Nicholas Kristof: Evangelicals really are doing good work overseas
It's good to see that The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who opines twice weekly on international issues, is taking his own advice to heart: that journalists pay more attention to evangelicals.

The last time Kristof wrote about orthodox Christianity, he was justifiably deluged with indignant mail and the target of several angry columns by others. In that column, Kristof wrote that anyone who believes in the Virgin Birth was anti-intellectual. It would have received even more angry responses, but it was published during the blackout. ("It seems likely that God arranged to curtail circulation so that not many people would read your column," Andy Rooney wrote him.)

Among the responses was one from Southern Baptist seminary head Al Mohler. "When it comes to something as significant as the nature of Christianity, Kristof and his columns are dumb and dumber," he wrote. Kristof's column, he said, was "perhaps the worst opinion piece to run in that paper in years—and that's really saying something."

In his "Kristof Responds" area of the The New York Times web site, the columnist said in two separate entries that he never intended to insult people's religion. "But I believe my point still stands that there is a growing divide between an increasingly secular intellectual elite … and an increasingly faith-based evangelical community," Kristof wrote in his September 11 entry. "The traditional middle ground, mainline churches, is evaporating." Reiterating his claim that evangelicals are progressively rejecting the life of the mind didn't win him any friends.

In today's paper, however, Kristof returns to a subject that earlier won him some praise—or at least uncritical recognition—from many evangelical leaders. In May 2002, Kristof talked of evangelicals as "the new internationalists," and argued that the Religious Right was being replaced by a network of globally minded Christians bent on saving lives overseas. Evangelical leaders scoffed at his assertion that this was a new trend, but were generally grateful that Kristof was noting evangelicals' good works to "an increasingly secular intellectual elite." They'll probably have a similar reaction to today's column.

"Mention the words 'evangelical missionary,' and many Americans conjure up an image of redneck zealots' forcing starving children to be baptized before they get a few crusts of bread," he writes.

In reality, the wave of activity abroad by U.S. evangelicals is one of the most important — and welcome — trends in our foreign relations. I disagree strongly with most evangelical Christians, theologically and politically. But I tip my hat to them abroad. … I'm convinced that we should all celebrate the big evangelical push into Africa because the bottom line is that it will mean more orphanages, more schools and, above all, more clinics and hospitals. Particularly when AIDS is ravaging Africa, those church hospitals are lifesavers.
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Any concept of evangelicals as misogynistic, should be tossed out in light of their work, Kristof writes. "One of the evangelicals' most important influences is in combating the second-class status of women and girls by evangelizing not only for God, but also for equality of the sexes. … Evangelicals may be Africa's most important feminist influence today."

There are still a few sentences that will cause evangelical readers to shake their heads and mutter "he still doesn't get it," (Comparing "evangelical" and "fundamentalist" views of condom distribution is misleading, for example). But one assumes that Kristof's inbox will be happier today.

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