Evangelicals, Liberals Share Social Concerns
Evangelical churches may actually be more concerned about social issues than their liberal counterparts. However, they put a higher priority on working to alleviate poverty through individual action and the church than through the action of government or other systems, according to two recently released studies, one conducted by CHRISTIANITY TODAY.
“An evangelical theology does not automatically restrict a congregation from engaging in community ministries, nor does a liberal theology inevitably lead to attitudes that support social ministries,” say researchers Carl Dudley and Thomas Van Eck of the Center for Church and Community Ministries in Chicago. Their new study of 100 Illinois and Indiana congregations from 14 denominations was released in the 1992 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.
Evangelical churches studied by Dudley and Van Eck were more supportive of a faith-and-social-justice perspective than their liberal counterparts. On a scale of 3 (least oriented to faith and justice perspective) to 15 (most oriented), evangelicals studied scored a composite 10.3 to the liberals’ 10.0.
Defying prevailing stereotypes, evangelicals seem to see poverty and socials ills as a systemic problem. Evangelicals studied by Dudley and Van Eck actually believed more strongly than their liberal counterparts that “poverty is the result of structural or systemic barriers blocking some groups from success such as government cutbacks, discrimination, low wages, and failures of industry.”
But according to a recent CT survey, evangelicals believe another systemic barrier is also to blame for creating poverty: big government. At least 70 percent of readers surveyed said they thought that “Government-sponsored social programs begun in the 1960s have created a ‘culture of poverty,’ which has made it increasingly difficult for each new generation to escape inner-city ills.”
Evangelicals are more likely to believe the cure for poverty is individual action, both by those caught in poverty and those offering aid. On the Van Eck/Dudley scale of 3 (least blaming of individuals for their own poverty problems) to 15 (most blaming), evangelicals scored a composite 10.6 to liberals’ 10.1. The CT survey showed readers stress local church involvement: 65 percent of readers surveyed said, “My church is involved in an outreach ministry that crosses racial lines.” That agrees with the Dudley/Van Eck findings, on which, using a scale of 3 (least oriented to involvement in local efforts) to 15 (most supportive of local social ministry), evangelicals scored a composite 11.2 to liberals’ 10.9.
Presbyterian Pastor Cleared
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) minister Clark Chamberlain has been cleared of sexual harassment charges by a church committee. The charges were filed following his unexpected election in June as stated clerk of the denomination’s general assembly (CT, July 20, 1992, p. 46; and CT, Sept. 14, 1992, p. 63).
The investigating committee in Houston concluded that there were “no probable grounds or cause” to support the accusation, which was made immediately after Chamberlain’s surprise election over incumbent James Andrews. Andrews was re-elected after Chamberlain’s abrupt resignation.
Bethel Prof Protests Firing
A Bethel College (Minn.) instructor who was fired in May for allegedly endorsing homosexual behavior is protesting his termination. The school’s administrators dismissed Kenneth Gowdy, 56, professor of sociology, after learning that he publicly said the Bible does not forbid homosexual behavior in a nonabusive, long-term relationship.
Bethel College is affiliated with the Baptist General Conference and a member of the Christian College Coalition. Its faculty are required to sign statements of faith and lifestyle expectations that reflect the “Scriptural view proscribing sex outside of marriage, which includes homosexual behavior,” explains president George Brushaber.
Gowdy is calling the termination “unjust” and “reprehensible” and contends that he has not violated college guidelines because he expressed his views outside a classroom setting. “Our view,” says Brushaber, “is that one is always a teacher and in a position of authority—the issue is not the size of the classroom.” At press time, the matter was in the final stages of an internal grievance process at Bethel College.
Church And State
Paying The Political Piper
The IRS is ready to crack down on churches and other tax-exempt organizations that engage in political activity, says an article in the September/October issue of Church Law & Tax Report. Although it is “an American tradition” for churches to invite candidates to speak at worship services and to distribute “voter education” literature reflecting candidates’ views on selected topics, the article warns that such activity may jeopardize a church’s tax exemption. This could have a variety of effects on churches, from losing preferential mailing rates to having to pay income taxes on net donor income.
The law at issue was introduced in 1954 by then-senator Lyndon Johnson. Johnson apparently wished to limit the activities of a private foundation that had supported one of his opponents in a Texas election. Although no one in the Senate mentioned churches at that time, religious organizations are covered by the same statute that regulates tax-exempt charitable and educational bodies. The law says that “no substantial part of the activities” of such an organization should be “attempting to influence legislation.” Such organizations also must not “participate in, or intervene in … any political campaign.” The broad language prohibiting political activity allows organizations little defense when questioned about their activities.
Although no church has ever lost its tax-exempt status for political activity, several religious organizations have. And recent pronouncements and actions by the IRS suggest churches may soon be the focus of greater scrutiny.
Hcjb Representative Charged With Slaying Wife
A representative of HCJB World Radio pled innocent on September 23 to charges that he murdered his wife. Gregory William Rains, 44, a western regional representative for the Colorado Springs-based missionary broadcasting ministry, at press time was being held without bail in California.
Marilyn Rains, 42, also on staff with HCJB World Radio, was killed on September 8 near the couple’s home in Redding, California. Police said she died of blows to her head and that she suffered multiple gunshot wounds.
Based on evidence gathered at the scene of the crime as well as what police determined was human blood, hair, and tissue on the underside of Rains’s vehicle, investigators took Rains into custody. Rains has denied killing his wife, telling investigators that he was out of town at the time of the murder and that the material under his car came from running over a rabbit. Shasta County Municipal Court records show that tests indicate a strong probability the blood was from his wife.
In a statement issued at the ministry’s annual membership meeting in Ecuador, HCJB president Ron Cline said, “The way [Marilyn] died is particularly upsetting. I know Greg well and cannot believe him capable of this action.” Cline is Greg’s foster brother.
Probation officials consider Rains a flight risk because of his overseas connections. Following his not-guilty plea, Judge Wilson Curie ordered him held without bail. At press time, a preliminary hearing was set for mid-October.
People And Events
Resigned: Joan Salmon Campbell, who in 1988 became the first African-American member of the clergy to serve as moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), from the pulpit of Philadelphia’s prestigious Old Pine Presbyterian Church. Campbell says she was forced from her post due to theological differences, “classism,” and discomfort with her preaching style. She contends that she is a victim of racism and sexism, but the elders say they never asked her to leave.
Extradited: Former United Methodist minister Walker Railey, from California to Texas, charged with the attempted murder of his wife, Margaret Railey, who remains in a coma from an attack that occurred in Dallas over five years ago. At the time of the attack, Railey was pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Dallas; he recently quit his job as administrator of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles.
Lost: An appeal, by conservative crusader Donald Wildmon, of a recent decision by a U.S. district court in Mississippi to allow distribution of a British documentary film about censorship (CT, June 22, 1992, p. 54). The film, Damned in the U.S.A., incorporates an interview with Wildmon along with scenes of what he terms “hardcore sex acts and anti-Christian imagery.” In the suit against Berwick Universal Pictures of London, Wildmon, who heads the American Family Association, said the company had violated a contract that allowed him to control the film’s distribution beyond England’s Channel 4.
Announced: By John Schlafly, financial adviser to the conservative Eagle Forum and son of prolife activist Phyllis Schlafly, that he is homosexual. Schlafly, 41, first publicly announced he is gay during an interview with the San Francisco Examiner last month. Phyllis Schlafly, who opposes homosexual rights, told CT the media attention to her son’s sexuality is an “obvious political hit against me.” Regardless, Schlafly said, “I love my son. That does not change.” Nor, she said, would her opposition to gay rights. John Schlafly told CT he supports his mother’s view that gays should neither be granted special civil rights nor discriminated against. “Homosexuality, in and of itself, should not be used to disqualify or penalize anyone,” he said.
Clarification: Arnold Cook has succeeded Melvin Sylvester as president of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) in Canada (Sept. 14, 1992, p. 72). David Rambo continues to serve as president of the CMA in the United States.
Denied: Liberty University’s claims for damages against Kemper Securities, by a three-member arbitration panel last month. Liberty University filed its complaint against Kemper in December 1990, citing “willful tortious misconduct, misrepresentation, negligence and two counts of breach of contract.” Kemper originally agreed to underwrite $61 million in Liberty University bonds. Kemper Securities later notified Liberty that if the university would not convert its firm commitment to a best-efforts agreement, Kemper would back out, citing investors’ hesitation over Chancellor Jerry Falwell’s public image (CT, Feb. 10, 1992, p. 47). According to Falwell, Kemper “reneged.”
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
More from this Issue
Read These Next
- TrendingRussell Moore: I Already Miss Tim Keller’s Wise VoiceThe late pastor theologian gave strong counsel to me and so many others in ministry.
- From the MagazineHow One Family’s Faith Survived Three Generations in the PulpitWith a front-row seat to their parents’ failures and burnout, a long line of pastor’s kids still went into ministry. Why?
- Editor's PickO for a Thousand Tongues of FireThe Spirit’s descent at Pentecost is a model for diverse and distributed leadership.