Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Abuse or devotion? Brainwashing or lifestyle?

One of the top news stories of the last 24 hours has been the raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints property in Texas. The raid by authorities was prompted by an anonymous phone call from a caller identifying herself as a 16 year old who had been married when she was 15, had a child, and had been abused. The authorities removed women and children from the compound while detaining male members of the organization at the compound. The authorities still have not been able to identify the girl who made the initial phone call.

I do not know the whole story of this situation. But as I watch the reaction to this group, I'm getting a little edgy.

There is a lot of use of the words abuse and brainwashing. And all of this is coming from people outside of the organization. Those outside of the group have a different standard, a different world view, than those inside the group. Perhaps I am worried how far the definitions of abuse and brainwashing will be applied to other organizations. For example the Amish or even Christianity. And if you think that I'm being paranoid, then I should tell you that these words have already been applied to evangelical Christians.

'Jesus Camp' and the art of brainwashing
A Soldier Speaks
Brainwashing With Religion
The Future Was Yesterday: Evangelical Christians

I believe most people do not understand what "evangelical" means. Evangelical is rooted in the Greek word that would be read as euangel. It is the Greek word for the good news. In the New Testament, it is the testimony of Jesus Christ. The literal understanding of an evangelical would be anyone who believes that Jesus Christ offers hope to the world through his life, death, and resurrection. Evangelical can be expanded to include anyone who basis their beliefs on an understanding of the scriptures, or the revelation of the good news of Jesus Christ. George Barna, who's Barna group provides research data, defines evangelical this way:
“Evangelicals" meet the born again criteria plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church they attend. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as "evangelical."

But Evangelical has come to be used to describe any Christian perspective that is opposed to the vague definition of tolerance, the culture of religious pluralism, and the requirement to adhere to a set of standards defined by self. In truth fundamentalists who completely disagree with most of traditional Christianity, militant minorities who rebel against the majority of traditional standards, and break away sects who want to distance themselves from "watered down" modern beliefs are lumped together with average men and women who have no higher goal than to live a simple life in relationship with God through a belief in Jesus Christ. But the modern climate says that they are politically motivated, mental abusers who want to control and dominate everyone's life.

As an evangelical, I'm a little worried about how my freedoms and my beliefs are respected. My family is not outrageously fundamentalist. But when will someone say that, because my child has a personal belief in Jesus Christ, that I have brainwashed him? I view it as the lifestyle of my family. I raise my children in the manner of our choice. They are surrounded by love and care. They are provided the best and safest environment that we can afford. They have the opportunity to grow and develop.

But if culture gets around to accepting the growing rhetoric of anti-evangelicalism based on a faulty definition of the word, then our way of life will be under scrutiny. And the way we live out our faith could become a chargeable offense.

If you believe in the word of God, if you accept the good news of who Jesus Christ is, and if you desire to live a peaceful life to the best of your ability, then take up the challenge of explaining what it is you believe.