9 Lies the Media Likes to Tell About Evangelical Christians

I realize that “the media” is not a monolith. So I’m using the word generally here. However, over the last year, I’ve seen the following narrative played out in scores of interviews, commentaries, and pundit discussions across the TV news networks, magazines, and the Internet.

So while there are certainly exceptions, I’ve identified nine common lies perpetuated by people in the media. Granted, there are enough vocal evangelicals to bolster each of these stereotypes, so the media isn’t completely responsible. But nuance is necessary here. Thus this post.

Lie 1. Evangelical Christians are intolerant. “Intolerance” is the new clay word that is used to strong-arm an entire group of people who dissent from the conventional wisdom. Thus if a person believes that Jesus is the only way to receive eternal life (as most evangelicals do), they are deemed “intolerant” because the conventional wisdom is to believe that eternal life doesn’t exist. Or if it does, Jesus is but one way among many ways to obtain it. In short, “intolerance” has been redefined by many in our time to put pressure on those who dissent from the status quo. Granted, some evangelicals are (unfortunately) intolerant of anyone’s beliefs but their own. But many are not.

Lie 2. Evangelical Christians hate gays and lesbians. Unfortunately, some Christians despise those in the LGBT community. However, there are many Christians who understand marriage in the traditional way (exclusively between a man and a woman) yet genuinely care for LGBT people. Interestingly, President Obama was against same-sex marriage not too long ago. I don’t recall anyone saying that he hated gays or lesbians at the time.

“What I believe is that marriage is between a man and a woman . . . What I believe, in my faith, is that a man and a woman, when they get married, are performing something before God, and it’s not simply the two persons who are meeting.” Obama in an Interview with WTTW Chicago public television in October 2004.

 “I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage . . .” Obama in an October 2010 interview with Joe Sudbay while expressing a struggle over the issue and evolving attitudes.

There are evangelical Christians who break with the traditional view of marriage and homosexuality. But the suggestion that all people who affirm the traditional view of marriage hate gay people is patently false.

Lie 3. Evangelical Christians vote Republican. Some do, however, many vote Democrat, Libertarian, Independent, and some don’t vote at all, thinking that voting is to pick up the sword and affirm the Empire (see Yoder and Hauerwas on that score).

Lie 4. Evangelicals are a monolith. This is hardly the truth. As I argued in Beyond Evangelical, the evangelical coalition is incredibly diverse on all fronts and it’s fracturing. So much so that the word “evangelical” must be redefined today. On its own, the word is practically meaningless.

Lie 5. Evangelicals are mostly concerned about outlawing abortion, having limited government, getting prayer back in schools, standing against gay rights, gun control, and evolution being taught in the public schools. While some evangelicals believe all of these things, many do not. And among those who would agree in principle with the ideas, they are not priorities. On the contrary, many evangelicals are supremely concerned with the environment and the plight of the poor.

Lie 6. Evangelicals are warmongers. Some evangelicals support war in certain cases, others do not. In fact, many evangelicals are vocally opposed to it.

Lie 7. Evangelicals are hypocrites. The original meaning of the word hypocrite is someone who pretends or puts on a show. Thus a person who speaks out against the use of handguns, but owns and uses handguns themselves would fit the definition. Hypocrisy doesn’t mean imperfection or the ability to make mistakes. All Christians are imperfect and all have made mistakes in their lives. The rare exception being Jesus of Nazareth. So while hypocrisy is present in the evangelical community, it’s also present in every people-group and movement on the planet.

Lie 8. Evangelicals hate President Obama. It’s unthinkable that a genuine Christian would hate anyone. “Hateful Christian” is an oxymoron. Nevertheless, many evangelicals love Obama yet disagree with many of his policies. Other evangelicals support Obama and affirm many of his policies. If an evangelical Christian hates anyone, they are violating one of the central commands of the Bible – something which all evangelicals claim to believe in. On that score, Obama’s words about those who hate him are both wise and have very wide application.

Lie 9. Evangelicals set homosexuality above every other kind of sin. Some certainly do, unfortunately. But many view it as no greater a sin than gossip, slander, outbursts of anger, and lying (pointing to Paul’s “works of the flesh” lists where he puts slander and outbursts of anger on the same par as gross sexual sins). And as previously stated, some evangelicals do not believe that homosexuality is a sin. (That’s another conversation for another time.)

In summary, don’t be swept away by these lies even though someone with a bigger megaphone than yours happens to be heralding them.

Looking for More? My book, Beyond Evangelical, was written to and for evangelical Christians. It discusses the changing shape of evangelical Christianity and provides evidence that there is a growing trend among Christians who do not fit the Progressive Left or the Christian Right. These are evangelicals who have moved beyond the traditional ideological categories on either side.

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Comments

  1. says

    These are not lies, but the truth. Regardless of who said these nine things, they are true.

    I have experienced all nine of the above mentioned things that you call lies, and more.

    I have been on the receiving end of Evangelical hate. Evangelical fudamentalism has hijacked this country and politics, and is doing a good job of ruining both.

    • says

      Did you even read the post? I *proved* that they are in fact bold-faced lies. SOME evangelicals fit the bill, but not all. And most of the ones I know and who read my work certainly don’t.

      Just as saying ALL atheist are ignorant, pig-headed, stubborn, arrogant creatures. That’s about as true as saying that all evangelicals fit these 9 descriptions.

      I happen to be an evangelical who doesn’t fit those descriptions and most of the readers of this blog don’t either.

      Curious how you even found this post. You don’t strike me to be a regular readers or subscriber, unless you’re new to it.

  2. True Love says

    The words that one could use to describe me are: Black, middle-aged, Christian, married woman. Quite frankly, I have no idea what is an Evangelical Christian. I refuse to call myself an African-American, yet I have no problem with my children referring to themselves as such. I am 99% politically incorrect. I confuse people by voting for many Republicans, yet I don’t hold to some of their conservative viewpoints. I also vote for some Democrats and some Independents. The majority of my Christian friends and family members are staunch Democrats, but I am convinced that they know not why. I homeschooled my children, which was a very unpopular choice amongst my relatives who are public school teachers. At one point in my life I was a licensed minister, yet I was and still am a full-time homemaker and now a grandmother. I have a Masters Degree, yet I don’t have what society calls a “job”. I love President Obama and I love President Bush and all the other presidents of my lifetime. So there, media. Try to place me in a box, and I’ll jump out, still praising God and telling others about Jesus Christ.

  3. says

    I do agree with these lies and feelings as well, we all have a tendency to paint with to broad of a brush. Words like “always” and “never” tend to convince people that it must be true. I have often wondered what the world would be like if there was no instant media. They report on want they want to make news. There was no twitter/facebook/24 hour television/. while it is a great medium it challenges all of us on what we say and how we say it. Slow to speak comes to mind here, but sometimes we can not help ourself and then the damage has been done. It is very easy to be drawn into arguments and debates, but I believe the battle is not just on the intellectual front as many would think.

    • says

      That’s really the issue here. If it were said that “some” or even “many” evangelicals believe thus and so (provided the latter was accurate), that would be true. But the evangelical coalition is not a monolith. Hardly.

  4. Rebecca says

    So very true, Frank! I occasionally see these stereotypes commented on by some of my Facebook friends, but never want to waste time “debating with foolishness”. I will “like” your article in hopes some will be curious and rethink their opinions.

  5. Marc Goodman says

    Frank one aspect that I would love for you to explore is the idea of how did we arrive at the place where we are as a country? Many look at politicians and see the many evils they are perpetrating on our nation and yet never look inside to see how we as a nation have moved away from God. It is not a mistake that we have the leaders we now see in Washington D.C. If we want to really change things ask yourselves, ‘what is the Spirit of God saying to me today and how does that compare to what the scriptures teach me?’

  6. Shane Anderson says

    Great article. I wish this type of Christianity got more coverage. It just hurts when I hear these lies being perpetuated (on both sides) knowing if they really gave Jesus a chance they would fall in love. But there is a great need for Christians to stop reacting and start showing patience and the sort of grace you show here. Let’s define ‘tolerance.’ Let’s talk about hypocrisy. We’re all sick, aren’t we? That’s why we came to Christ to begin with, wasn’t it? I think if Christians were quicker to find that sort of grace in the face of enemy fire we could elevate Christ working in us.
    When I stopped to read the comments made by a Christian businessman who recently received a lot of attention I noticed this lack of grace. His comments were meant to support traditional family values, but they also held a certain self-righteous air. Jesus often reminded the religious community that He came to those in need of a healer.

  7. Phil Weingart says

    Ann Coulter addressed the matter of the alleged, political monolith of Evangelicals in her 2003 book, “Slander.” She observed that the myth, among Progressives, of the political power of the Religious Right has the characteristics of leftist propaganda. We Evangelical conservatives are their “Emmanuel Goldstein,” and the only demographic in their multicultural world that it is permissible to hate and fear.

    While her figures are dated, they nonetheless tell a very different story from the claims of the left (which is another way of saying “the claims of the mainstream media”):

    …Christians “bloc vote” less than almost any other imaginable cohort. Quite a bit less, actually. In order of magnitude and based onthe 2000 presidential election, the biggest “bloc voters” were bloacks (Gore, 90%; Bush, 8%); Jews (Gore, 79%; Bush, 19%); Hispanics (Gore, 67%; Bush, 31%); and unmarried women (Gore, 63% to 32%). Non-Cuban Hispanics voted for Gore by 75%…

    By contrast, CHristians are the least prdictable voters of almost any demographic group. Protestant voters went for Bush 55%, compared with 43% for Gore…

    Even poeple who slef-identify as “white religious right” — a narrow category of aggressive conservatives who enjoy annoying Northeastern liberals — bloc vote less than blacks, and bloc vote about the same as Jews. But you never read about blacks or Jews being “easily led” or exercising undue influence by their infernal bloc voting.

    Coulter, Ann, Slander, New York, Crown Publishers, 2002, pp. 172-173.

  8. says

    I am an evangelical who does not fit any of these stereotypes, and yet I encounter these stereotypes so often in evangelical churches that I have bought into them. I am hesitant to voice any political opinions because of the hateful comments I see on FB feeds and hear in person. I see ridiculous email forwards. Sometimes, if the forward is a clear hoax, I send a link debunking the rumor, the sender either questions my sources or concedes that the although the email forward was a hoax, the main point is valid.

    As mentioned, most of the time I stay quiet. I do this because these disagreements are mere distractions. Nothing is more important than Jesus. When I can, I steer the conversation back to that.

  9. says

    From my experience in social media and in many conversations, I find that many of these things are indeed very often true of evangelicals, and also how they’re perceived by others. I agree what we can’t generalize about the media (Fox News or MSNBC?!) and the same is true of evangelicals (as you’ve also said). For me though, the behavior and attitudes of the evangelicals I know is discouraging enough that I’m considering not using the label for myself any more. From what I see, the church and the Republican party are so closely aligned that the church has lost most of it’s credibility and heart, and accurate sense of it’s mission. I say these things as an insider, one who loves Christ’s church and one who wants only good for evangelicals – and I say them with a heavy heart.

  10. says

    It is with great relief that I see more Christians from your side of the pond, speaking out against the stereotypes. Not just arguing the stereotypes are not fully representative, but speaking out on issues other than the ones mentioned in Lie 5. I rejoice when Christians start to debate the issues more intelligently and start to think through the consequences of their statements and beliefs

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