Are You a Friend of God?

Alexandra Pelosi’s road excursion into the evangelical subculture premiers tonight (Thursday, January 25) on HBO at 9:00 pm ET.  When I spoke with Alexandra a couple of days ago she indicated to me that her intent was never to paint evangelicals in a bad light.  Friends of God is intended first for the people in her own circle of influence who she describes as having a “coastal attitude” toward evangelcials: a preconceived characiture of evangelicals as somehow strange.  She told me that people with this coastal attitude “talk about evangelicals but you don’t know any and they’re right in your backyard.” She says that the evangelicals she highlights in her documentary are “the people she liked, that she really got along wth, that she really respected.”

Ms. Pelosi told me that her motivation for engaging evangelicals with her camcorder was to “start a conversation about this whole ‘Red vs. Blue’ America that we like to talk about on the cable news shows.”  Alexandra believes – and rightly so – that the people who move in her world on the coasts of this great country – have an inaccurate perception of evangelicals.  I’m not sure how much more accurate their perception will be after watching her documentary.

Alexandra chose to focus on the most abberant variety of evangelicalism.  Her journey begins in what one might consider mainstream evangelicalism – the megachurch, even though the vast majority of church-going evangelicals never step foot inside a megachurch.  Her road trip then descends into the evangelical underground of Christian wrestlers, Christian cruisers, Christian skateboarders, Christian comedians, Christian homeschoolers, antievolution seminars, drivethru prayer chapels, and Teen Mania stadium events where more than 2 million teenagers across the country rocked out the Battle Cry message of Ron Luce.  She told me that the purpose of focusing on such bizzarre evangelical activities was to demonstrate to people outside of evangelicalism that “these people have their own culture.”  The fact that we evangelicals do have our own culture is a problem, not a benefit.

She succeeds in painting a picture of evangelicals as “holy warriors” and anti-culture crusaders, focusing one segment on students at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University who were mobilized in a get out the vote campaign for conservative candidates and ballot initiatives in Virgina, as if students on liberal university campuses across the nation are never mobilized in similar fashion for liberal candidates and liberal ballot initiatives.

Those of us who live and move within evangelical circles understand that this evangelical underground presented in Friends of God is not the real evangelicalism.  Sadly, the HBO audience will not recognize this fact. We also understand that the vast majority of pastors in evangelical churches are not mobilizing a political effort on the scale of the megachurches Alexandra focuses on in her documentary.  The vast majority of evangelicals don’t even worship in a megachurch; they worship in churches of 100 or less in attendance led by a faithful pastor whose name we have never heard of.

That having been said, I do not believe that Ms. Pelosi has an agenda whose priority is to make evangelicals look like a conglomerate of politically powerful mega church pastors and uneducated hicks who blindly accept a literal 6 day creation over the more convential evolutionary theory.  But intentional or not, this is what she has accomplished in 56 minutes of television which, in her defense, she says is “not the encyclopedia of all evangelicals.” She never tells that to her audience, however.

For a look inside the real world of evangelicalism, a good starting place would be your local yellow pages,  under Churches – Southern Baptist. Pick the first one in the list, visit it on a Sunday morning, or even better on a Wednesday night, and you’ll have a much better understanding of the real world of evangelicals.

Lead On, Mr. President

Those who make it their habit of studying leadership philosophy will have much to muse about for some time in the wake of President Bush’s 6th State of the Union Address. Facing for the first time in his presidency a congress controlled by the opposition party, along with many in his own party who have increasingly distanced themselves from his Iraq policy; and facing an American electorate that views him as popularly as Richard Nixon was viewed just 6 months prior to his resignation, George W. Bush proved himself a man and a genuine leader.

Mr. Bush clearly articulated for the first time why and how the situation in Iraq deterioriated into near chaos, pointing to not only the people groups responsible for the chaos, but more importantly giving clear definition to their philosophy and motives. And just as importantly, the president made the case for standing firm in Iraq on the principle of American morality. He pointed to an important fact: Al Qaeda is a group of Sunni extremists, and he cogently identified their objective as overthrowing moderate governments while establishing safe havens for their operations and terrorizing Americans to force us to retreat in fear, abandoning the cause of liberty. The president properly framed the violence and chaos in Iraq as a reaction of the enemy to the democratic processes implemented in Afghanistan and Iraq in an attempt to undo them.We become complicit with the enemy if we allow their strategy to force us into retreat and to abandon the cause of liberty in the Middle east.

Mr. Bush framed his resolve – and his call for our resolve – within the context of Scripture, which he called ‘timeless truth’:

American foreign policy is more than a matter of war and diplomacy. Our work in the world is also based on a timeless truth: To whom much is given, much is required.

Those words were originally spoken by Jesus in The Gospel of Luke 12:48 as an incentive to faithful stewardship of a master’s property. Jesus makes it clear it is not our wealth that makes us successful, but rather what we do with our wealth that will determine our success or failure in the world. America in recent years has lost sight of the source of its bounty and in doing so has abandonded any sense of responsible stewardship for that bounty. When you truly believe that all you have is yours by your own strength, you bear no sense of responsiblity for sharing it with others. Our wealth and our liberty as Americans has been loaned to us by the One who truly owns it: our Creator. How we have stewarded our Master’s property will be determined in the end at our judgment before this same Master. Accountability is the true motivator for how we engage the world community, not only when it comes to terror, but more importantly when it comes to the greater social issues of disease, hunger, and poverty. To whom much is given of him much shall be required.

The president showed genuine resolve and true grit, and most importantly he demonstrated how to lead when other voices are pointing in a different direction, especially when he said:

This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in. Every one of us wishes that this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk. Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. So let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory.

Lead on, Mr. President.