These are crazy times whether reading e-mails, understanding statistics, bestowing honorary doctorates — and making sense of any of it.

By Ronald E. Keener

I spend the first half hour of my business day looking at e-mails that have come in overnight or early morning — often devoting three seconds to many of them before moving on to the next.

It’s incredible what I find there most days: polemics from advocacy groups, the religious slant on issues out of Washington, D.C., calls to action, and the downright “crazies” — not to be confused with just daft-headed actions on the social and cultural scene — like a Massachusetts elementary school district offering condoms to children for the asking, and their parents having no right to say no. Home schooling should be flourishing there.

So a little book by sociologist Bradley R.E. Wright called Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites and Other Lies You’ve Been Told (Bethany House, 2010) stirred my interest. Dr. Wright, at the University of Connecticut, particularly wrote about negatively slanted statistics, and their affect on Christians:

“It is my hope that as the Christian Church understands the problems caused by negatively slanted statistics, it will demand more accurate statistics about itself.  Among the problems:

“They are discouraging for Christians. Why should we invest our time and energy into a Church when we constantly hear that it is failing?

“They provide a disincentive to evangelism. If in fact our Church is in crisis, and its members immoral, why would we want to invite our non- Christian friends and family members to it?

“They distract from real problems. If we define every aspect of American Christianity as in crisis, then we can overlook real problems in our faith.

“They are ineffective. Christian leaders and teachers sometimes use negatively slanted statistics to motivate Christians, but these fear-messages probably do not have a long-term impact on our behavior. Perhaps it’s better to motivate Christians out of true love rather than false fears.

“To be clear, I’m not saying that we should ignore negative statistics about Christianity, rather we should aim for an accurate portrayal of ourselves, and, as it turns out, many aspects of American Christianity are going quite well.”

I mentioned the recent news stories about Catholic clergy in Ireland who were said to have raped young boys, and whether there were ways in which this story harms all faiths and all Christians?

“It’s harmful in that it redefines a group of people by an act committed by very few of them,” he says. “The resulting negative stereotype, however, is largely inaccurate. There is no evidence that Catholic priests or other religious leaders molest children more frequently than other people.

“However, it’s newsworthy when they do because of their moral teaching, and so we hear about it more often than otherwise. That is, an Irish schoolteacher or businessman committing the same behavior would receive far less attention from the media.”

In his book, Wright says: “Christians sometimes pick statistics for their usefulness rather than for accuracy, and the most useful statistics are often those that cast the church in a negative light.” I asked him, what is this propensity for hitting on the church? “Christian leaders and teachers want their followers to become better Christians, i.e., to change and improve. One rhetorical strategy for motivating Christians is to argue that they are doing poorly in a given area of life.”

When asked about an irreligious bias among academics, Wright agrees there is one:

“Several studies have documented an irreligious bias among academics, especially toward Evangelicals, but I’m not sure where it comes from.”

Whatever the source of our information, “we should do the same thing that we would do with any source — critically evaluate it,” Wright says.

So Glenn Beck, no academic of course, says that Christians should leave their churches if they preach, practice or even have the phrase of “social justice” on their website. Beck calls social justice a “perversion of the Gospel.” And where does he get a platform this Spring to spew his form of Evangelical understanding? In the academy, of course: Liberty University, the cradle of evangelicalism. And they gave Beck, of the Mormon faith, an honorary doctorate. Crazy, man, crazy.



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