their unilaterally declaring independence from Great Britain,
reminded them additionally of the need for unity. He said that in
their case, "they would either hang together or hang separately."
Similarly, evangelicals will do the same. Either there will be an
effort to respond constructively to this crisis or the freedoms we cherish
could well be lost.
First of all, evangelicals can point to a recent document titled The
Chicago Declaration on Religious Liberty: Sharing Jesus Christ in a Pluralistic
Society. This document was endorsed by many denominations and parachurch
groups, and it clearly: 1) defined what we mean by evangelism - i.e., sharing
the good news of Jesus Christ without coercion, manipulation, proselytization
or deception, but simply then to leave the results with God; 2) forswear
prejudice, hatred, coercion, manipulation, deception and intimidation of
all types; 3) reaffirmed evangelicals' commitment to uphold, protect and
defend religious liberty, not just for evangelicals, but for all religions
This reaffirmation of religious liberty included the liberty to evangelize
or proselytize (on the part of non-evangelicals) as well as to convert.
Of course, such a reaffirmation to complete freedom by evangelicals implies
our commitment not only to gain adherents in the process, but to lose them
as well. We must show a continued and unflagging willingness to put
our convictions on the line and to compete openly in the free marketplace
of ideas. Believing as we do that the Gospel is the power of God
unto salvation, then we must be driven by the desire to let the message
be heard even if we are faced by severe opposition or one day open persecution.
Next evangelicals should look for and cultivate allies in the struggle
to defend freedom. Thankfully there are some out there who both understand
evangelicals and are willing to represent them and their values honestly.
Jeff Jacoby, editorialist for the Boston Globe, remarked upon the charges
of evangelical anti-Semitism:
Rubbish. Worse than rubbish! The 250 years that
Jews have lived amid American Christians have been an era of peace and
prosperity, virtually without parallel in Jewish history. To link
Southern Baptists or any evangelicals to European anti-Semitism, never
mind to Hitler, is utterly indecent.
Thank God for people like Jeff Jacoby who accurately portray and
represent us. They need to be encouraged.
Another apparent ally is Rabbi Daniel Lapin of Seattle, founder of
the Toward Tradition movement, a conservative Jewish organization committed
to the preservation of traditional Judeo-Christian values. In his
magazine, Toward Tradition, he featured an article "What is a Hate
Crime?" Two front pages of The New York Times were reproduced, one
from August 11, 1999 with the news story of three boys wounded at a Jewish
day camp in Los Angeles. The other was a front page from September
14, 1999 regarding the killing of eight church attendees at Wedgewood Baptist
Church, Fort Worth, Texas. The former story received large headlines
while the latter was relegated to the lower left-hand corner virtually
obscured from the prime news of the day. The writer comments:
We cannot help asking, 'Does the New York Times really believe
that Jewish people getting injured is a bigger story than Christians getting
killed?' Apparently so, for the very best secular, liberal reasons,
the former was a hate crime while the latter was not. Another bastion
of elite opinion, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights tracks hate
crimes against Blacks, Jews, Hispanics, Asians, Arab-Americans, Gays, Lesbians
and Women. White Christians need not apply. This myopia has
real world consequences and they appear in the Ft. Worth case: Even
though the shooter, Larry Ashbrook, "screamed insults about 'the Baptist
religions,'" the Times reported that investigators had not yet discerned
his motives. Imagine a similar case in which the criminal had shouted
insults against Blacks or homosexuals. A police chief who told the
national media the he 'could not discern a motive in such a case' would
have been fired on the spot.11
Friends of evangelicals like Lapin and Jacoby are allies in the
struggle for fair representation and the maintenance of religious freedom.
May their tribe increase. And we as evangelicals should encourage
their fair and intelligent comments.
Lastly, it is necessary for evangelicals to just keep on evangelizing
and sharing the Gospel freely. After all, evangelism is what God
will use to bring people into a saving and life-changing experience with
Jesus Christ. Real liberty comes only by knowing Him who is life
and truth. Jesus Himself said "you shall know the truth and the truth
shall make you free." (John 8:32) If all of our freedoms were
gone tomorrow, how could we stop talking about Him who loved us and gave
Himself for us-even God's own son.
The struggle for the soul of our nation will not be won on the political
playing field, although we are mandated to be salt in a tasteless world-it
is to be won in hearts and minds of people as they experience God's love
and grace through His glorious Gospel.
1 Baptist Press release "FCC reverses decision
on religious broadcasting", January 31, 2000.
3 Baptist Press, January 31, 2000.
4 See the Lausanne Covenant, section 4, "The
Nature of Evangelism," as found in Making Christ Known: Historic
Missions Documents from the Lausanne Movement, 1974-1989, John Stott,
editor, (Grand Rapids, 1996), p. 20.
5 Ibid, p. 24.
6 Ibid., p. 44.
8 Ibid., p. 28.
9 Stott, Making Christ Known, pp. 231
and 232-affirmations 7 and 20.
10 Ibid., p. 247.
11 Toward Tradition, Summer 1999.
Douglas Moo, General Editor
The Bible Forum Series, Volume 2-The Gospel is God's revelation and
His purpose through Jesus Christ. The first five chapters challenge the
suppositions of the Health and Wealth gospel within the church. The latter
essays provide intellectuals tools for discourse with neo-pagans, Universalists
and pluralists, 202 pgs., Endnotes. $15.