Reading unChristian 2: How bad is it?

I’m sorry for the delay in getting back to the discussion regarding this important book.

My first post provided a summary of some of the images outsiders (non-Christians) have when they think of Christians/Christianity. I think the statistics in the chart are certainly disturbing. However, I don’t think anything in the book was quite as disturbing as the following findings:

“We discovered that outsiders express the most opposition toward evangelicals. Among those aware of the term ‘evangelical,’ the views are extraordinarily negative (49 percent to 3 percent). Disdain for evangelicals among the younger set is overwhelming and definitive. Think of it this way: there are roughly twenty-four million outsiders in America who are ages sixteen to twenty-nine. Of these, nearly seven million have a negative impression of evangelicals; another seven million said they have no opinion; and ten million have never heard the term ‘evangelical.’ That leaves less than a half million young outsiders – out of the twenty-four million – who see evangelicals in a positive light” (p. 25).

Go back and read the bold part again.

I think Kinnaman is right: “Disdain for evangelicals among the younger set is overwhelming and definitive.”

Ok, so maybe you’re saying, “I don’t identify myself as an ‘evangelical’ so this doesn’t matter to me.” I think you’re wrong. I think it is becoming increasingly true that outsiders identify Christianity with ‘evangelical.’ To many outsiders, there is no distinction. Whether we like it or not, that’s the way it is.

What does this mean for those of us who call ourselves Christians?

Others in the series:
Reading unChristian 1: Intro
Reading unChristian 3: Is this all one big misperception?

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8 Responses

  1. I think what is most suprising to me is that someone is suprised by these numbers. I know it sounds mean to say, and I don’t want it to be mean. The truth is most Christian’s are completely out of touch with the rest of the world because they are on the inside looking out. Honest self analyzation (sp?) is very difficult, at best. I can tell you as an outsider who used to be an insider, seeing the way non-Christian’s perceive Christian’s is often painful. Especially when I realize that is how I was perceived for a very long time.

  2. I think you are right on. I significant call from this book is for greater self knowledge among Christians.

  3. To be fair, and I say this from the perspective of someone who is also (at least to a great extent) an outsider who used to be an insider, the negative perceptions of evangelicals are often just as unfair as evangelicals’ negative perceptions of non-Christians/non-evangelicals. Those perceptions are based on generalizations, perhaps made based on the official stances on certain issues or on the specific actions of certain people. I’d be willing to bet that a fair number of the non-Christians who have negative perceptions of evangelicals have also had a bad experience with an evangelical, but I’d also be willing to bet that a fair number base their negative perceptions on either hearsay or superficial interaction.

    This is unfortunate, since first impressions can be so misleading–especially between two people who have very different worldviews. It takes a while to get beyond those differences to find the things that they may have in common with each other (like a commitment to social justice, or a desire to act according to ethical principles), or at least to find the things that they respect about each other even if they disagree with their stances. For example, a Christian might respect a non-Christian’s desire to live with integrity, even though it leads the person to avoid participating in church services because he feels that would be hypocritical of him. Conversely, the non-Christian who avoids church may respect the evangelical’s commitment to the social aspects of his faith (to participating in communal worship, for instance), even if he doesn’t understand or agree with it.

    It’s not right for anyone to jump to conclusions about anyone else, of course. However, it obviously does happen all the time and it does go both ways. While perhaps no one SHOULD have to work harder to let others know how he differs from a negative stereotype, clinging to that attitude and complaining about others’ lack of understanding is unfortunate, at the least. Doesn’t the Golden Rule say something about this? Such a simple concept, to be willing to bend a little and give some ground on our “rights” in order to meet others on a real and loving level.

    It does work both ways, of course. However, Christians who want to claim a higher moral ground than others must also accept that this places them under the greater burden of responsibility toward others. You can’t have one without the other. So, evangelicals who labor under the (sometimes, even frequently, false) assumptions that outsiders make about them, are not just having their “rights” violated. They also have a legitimate responsibility, to do what they can in their interactions with people to break down those stereotypes and become known for who they really are.

    I think one of the best ways to do this is to demonstrate the ability to get to know others, and particularly “outsiders,” for who THEY really are.

  4. Mary, I couldn’t agree more. I think that if non-Christians and Christians interacted with each other more there would be greater understanding of the two. The problem in my opinion is that so few (on both sides) will. Like follows like naturally, and a lot of this can be chalked up to the fact that people are naturally afraid and tend to dislike that which they don’t understand.

  5. And I think this is part of the christian problem. Too many of us don’t care to know any non-Christians.

    Unless of course we’re trying to convert them.

  6. I’m laughing a bit, but only because I’m imagining some of the “conversion” methods I’ve run into lately. Think: “Crowd held captive by Jesus on subway.” Every heathen’s dream, really.

  7. What? Jesus held up a train? Surely his gun was just his hand hidden in his coat pocket, right?

  8. I know a ton of non-Christians and the aforementioned disdain is absolutely true, not just amongst the young but also among the working class. They don’t understand where we really stand and takes most of how the media portrays us as 100% accurate.

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