Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Evangelicals Among Us

I am in NYC with a cold! But, luckily a former student of mine just sent me an interesting reflection on leaving College and returning home, only to find that what he criticized in his Senior Thesis (a particular type of "religion" game) is one of his long time friends. So, in lieu of my own ramblings this evening, I am posting Tom's:

Last night I encountered an old friend at the bar. The conversation was brief, but the little that was said started gears in my head spinning for the rest of the night and into today. I graduated from high school with JT and she was one of the most intelligent and artistically (especially performing arts) inclined people I’ve ever met. Simply speaking to her gave you the inkling she’d go on to do great things…not to mention the fact she is one of the nicest and most personable people I’ve been privileged to know. She attended a Christian college in Western Pennsylvania for the last four years and recently graduated with a degree in music. Outstanding, she’s on her way to fulfilling her dreams…so I thought. But then, the clincher, she’d just returned from Colorado Springs where she interviewed for a position as a youth music director. Ok, so Colorado Springs isn’t my favorite city in the world…but it may have its bright spots, right? Well…the interview was with a 5000-member mega-church.
I didn’t know how to react; I didn’t know what to say. It dawned on me later in the evening that the most important question to ask and discuss when it comes to “the religious right” might be this: “How do we talk to (or interact with) them?” In previous works and conversations about the staunchly conservative evangelical movement it was easy for me to set them up as the other, as those fanatics out West or in DC that are essentially bullshitting us all with their anti-intellectual, anti-democratic, anti-political version of faith. I wasn’t likely going to come face-to-face with them at Gettysburg College. There are conservatives, without a doubt, but mostly of a different breed. Looking back, it seems that in my mind evangelicals became a force to somehow oppose. They took on a singular identity, a stereotype.
So when confronted with this old high school friend I was taken aback. I was forced to reevaluate everything I’ve thought to this point. They’re not some vague other; they’re my friends and my neighbors. This complicates the problem exponentially in my eyes. It’s easy to discuss a faceless other, but much harder to look a friend in the eye and say “That’s just not so, you’re just not examining what you believe.” My only reaction was to quickly turn the conversation to pleasantries of “how’s your family?” and “have you seen so-and-so?” and avoid the problem altogether. But it remains: How do you talk to someone so embedded in their web of beliefs, their faith, that they don’t allow room to question and examine it without coming across as utterly and overtly offensive to them? How do I point out to my old friend my ideas about the evangelical movement without destroying the friendship?
So these are my most recent thoughts and ramblings; the most recent unanswered questions drifting in my mind.