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Evangelical vs. LiberalThe Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest$

James K. Wellman

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195300116

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195300116.001.0001

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 Religion, Outreach, and Mission

 Religion, Outreach, and Mission

Chapter:
(p.189) 10 Religion, Outreach, and Mission
Source:
Evangelical vs. Liberal
Author(s):

James K. Wellman Jr.

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195300116.003.0012

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter on religion and culture argues that H. Richard Niebuhr's model of Christ and Culture is too abstract in this context. The Pacific Northwest has no assumed religious ethos; it is an open religious market, where religions live and die on how well they sell their brand. The taken for granted aspects of Protestant mainline and liberal Protestant churches have less success though they do have a market in gay and lesbian men and women who make up nearly a third all these congregations. The evangelical brand offers an extensive program in local and global missions that challenges their congregations to evangelize their community and the world.

Keywords:   culture, religious market, gay culture, mission, global mission, success, evangelism, social service, secularity

1. Religion and Culture

To investigate the relation between religion and culture, I first compare how liberals and evangelicals fit within the wider history of the association between Protestantism and American culture; I then examine how each of these groups approaches the PNW culture in outreach and recruitment. What methods do they employ in these forms of “evangelization”? Finally, I analyze the meaning and strategies for mission, locally, in terms of service to their communities, and then globally, investigating the methods of proselytization of those abroad and service to those in need. Once again the distinctive moral worldviews of each of these groups form the symbolic boundaries of their ideology, and shapes and guides how they relate to the wider symbolic and social boundaries of the PNW culture. Religions, by their nature, are always moving within cultures and they identify themselves in this relation; in this sense religions are always mirroring, resisting, and accommodating to a wider culture, some with a degree of reflexivity but most unconsciously. Religions, as I have argued before, are therefore subcultural systems, by definition, in the modern era.

In H. Richard Niebuhr's classic study Christ and Culture (1951) he outlined five types or models of the relationship between religion and culture: (p.190)

  1. 1. Christ against culture, a sect that stands against a dominant parent culture, the best example of which was the early church;

  2. 2. Christ of culture, the Protestant liberalism of nineteenth‐ and twentieth‐century elite Christian religion, which made Christ the implicit goal of culture;

  3. 3. Christ and culture, recalling the Catholic synthesis whereby religion and reason would complement and complete each other;

  4. 4. Christ and culture in paradox, emphasizing the fallen nature of humanity and the grace of God in Christ that redeemed individuals and held out hope for the created order in the light of the Second Coming of Christ; and

  5. 5. Christ the transformer of culture—Niebuhr's preferred model—whereby nature and culture are marred by sin but redeemable and reformable by Christian men and women willing to do the work of reconciliation in the world (39–44).

Niebuhr, of course, was a master modeler of lived Christian religion. But I am less taken by his work than when I used his theological language to organize the patterns of twentieth‐century American Protestant church history in my book on Fourth Presbyterian Church (Wellman 1999b). His categorization of Christ is too abstract; the word Christ itself is culturally constructed, so that I do not posit an independent Christ—hovering above culture, inspiriting the Christian church, and working in relation to “secular cultures” formatted in various models. I would argue that the field of religion and culture is more complex; lived religion always disrupts theory, whether theological or sociological. And the relation of church and culture, and religion and society changes rapidly and continually over time. Nonetheless, my task is to give some sense of this relation in the liberal and evangelical churches in this study.

The relation of liberal churches to the PNW culture is unlike any of Niebuhr's models. Perhaps this is in part because the PNW was relatively unlike any of the social contexts that Niebuhr had analyzed. The level of interest in spirituality in the PNW is high; spiritual but nonreligious people are, in fact, not that different in their beliefs from church‐affiliated northwesterners, as we have seen. Historically and culturally, throughout its history, when people have come to the PNW they most often left behind their church affiliations—whether because they always wanted to or because they felt no reason to re‐create them, or the religious institutions did not exist in the region. No doubt it is a combination of these factors, but the difference between the rest of the country and the PNW in terms of church affiliation is obvious not only (p.191) statistically but also subjectively for those who come to the region, as one lay liberal newcomer said: “When I left Utah I was actually relieved not to have one of the first questions people asked me [be] what my religion was. And I was actually relieved. And then when I started looking around for a church and was thinking about bringing the children it almost got to be a little bit of a question about whether it was discouraged.” That is, the PNW culture is not only a de facto secular (but spiritual) culture, but there are aspects that militate against church affiliation. There is nothing in the culture that creates a “sacred space” for the church or that gives it unique status. In speaking with any number of liberal or evangelical clergy, a consistent refrain of those who had come from other parts of the country was that there were no “perks” from communities for clergy in the region—no automatic memberships in athletic, golf, or entertainment clubs; no deference given or paid to clergy per se. It was not so much a negative attitude toward clergy but an indifference to them.

For liberal clergy and lay leaders, this indifference has meant several things. One is that since membership in churches is not taken for granted or expected, the usual “rites of passage” that would draw families to the church—baptism, confirmation, and even marriage—do not exist. People simply find other leaders, civil or New Age, to do “spiritual” ceremonies, including blessing children, houses, and marriages. As one liberal clergywoman lamented:

There's a really strong unchurched ethos. You see it if you try to do anything in colleges or sports, Sunday is just another day of the week. There's no sense that maybe we should do it Sunday afternoon so people can go to church. Maybe that's all over, but I feel it's more around here. At the same time, people flock to hear authors and theologians and spiritual gurus of every kind. There's kind of a hunger for something. But my sense is a lot of people feed that hunger by going to a lecture and not building it into their lives in a permanent way. And that's probably judgmental, but that's what it feels like.

This means that when someone joins a church it is a choice on his or her part, relatively uncoerced and intentional. Thus, as one liberal clergy said, “So when somebody here says, ‘I'm a member,’ they really mean they're a member.” This liberal clergyman took this as a boon to his church and the community. But not all liberal clergy and lay leaders find this helpful. Since liberals do not evangelize, as I show below, new members are difficult to come by. Indeed, one liberal newcomer to her church struggled over whether or not to “baptize my children; I don't want them to be coerced. I want them to be (p.192) comfortable.” I sensed in liberals, as I have mentioned before, an aversion to coercing their children and a kind of fear that they could somehow “offend” their children's sensibilities.

The PNW is daunting to understand for outsiders and even for those, like myself, who were born in the region. Typically, most assume the “liberal” nature of the culture, and this is true in part, but one liberal clergyperson pinpointed factors in the culture that changed her mind about it and her way of approaching the culture generally. She grew up in the Midwest in a family of deeply committed Marxists who organized unions and as she said, “radicalized them,” leading to a series of arrests and a quite unstable early family life. In the summer she was sent to “socialist camps, sponsored by Eugene Debs.” Her dad talked continually about the “new world order,” calling Catholic priests “bloodsuckers,” who baptized the capitalist status quo. At one point in her teenage years, she said to her father, “Well dad, I don't think the new world order is going to happen. I watched my dad's whole world drop away.” In other words, she knew radical politics from the inside out; she also saw their abject failure. Her conversion to the liberal Protestant tradition came at the behest of an African American ordained Protestant minister who challenged her with the idea that Christianity combined a compassionate and prophetic tradition that not only led to political liberation but spiritual freedom. She ended up being ordained. So when she came to the PNW she expected a liberal politic and what she said she found was an intense “libertarianism.” For her, the bottle law was an example; one had to recycle bottles in her state, but as she said, “Well, of course the bottle law only really worked when they attached money to it, so one could benefit from it.” That is, for libertarianism to work it had to be combined with a utilitarian ethos. For her, this meant that there was much less of a communal ethic in the PNW than in Minnesota. In the PNW, for her, the differences are pronounced: “There's much more the sense that you don't give the poor a handout, you give them a hand up; and if they're not going to respond to it, the hell with them. Whereas in Minnesota, maybe because of its Scandinavian connections, you worry your head over all these poor people who choose not to respond. And here, they don't give another thought.” As a liberal clergywoman, her sense was that one of the strong attractions of the evangelical church was precisely this appeal to individual salvation—a kind of libertarian and utilitarian spirituality; the sense that one must take care of oneself—that is one's own salvation. My own take is that liberals overstate individualism within evangelical communities; I found that within evangelicalism there was an appeal to the individual and his or her salvation, but it was deeply interlaced with a communal obligation and a pattern of small groups that created intense social networks. And indeed, one of the strong (p.193) appeals of evangelicalism was these networks and communities that embraced families, children, and youth, compensating for the individualism and felt cultural fragmentation of the PNW.

In any event, liberal churches, in part because of their moral worldview, face dilemmas in responding to the culture of the Northwest region. The moral worldview of these churches tends to tilt toward a libertarian perspective—that is, as we have seen, a privatistic ethos around personal beliefs and behaviors, particularly sexual orientations. There is, as I show, a strong ethic of social action among liberals and an ethos of “making the world a better place,” and in some churches, a push toward the importance of communal worship as a “key component” of one's spiritual life. But to a large extent liberal churches mimic or mirror many of the elite liberal cultural attributes of the PNW culture, such as the belief in the power of the individual to take care of oneself and to make the world a better place; a strong sense of egalitarianism and fairness for all; the belief that each person should think for himself or herself and become critical and self‐reflective; the belief that life is a spiritual journey that involves a connection “to something bigger than oneself”; the sense that one cannot know or be certain of how to define this “spirit,” thus creating ambivalence and great caution about naming it. All of this adds up to a liberal religious community that resembles the wider “spiritual but not religious” culture. Naturally then, how does one make one's religious community distinct from and attractive to this wider culture?

The reality in liberal religious communities is that the liberal moral worldview by its nature undercuts the assertion of explicit theological truth claims that would distinguish liberal churches from the wider “secular but spiritual” culture. In liberal churches one can endorse one's faith as one among many ways to approach the divine mystery, but to lift it up as the most plausible or persuasive approach is not acceptable. Toleration and the celebration of difference are applauded much more highly than an explicit affirmation of the uniqueness of one's faith. Thus, there is little or no tension with the wider PNW culture by design. In fact, there were in the study a handful of liberal leaders who responded to questions about the decline of the “liberal church” that perhaps this was for the “best.” This was rare but arresting and, in part, it came from the liberal moral worldview that contemplated the history of Christianity and its many abuses of “minorities” and wondered, as in this case, out loud that perhaps the church must die for what it has done. In part, this response came from liberals who were particularly offended with the evangelical support for President Bush and the Iraq War, which I examine in the chapter on politics. But it was clear to me that liberals were struggling with how to be a “Christian” without being identified with parts of the church that (p.194) they rejected. In fact it was a common complaint among liberal laypeople that when others found out they attended church, it was assumed that they were “fundamentalists.” More than a few liberals simply kept their affiliations to themselves, compounding the problem of declining membership. Needless to say, the moral worldview and the relationship of evangelicals to the culture of the PNW were dramatically different.

A critical finding of this study is that among the twenty‐four evangelical churches, I found nearly no one who was classically sectarian in that they sought to “shun” or “reject” the secular culture of the PNW. Frequently, secular liberals would ask if I was studying “fundamentalist” churches in the region. I rejected this label for several reasons: first, evangelicals themselves refused this label as a way to describe themselves; second, historically, fundamentalists have sought to distance themselves from the broader culture and evangelicals in this study sought to engaged the culture; and finally, as an analytic category I find the term itself overdetermined, that is implying a total explanation that in many cases hides reality rather than illuminates it. The evangelical churches in this study were nearly the opposite of sectarian—they were aware of the fallen nature of humanity, but this seemed to mobilize them even more to transform it, though always with the notion that “God is in control.” Most of these churches in their central belief statements are “premillennialists,” believing that Christ's Second Coming will precede Christ's thousand‐year reign on earth. Typically, premillennialists are less interested in transforming the world, and yet the evangelicals in this study maintained a strong passion for civic engagement and deep interest in the common good. Moreover, the evangelicals in this study evinced an “entrepreneurial spirit” that expressed a “world‐conquering” sensibility rather than a “world‐weary” one. Heaven may be their home, but the earth and the culture of the PNW inspired them and mobilized their passions to evangelize and “save” it.

This is not to say that there isn't tension in the relationship of evangelicals to the PNW; but the tension is because of engagement rather then tension because of rejection. Christian Smith has argued that tension and evangelical engagement with culture are causal elements in evangelical vitality (1998). And indeed, I found the more I studied these churches what made them dynamic was not so much their “negative identities” but their positive moral worldview. So in analyzing their relationship to the wider culture, evangelicals often talked about the positive aspects of the secular and unchurched realities of the region. In fact, on several occasions, evangelical lay leaders who had come from the South and other parts of the nation that are more traditionally “churched” spoke in glowing terms about Christians in the region; one evangelical lay leader argued in response to a comment about the lack of dedication in (p.195) church membership: “I am diametrically opposed to that comment, because of the strength and the depth of the churches, and not just ours, the lifestyle of those people is much stronger, in my opinion, than many places that I've seen in the South and other parts of the country.” Other lay evangelical leaders rejoiced in the fact that secular people in the region were quite demonstrative about their feelings toward religion, and Christianity in particular. For one evangelical, this was a “blessing” since they did not reflect a “lukewarm” spirit and were clear about their decisions: “I pray for that to continue. For people to either be passionate about God, or let it go until they can receive his love and acceptance.” Evangelicals argued that northwesterners chose membership not out of obligation or a family tradition but from a deep sense of “conviction.”

There was also recognition that the PNW was not a “joining culture,” and this formed two different but related responses from evangelicals. Evangelical leaders, knowing that it was a radically open religious market with few “props” to buoy the interest or need to join a church, sought to attract new people by a deep engagement with the culture:

We engage the culture of today and we contextualize the gospel to today's culture, which means everything from dress to music to issues and style. We don't take an against‐the‐culture approach and we don't take a for‐the‐culture approach. We take a real people before a real God, and people who live in this world and the difficulties with finances and economics and relationships.

Thus, I found no evangelical churches in an “attack” mode on the culture per se. Indeed, many said that they felt “no tension” at all with the secular PNW culture and readily said they “never experience persecution or bias against them.” That is, in a libertarian culture of “live and let live” evangelicals took advantage of this freedom to engage the culture. Indeed, many evangelicals felt at home in the culture—relating to the libertarian social and economic spirit of the PNW. Many evangelicals combined the fiscal conservatism of libertarianism with the social conservatism of their moral worldview, creating a powerful moral cocktail—as one evangelical lay person said, “I believe in responsibility and that means that each individual can take responsibility for their own actions, for my family, and my church.” Or as another evangelical new member argued: “If you don't work, you don't eat today. That's what the Bible says. And you don't take care of the sluggard who doesn't want to work. You don't feed him. People are buying into this philosophy that somebody who has wealth owes you something. We are to go to work everyday, we're to do it in joy, everything for the Lord and not expect a free ride.”

(p.196) Not all evangelicals would have said this, but at the same time it resonated with the entrepreneurial nature of their churches, the focus on individual responsibility for life and faith, and the importance of the church providing community and services to those in need—even as they attached strings of responsibility to their charity.

Evangelicals in the study often celebrated the freedoms found in the American Constitution: the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, and the freedom of association. In many ways this backbone of freedom resonates with the northwestern spirit of “making it on our own,” and “every man for himself.” It was precisely in places where evangelicals felt that their “freedoms” were being limited that tension with the wider culture arose. Because of their stand against gay marriage, a handful of evangelicals argued that in the not too distant future Christianity would be “outlawed” in American culture. Some evangelicals argued that there was a “liberal bias” against them so that their “opinions” were being censured. As one said, “I think the Democratic Party, the ACLU, the more liberal side tends to, it feels like, tries to hush and silence people whose views are premised on biblical perspectives.” And of course, evangelicals argued that their positions were “based on absolute truths” that were a part of “God's order,” so abortion and gay marriage are “unnatural” and “disordered” forms of morality, that “violate God's freedom.” Thus, many evangelicals felt a strong desire to engage the public square over these issues, and yet at the same time this desire was mitigated by the belief that “God ordains the civil order.” Hence, evangelicals have an ambivalent relationship to the secular civic order that makes them feel called to transform it, but at the same time believe that God is in “control of history” obligating evangelicals to obey the social order. This is in part what makes rulings such as Roe v. Wade so difficult to accept for evangelicals—because they feel both the moral need to change it while at the same time the religious obligation to accept civil decisions. This ambivalence also tends to undercut most forms of extreme political action—making most evangelicals rather benign political players—in part because they believe in the end that God's way will prevail whether in this world or the world to come.

The relation between religion and culture for each of these groups is complex and not easily captured by Niebuhr's models of Christ and culture. For liberals, the relationship is relatively sanguine. To a great extent the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s made legal the movements for justice that liberal Christians hold dear—rights for ethnic minorities, women, and homosexuals. The latter remains a group that liberals argue continue to be stigmatized and thus worthy of advocacy and support. But to a great degree, tensions between liberal churches and a secular but spiritual region remain (p.197) rather low. Ironically, if there are tensions, it is with “fundamentalist” Christians that liberals disdain, in part because of evangelical “dogmatism” but also because of their conservative social policy. Evangelicals, on the other hand, tend to feel “sorry” for the liberal Protestant mainline, counting them as “misguided” and even “heretical” though relatively harmless and in decline. For evangelicals, the goal, as always, is growth and engagement with the culture to convert and transform it. This entrepreneurial spirit fits with the PNW though the social and moral conservatism of the evangelical moral worldview create tensions, particularly on public issues such as abortion and gay marriage. But evangelicals do not carry over the strong “sectarianism” of their American fundamentalist forbearers. Evangelical churches, in fact, share much with the libertarian and entrepreneurial spirit of the region—causing them to focus on growth and a positive vision that is family‐focused and morally traditional. It is to the methods of how liberals and evangelicals grow in this region that I now turn.

2. Recruitment and Outreach

Recruiting new members, known as evangelism in the language of the Christian religion, is for liberals complex, subtle, and very much entwined in their moral worldview. In a sense, as one liberal clergy put it, most new liberal Christians are “recovering.” That is, in the instance of one downtown church, out of forty‐seven people, a third were former Catholics, another third were former “fundamentalists,” another handful were gays and lesbians, and another “six who grew up totally secular.” This is relatively representative of the group that liberal churches attract, but the question for this section is How do they come to these churches and why?

To begin, liberals condemn outright evangelism that accosts individuals about the eternal state of their souls. Liberals do not try to “save souls,” which one lay liberal found “self deceiving and selfish,” that is, a form of religion that “promises a fantasy to come,” and merely looks out for the interests of the individual to get what's good for him or her. The libertarian streak in liberals in the study was deep. “I guess the way that I think about it is that all paths lead to the same place and it isn't my job to go out and try to make someone else think a different way, nor is it somebody else's job to convert me in that way.” The moral worldview of liberals demands that one make up one's own mind. Moreover, there is great resistance to “campaigns” for new members in part because of the market overtones. As one liberal clergy said, “It's a turnoff because it's corporate America, we're going to lose our soul to corporate America (p.198) and we are the countercultural voice of religion now and are we going to lose that?” There is great concern among liberal laypeople and liberal leadership that the liberal church must grow, and yet there was a refusal to focus solely on families and the “narrow, parochial concerns of conservative family values; if that's the price you have to pay to grow, I don't want to grow.” I heard these lines particularly from the first‐generation baby boom pastors, resisting what they felt was a “sellout” to church growth specialists and a compromise of the “countercultural values of the gospel.” Several lay liberal leaders argued, “If we have to expand our parking lot, then I think we simply say we won't grow.” In a sense there is some pride among liberals that they do not grow because they have remained loyal to their core moral worldviews. And this may be true.

And yet, there were other voices among the liberal churches in the study, percolating up from younger clergy and lay leaders, realizing that times have changed and that methods must as well. However, the changes were subtle and complex. Liberals must argue for a reason that people should come to their churches. Their core theological truth claim that asserts the “truth” of God's essence and yet does not prioritize one religious tradition over another is both difficult to advertise and tends to echo the “spiritual but not religious” ethos of the PNW region. Thus, the question Why come to church? For liberals, there is no simple answer. For one liberal clergy, it is that there are a “variety” of religious and nonreligious traditions to draw on, and “I have chosen one: Christianity. I do think that human beings, myself first and foremost, are programmed to be religious. It's hardwired into us.” When I asked him what being religious means, he said, it is “a form of communal spirituality.” That is, for him, while being aware of the spiritual but not religious cultural ethos, “spiritual practices” done in community enable one to enjoy the “numinous that pervades everyday life.” The mission motto of his church comes from this experience of “profound” mystery in four words: “Inclusion, service, discovery, and gratitude.” But these relatively abstract terms cannot be fully experienced in isolation, so this clergyman argues that there is a need to practice them together, in service to one another and to the community. Or as another lay liberal leader asserted, “For us to invite someone into communion is to welcome someone into the kingdom of God thing, there's a little piece of it here, Why don't you come and taste and see?” This is both an invitation to the Eucharist and the “taste” of a spiritual community, set apart to practice “inclusion, service, discovery, and gratitude.”

Again, this is a subtle invitation by liberal church leaders and most often only those who are already familiar with the tradition would find it appealing. Statistically, liberal churches draw no more “unchurched” types than evangelicals do. Liberals tend to draw “recovering” Catholics and evangelicals who (p.199) have quit or rejected their tradition and want something religious that participates in the tradition without the “dogmatism” and “literalism” of Catholicism or conservative forms of Christianity. The most theologically positive and expansive call I found from liberal church leaders was from a clergyman whose church had the largest Sunday attendance. He argued that the core challenge is to define a theological reality that has profound effects of both transforming the participants as well as motivating them to serve those in need:

I think it's good work, I think it's glad work. But I think the core of it is, What does it mean to us to acknowledge that we've been made in the image of God and that God yearns for both mercy and justice for all people and that Jesus invites us to be transformed, not to simply be placated? So while it's important that we feed the hungry, What does it mean for us to say we're going to feed the hungry and then ask why people are hungry? And how are we part of ushering in the kingdom of God in this world? How is the kingdom breaking in through what we as Christians do in our daily life? So I suppose one of the great themes for me is we are each invited to be bearers of Christ in the world, no matter where we are; as school teachers, fire fighters, software writers, whatever it is that we do.

On several occasions liberal leaders argued that Christ is not so much the focus of worship but the one who “bears the kingdom” and so obligates his follower to do the same. This means in the liberal moral worldview to live lives of compassion and justice. This means in part for liberal churches the inclusion of gay and lesbian people. One liberal lay leader defined the liberal church in just these terms: “Specifically, it means that anyone is welcome in this church, and very specifically that sexual orientation is not a reason for exclusion.” In many of these churches sexual orientation was the reason for inclusion, making real what it means to follow in Christ's footsteps: “I come to this church because I'm in a same‐sex relationship and it is a really comfortable place for the two of us to worship.” A frequent side comment from liberal clergy was their significant ministry of officiating at gay “Holy Unions” enabling homosexual couples to make their relationships “sacramental.” Of course, none of these gay couples remained legally married in Oregon after the Oregon Supreme Court nullified marriages in Multnomah County in 2004. However, this outreach to homosexuals is a powerful source of recruitment and ministry for these liberal churches, and yet it remains a source of some tension.

In one case an assistant minister to children and youth was called as an ordained pastor by a downtown church. He was clear about his gay identity and (p.200) the church was clear and public about his sexual orientation as well. The senior pastor related that this move “caused some families to leave the church, though it attracted others.” A liberal lay leader expressed the fact that she was sometimes concerned that the church's emphasis on gay rights “kept some people away. … We can be a church for anyone, not just gays and lesbians; and it's a little scary to me that we might be excluding people unintentionally.” She did not want to reject homosexuals but she was worried about how the church might continue to attract heterosexual people and families. One clergyman in the American Baptist denomination expressed concern about the issue, explaining, “More than half the denomination is African American, most of whom don't want to deal with the issue of homosexuality; there is a don't ask, don't tell policy, even though many of our black leaders are quite progressive on most of the social issues.” Thus, for this clergyman, his strong support of ordaining homosexuals was controversial not only for conservative white evangelicals in his denomination but also for African Americans with a long tradition of discomfort over the gay and lesbian issue.

A younger liberal clergyman, while remaining a strong advocate for gay inclusion, suggested to his leadership that they recruit those whom he defined as “spiritually purposeless.” What this means for liberals is recognizing the importance of integrating individuals into a communal spiritual practice and a community of faith that is challenged to serve each other and to serve others. But it remains to be seen how liberals expand their recruitment rationale and the results from these initiatives. When I asked liberals about the word evangelism, it was rejected out of hand. For evangelicals, needless to say, evangelism was their raison d'étre. Gaining new recruits validates their ministries. One might say without growth evangelicals lose their identity.

In coding priorities, evangelical outreach was by far the most important characteristic of the evangelical churches in the study. Forty‐one percent of respondents mentioned the value of sharing the gospel. Indeed, the concentration on growth and “sharing” the gospel was a virtual drumbeat in the evangelical interviews. The evangelical moral worldview obligates those who believe in this core relationship to Jesus Christ to share this news with others—because it is the truth and it is the only truth that will save one's soul. For the most part, evangelicals tended to emphasize this “good news” of salvation; only 8 percent of evangelicals mentioned the threat of hell. Nonetheless, hell's reality and finality of death lurk in the shadows of evangelical motivations to share their “saving truth” with others. One evangelical pastor explained the difference between A‐level doctrines (which are indisputable) and B‐level doctrines (which are negotiable): “The fact that hell is final, I think that's A‐level. What hell is exactly is secondary. But the fact that a holy God will judge (p.201) sin one day and those without Christ face hell, now that is A‐level. It is also A‐level that Christ paid the price full for that sin and offers his righteousness as a gift to undeserving sinners who put their trust in him.” It was not unusual for an evangelical pastor or layperson to mention that his or her life was changed by someone asking, “If you had two or three hours left in your life, do you know the destiny of your soul?” This prodded and pushed more than one minister into the ministry and preceded the conversion of more than a handful of evangelical laypeople.

Of course the threat of hell was constantly overshadowed in the interviews by the hope of heaven and the joy of Christian fellowship. In these vital and growing evangelical churches, I witnessed no fire‐and‐brimstone sermons, no modern‐day version of Jonathan Edwards' “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Evangelicals overwhelmingly expressed the power of uplift from the gospel and the fellowship they experienced and wanted to share. One of the misconceptions of liberals is that evangelicals spend their days “button‐holing” people to coerce them into Christ. I found only one example of this behavior. In one evangelical focus group, one of the member's ministries was to walk around as a “human billboard,” particularly at public events of groups he judged as “sinful,” such as gay marriage rallies or pro‐choice marches. The sign (which he wore to the interview) on his backside read “Jesus Saves” and the front read “Attention, Jesus Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Isaiah 9.6.” For this man, the message of the gospel is an offense and, as he says, “The Bible says the gospel is offensive to those who are perishing and quite often they're offended because they don't want to turn from their sin and receive the forgiveness that Christ gives us for our sins.” The man went on to speak about his public confrontations, particularly with politicians, one of whom was Jim McDermott, a self‐described liberal Democrat U.S. representative from Seattle. The evangelical sign‐carrier told how he would “admonish” McDermott every year for walking in the gay pride parade, knowing that McDermott's father was an evangelical preacher. The man would berate McDermott: “Shame on you for being up here and encouraging these people in their sinful behavior. What would your father think? He was on fire for Jesus Christ!” And then later on this evangelical related how the “Lord had put it on his heart” to go up to McDermott and “just love him,” confessing to McDermott, “I've been real hard on you over the last few years and I want to apologize. I've blasted you and I really loved your father, he was a great man. And Jim McDermott was listening, focused in on what I was saying.” The man then immediately invited McDermott to a screening of The Passion of the Christ. For most liberals, of course, this whole interaction would be repulsive and ugly. And to a degree, even this evangelical man had realized he had stepped over the line, and he (p.202) apologized to McDermott, although this had not stopped him from continuing his “ministry” as a “sign‐bearer” for Christ. Moreover, even as he realized he was too hard on McDermott, he made one last pitch to have McDermott attend the Mel Gibson movie and to consider proclaiming faith in Jesus Christ. Of course, it never occurred to this evangelical that McDermott may have been showing support for gays and lesbians because he was “following Christ.” Although I do not know McDermott's religious persuasions, liberals in the study would recognize McDermott's advocacy for the rights of sexual minorities and his stance against the Iraq War as being in line with how they view the mission of Christ.

I give the example of this “human billboard” to underscore how one evangelical can come to stand for “all” evangelicals in the minds of liberals. But in this study of evangelicals this was the rare case. Evangelicals tended to be deeply enmeshed in their churches, groups, and family activities. Indeed, many evangelicals would have balked at the activity of this billboard carrier and would argue that “coming alongside,” “being a friend,” and taking time “to listen” to others was the best form of evangelism. And there were countless examples of this “friendship evangelism” in the study. One church surveyed its visitors on Easter morning and tracked how many returned. They boasted at their “rate of return” and counted their success on the fact that most visitors had been “personally invited.” One evangelical who had been in heavy metal bands and then become a Christian and joined the band at church. He invited his old friends to church, saying to them:

“Hey, do you want to come watch me jam this weekend?” And they say “sure.” “Well it's in a church, but you've got to come.” And they would. Well, we have such a church that is so easy to walk into that's a really big thing. I think some people want to go to church, but they're scared. Are they gonna make me stand up, are they gonna make me put a hat on? What's gonna happen to me when I walk in there? And our church is so loving, it's open, the messages are so practical and so applicable to life. Like bringing my dad, he's never been into a church and every time he comes, he's, like, that was fantastic. You really enjoy it, you really talk to people.

One of the keys to evangelical success was that they thought from the point of view of someone who had either never attended a church or had had a bad experience with one. Evangelicals tended to know their market and asked how they could not only get people in the doors but how they could make them feel at home when they came. Their buildings were open, warm, conducive to people talking with one another, and their services were, as one evangelical leader (p.203) said, about “worship evangelism,” which tried to make “real” one's “relationship” to God, so that it was fun, meaningful, and powerful. And this evangelical outreach and ethos were working for the churches in this study. Two of the evangelical churches in the study came from the Presbyterian Church (USA). This is a mainline Protestant denomination, though at the same time deeply divided over social issues and in tension over theological ones as well. These Presbyterian pastors spoke as evangelicals, over against the liberal leanings of their denomination; one was in the process of considering his church's “separation” from the wider denomination. One of the pastors commented on the “evangelical wing” of his denomination and how well it was doing: “There's only fifty churches in the country that have over 1,000 or more in worship in our denomination on a Sunday morning. With the exception of four or five, all the rest are evangelical. So these evangelical pastors and I meet together on an annual basis to support each other, compare notes, brainstorm and so forth.” This Presbyterian pastor defined evangelical as “orthodox theology” that counts Christ as the only way to heaven—a belief he attached to his firm stance on the “infallibility of the Bible.” Like the other evangelical churches in this study, these Presbyterian churches were entrepreneurial and devoted to evangelism and their growth—numerically and financially—reflected by their success.

The evangelical spirit of sharing the gospel was evident not only by the churches in the study but also in how individual evangelicals approached their jobs and their lives in general. As one evangelical lay leader outlined, his task—along with that of his spouse—was to be a minister in every aspect of his life, and his words reflected the words and action of many in the study:

I feel strongly that Christ has called us as ministers; we're all ministers and we … there is no secular or spiritual separation necessarily. I mean, we all live in the world and whatever we're doing there's a spiritual side of that. I work for the government and in the past, working for the government [meant] you couldn't have any display on your desk or any of that, that showed a religious background or a preference and that's changed now. It's different now than it was ten years ago. I approach work not as a platform to beat somebody about the head and shoulders with what I believe, but to be available to people to help them go to the next step that they want to go to. People are hurting, we go through hurtful times, everybody does, and to be there and just a simple, “I'm praying for you,” and then they'll open up and you talk some more and see what needs they have and you try to meet those needs. So I think when you're real and (p.204) people see that, it opens up tremendous opportunities to take them to the great healer, Christ. And we do that in our neighborhood, we try to go to neighborhood get‐togethers and people bring drinks and they party. But we go, and we spend time with our neighbors and it's been a great opportunity to build friendships and just let them know that we're there when they need us. It's ingrained so we don't separate the secular and spiritual that much.

This was a common refrain among many lay evangelicals, telling about their experiences in their everyday worlds. They sought in their lives to reach out to people wherever they found themselves; one spoke about praying when she was at Home Depot. She asked God to show her how to witness to her faith even as she was buying products for her church—expressing the numerous times she ended up inviting fellow shoppers to her church. Another mentioned how his coaching his children presented him many opportunities to invite families to his church. Another expressed the power of his ministry at a prison; his church had come up with ways to integrate families of prisoners into their church. Another evangelical mentioned how she evangelized at her job:

I've saved, I can't tell you how many young women. Two years ago my boss came to me and [said], “We can't afford to pay for janitorial service anymore, we're gonna use trustees from the jail. Are you comfortable with that.” “Yes, I am.” If my boss asks me to do that I will find a way and we'll work around it. So I had my Bible in my office and the first girl, I didn't talk too much about religion to her. We were trying to learn this whole thing, how I wanted to clean up cleaning service. But the second girl I thought, “I need to get away from all this bad language” and I just told them, “I am a Christian.” “Oh, you are?” And the first thing they want to do is hug you and they want to know about God. Here's my Bible. And most of them have Bible classes in jail. I've had them take my Bible and go in their little laundry room and turn the light on, and it's noisy with that fan going, and they work their little Bible study. It's such a wonderful feeling to do that and to talk to them about God. You know, you're sittin' in jail, you know about jail, it's terrible. And when they can get out and reach out and talk to somebody, oh man, they blossom.

While liberals talked about membership in terms of being a “recovering Christian”—whether from a bad experience in more conservative churches—evangelicals spoke about how they were “recovering sinners.” Evangelicals (p.205) sought to live “within” the Christian worldview, interpreting their entire lives by virtue of their biblical meaning and theological significance. The Christian faith seemed to penetrate evangelicals at a very deep level; one even spoke of how her church was “like an epidemic,” from which she always gains something “wonderful.” “There's something here I'm like, wow. So if somebody would have told me a couple years ago that I'd be doing this, I would have said, there's no way.”

I mentioned earlier the “effervescent” nature of evangelical groups, I heard and saw again this same “power” of group worship and action in evangelism. This came out explicitly in charismatic congregations where members spoke of the “gift of tongues” as a process of “falling in love” in praise with God. Like all the evangelical churches, God was “made real” in this process and through it one was “fully converted” to Christ. It is not difficult as an outsider to see why evangelical churches are growing; they want to. They know what methods work, their message is clear and to the point, and it has a reward attached—fellowship with other believers and eternity with God. Liberal churches, for the most part, struggle with recruitment in part because they are not always sure that they want to grow, their message is more complex and not easily distilled in a yes or no package, and the rewards in their communities of faith are also less clear. Nonetheless, they do offer a fellowship of faith and social action on behalf of others, and they are most clear about their love and inclusion of sexual minorities. In general, however, the liberal faith is a difficult one to reproduce; it is intellectually demanding as well as morally altruistic, and offers no clear eschatological or metaphysical rewards. I now turn to how these two groups work on their missions locally and globally.

3. Mission and Social Service

The moral worldviews of liberal and evangelical churches in the PNW are reflected in how they understand their mission on behalf of others, locally and globally, in service, social action, and outreach. For this study, social action means public policy advocacy; social service identifies actions taken on behalf of those with fewer economic or social resources; and outreach most often refers to evangelism—sharing one's belief system with another. How each group conceives its mission is just as important as what it does. I cover each in this section. To begin, despite the fact that liberals tend to talk a great deal about social service programs and accuse “fundamentalist” churches of being “internally focused,” the data tell a different story. In coding church priorities, 37 percent of evangelicals mentioned the importance of social service on behalf (p.206) of the poor in some form or another; for liberals, it was prioritized in 34 percent of the interviews. Now these are relatively close, but I expected liberals to emphasize social service more emphatically. Moreover, this is just one part of the overall evangelical mission, since for them “evangelism and missionary work” are even more critical; that is, 41 percent of evangelicals mention the importance of evangelical outreach compared with liberals who discount these forms of ministry. Nonetheless, the raw data show that both groups are categorical in the importance of caring for others, locally and globally, even as they approach this goal differently.1

a. Local Mission

Liberals are deeply ambivalent about mission as a form of religious outreach. One liberal layperson asked, “Should we share our faith and does this assume that there is a lack in [the] other person's perspective?” Another liberal in the focus group, speaking generally for all the liberals in this study, replied, “Faith is a private matter; we must be respectful of others and so we should not share our faith.” Liberals spoke glowingly about the opportunity to care for others—but not, as we have seen, to bring them into their churches. If liberals think about the reproduction of faith, they would realize this only happens through actions rather than words, as one said, “To transmit the faith by living it.” I did not hear of one case where a liberal had evangelized another person into faith by word of mouth. Moreover, in sifting through all the ministries of the liberal churches, particularly in the local mission area, I came across only one ministry that had the goal of transmitting the faith symbolically. This was the one new church plant in the ten liberal churches in the study. It was a small congregation, funding a single female pastor of Asian American ethnicity, with the motto “Multiracial, Multicultural, and Intergenerational Church.” From what I heard, the church was struggling and small, but embodying the terms of its mission in its first five years. But in no other cases could I detect a local liberal ministry interested in recruiting new members from those they served.

Liberal churches in their local ministries are quite similar to nonprofit, secular, social service programs. They function very much in a secular mode of operation though there is at the same time a spiritual intent, though this is rarely made explicit. Liberal clergy in the study strongly supported this volunteer social service in their laypeople: “They're in Habitat for Humanity; they're on school boards, so that's good. I want people to be out there in the community doing things. They are in homeless shelters. So given the choice, I wouldn't want them to be on a committee at the church if they could be out doing other things.”

(p.207) In this sense the action of social service and political advocacy is more important than service to the religious organization per se; the religious mission of churches is deprioritized and social engagement with the needs of the community is made the central mission of the church. Liberals do not “force or coerce” their faith on anyone, but give without expectation of conversion. In this sense they are consistent with their moral worldview and it's imperative to do one's duty regardless of outcome. This begs the question of how liberals identify themselves as religious institutions. Mission in liberal churches is shadowed by the question Why should anyone do social service from the church when other local agencies already have similar volunteer operations that are ongoing? The more I explored what liberal churches actually do in social service, the more I found a great overlap between their activities and local social service agencies—and again, this was the point, there is no difference and, for liberals, there should be no difference. Liberals do not share their faith; they do works of compassion and justice because it is right and good—and because it is an expression of their faith. Indeed, the penetration of the local, grassroots nonprofit organizations by church members was a source of enormous pride for liberal churches:

Politics though is really a very grassroots thing for a lot of us. We know from the organizational structure of the church that we're tied into the very earliest form of grassroots democracy in the country. This is how our church was modeled on the early colonial method of doing things. Consequently, we tend to have a church here where these people are probably on other planning commissions in the city. They are probably on boards of people who make decisions at the grassroots level. They've been educators. The tie‐in to having an effect on society is pretty widespread, and that goes to some of what you said with our pastor being on board after board. Not just a member in good standing, but a legendary member of these nonprofits for various reasons. You should dig into those stories. So from the really grass‐roots level through all of the issues, we're involved. We won't tout a candidate from the pulpit, and I'm surprised to see that happen on the other side.

Liberal churches in the study were deeply involved in local social service agencies, sometimes funding them and sometimes acting as recruiters of volunteers for these programs. The various programs included local food banks, food pantries at the churches, holiday meals served by congregants, family shelters (at one church), a mental‐health chaplaincy that served the special needs of homeless mental‐health clients, small (eight to twenty bed) (p.208) transitional housing units for homeless women along with transitional counseling for jobs and childcare, teen feed programs, and nightly meals served from a downtown urban church. And this is but a representation of the many programs these churches created. As one lay liberal leader said about her church's shelter, “I think my biggest challenge so far in this parish is meeting hungry people who come to the door. We have a pantry two hours every day and give them food and looking them in the eye and offering food and conversation and welcome and some sense that they belong in our parish, even though they may not come to services, we're happy to have them here.” It is a “humble” approach to ministry to the poor in the sense that liberals tended never to assume that they were “better than,” or “knew more than,” or were “more righteous than” those they served. Liberals practiced a sense of presence with others that was “inclusive and compassionate.” Just as God is present for liberals, so they are to those who have nothing; it is a simple but profound witness. One liberal laywoman spoke with great eloquence about her ministry in hospice, where again her actions were one of presence rather than any explicit offerings of prayer. She felt a deep sense that she should sit with the dying: “If there is somebody dying, so they don't have to die alone, I can sit with them.” This was a form of “spiritual practice” for liberals, embodying the “numinous” in moments when people were in greatest need. At the same time, the larger liberal churches in the study took on wider and sometimes quite ambitious local advocacy campaigns. As one liberal clergy outlined:

We were at the forefront of the living wage movement. We certainly have been involved in issues in Central America over many years, have been engaged in questions around Palestine and Israel, and of course around issues of homelessness. The church has over the last several years convened the committee, or gave birth to a process that allowed the committee to end homelessness in the county to come into being and that just a few months ago released a really bold ten‐year visionary plan to end homelessness as we know it in this county. So the church has always played that role and I think many people belong to this place because they want to be part of a religious institution where faith and the issues of the world interconnect.

Homelessness was a powerful motivator for liberal churches, particularly those in the large urban centers of the PNW. These larger more ambitious plans of eradicating homelessness were done in collaboration with other religious bodies, the cities, and with secular social service agencies. The ecumenical ethos of liberal churches was always a piece of their local outreach. This is both a part of the liberal philosophy of working with others to take on (p.209) larger projects, and also a necessity since these liberal churches cannot act on their own. Thus, most of the churches in the study commented that they no longer “spoke for the city and community” on social service, cultural, or political issues. In fact, at times, focus group members would caution that liberals could occasionally “exaggerate their power.”

More often than not, I found liberals “doing” social action in response to more conservative movements, whether religious or political. At times, the two were combined. For example, in the case when several lay liberal leaders from one urban church picketed a large evangelical congregation that was one of the sponsoring churches for the nationwide Justice Sunday program in which Senator Bill Frist made a speech from a conservative church defending the “conservative moral values of Christian people.” In this way liberals were very much up against larger cultural trends over which they felt they had little or no effect.

Even as liberals ministered to those on the “fringe” of society, and protested conservative religious and social trends, they were proud that their social action was often controversial, whether ordaining homosexuals or blessing gay Holy Unions, or in another case defending a local mosque from what a liberal clergy thought was “harassment from the federal government.” Following 9/11, a liberal clergywoman had developed a close relationship with a local mosque, and the two congregations had come to share some activities together. As the clergywoman said, “I am more comfortable talking with the imam from our local mosque than I am talking with conservative Christians.” The church and mosque had started a mutual service project and in the process members had come to know one another. One liberal new member was attracted to the church because of this relationship with the mosque: “I thought there's no better way to learn about each other in a nonconfrontational way; to work on something that your values both feel is a worthwhile thing.” This sense of mutuality in mission was a constant theme in interviews, whether ecumenically with other religious bodies or with other social service agencies working in tandem to struggle with wider issues, whether they are homelessness, hunger, environmental stewardship, shelter, employment, a living wage, or health care.

In another case that was “unpopular” in the wider community, a liberal church had come to the aid of a policeman who had had “sexual relationships” with two women while on patrol. The policeman and his family had become involved in the church and so the liberal church had come to know and care for him, his wife, and children. The clergy and lay leadership had come to the policeman's aid, defending him in the press, and negotiating with the courts on “an alternative sentencing process.” The church had argued that the sexual relations were not “coerced” but “mutual and consenting” and that the women (p.210) came from “shadowy” backgrounds involving pornography and the like. Of course, to the courts this did not matter. The church presented to the court an intensive probational process whereby they would take over the “rehabilitation” of the policeman, which would mean he would be discharged from his position, but would be able to work and take care of his family—as opposed to going to jail for six years and leaving his family destitute. The court disagreed with the church and scolded the liberal clergy and the church publicly in court for its “naïveté.” Not all members of the congregation agreed with what their pastor had done, but the majority of the focus group at the church admired the pastor's courage and tenacity—in large part because it was not the “popular” thing to defend the policeman, but it was the “right” thing to do. The church was committed to caring for the wife and children during the policeman's imprisonment.

All of the liberal clergy in the study were left‐leaning in their politics and three or four had come from relatively radical political backgrounds. Even so, most of the liberal clergy voiced sympathies with such politics. One clergy had lived in communal social action ministry; another had been a labor organizer; another was a part of a national political protest movement; another voiced sympathy with Latin American liberation theology and the benefits of early Christian communism; and several supported church exchanges with Cuban Protestant churches, speaking about the benefits of Cuban society on the lives of the poor. What struck me was that these concerns were only occasionally reflected in liberal laypeople. Generally, the liberal laypeople were left‐leaning, but most were moderate Democrats. Additionally, there was a fair share of “quiet” Republicans who either kept “silent” when issues like these came up, or “libertarians” who took the philosophy of “live and let live” to heart. But in terms of local mission, liberal clergy tended to be “out in front” on more radical ideas of social transformation, and if these ideas came into the pulpits they were not always welcome by laypeople. At the same time, I noticed the newer liberal clergy seemed less wedded to “liberal” ideas and more open to traditional social, liturgical, and political forms. Indeed, one of the new “liberal clergy” was seen as more conservative than his left‐leaning congregation. In general, the distance between liberal clergy and their congregants was greater than what I saw between evangelical clergy and their laypeople, and this came out on issues of mission and social action. If anything this caused liberal clergy to pull back from their own deepest convictions at times, whereas I saw none of this same self‐censorship in evangelical clergy. A part of the reason for this was that most evangelical clergy had either come from the community that they served or had been trained at Bible colleges and started their own churches. If they had graduate education, it was most often from a conservative seminary (p.211) and received while they were in ministry. Educationally, then, most evangelical leadership had not received a “dose” of Enlightenment training in a secular college or seminary. For them, the plain language of scripture was “perfect” and applying it to everyday life to grow disciples in Christ was the point of ministry. And it was no surprise that this is exactly what evangelical laypeople wanted: a biblically based sermon, applicable to their lives, that would preach good news, provide hope, and challenge them to grow. The mimetic relationship between evangelical clergy and laypeople was summed up by one evangelical layperson: “When I'm listening to my pastor's sermon I feel like he has been reading my mail.” Indeed the moral worldviews of evangelical clergy and their laypeople felt very much in sync, particularly when it came to local and global missions.

The more I investigated the mission and ministries of the evangelical churches in this study, the more I realized that they have created a kind of “shadow” culture in the PNW. By this I do not mean a sectarian culture—that is, one that was utterly separate from or in confrontation with the wider culture—but a parallel culture formed to engage, transform, and convert the PNW. Unlike the liberal churches in this study who tended to “join” with secular social service agencies, evangelicals tended to create their own ministries that were not utterly unlike the secular social services groups—they performed similar functions, but evangelicals did all their work in the name of Jesus Christ.

To begin, it was rare to find in the twenty‐four evangelical churches in the study a partnership with a nonreligious, nonprofit social service group. I found that on several occasions evangelical churches celebrated partnerships with Habitat for Humanity—an organization that has nurtured a relationship with secular communities as well as churches. Habitat is a Christian nonprofit that works nationally and globally to partner with families to build new homes. But more often than not evangelical churches had created their own groups to serve the poor, feed families, and help them transition into stable situations. Moreover, I found that these kinds of services of feeding the poor and sheltering the homeless were always tertiary ministries within evangelical churches; they were but one aspect of their overall mission and not the mission enterprise as they often seemed to be in the liberal churches in the study.

Indeed, local mission in the evangelical churches in this study tended to be nested in ministries to groups, evangelism to neighbors, and spontaneous acts of generosity and kindness to strangers. For evangelical churches, local outreach is a matter of creating groups that meet the needs of individuals at every stage of the lifecycle. That is, in every church in this study, there were groups for children, youth, men, women, married couples, divorced and separated (p.212) people, singles, older adults, and people in recovery. In a sense these evangelical churches saw their churches as missions, as centers of care, conversion, and transformation. As one evangelical lay leader said, “Well, this place for a lot of people—and it was for us too when we first came—it's kind of like a hospital.” The theme of recovery is a leitmotif among evangelicals and it means recovery from sin of course, but it also means recovery from every kind of mishap. In several churches, the Saddleback Church “Celebrate Recovery” program was used, based on Matthew 5:3–12. It has eight stages:

  1. 1. Recognize one is not God;

  2. 2. To believe in God's existence;

  3. 3. Consciously commit one's life to Christ;

  4. 4. Confess one's faults;

  5. 5. Submit to the changes God ordains;

  6. 6. Evaluate one's relationships;

  7. 7. Spend daily time with God; and

  8. 8. Yield to God in every way.

It is a Christian version of the Alcoholics Anonymous twelve‐step program, though it is Christocentric unlike AA. Celebrate Recovery emphasizes reconciliation with Christ, repentance, and submitting to God's will. I saw these themes across the small group culture of evangelical churches, who used this method to treat addiction, divorce, and every kind of malady. One cannot help being impressed by the multiple layers and outlets of care and concern in these churches. They seek to meet every human need and relate that need to what they call the “good news of Jesus Christ.” Indeed, to underline the multiple public outlets of these evangelical churches, one evangelical church estimated that there were more than “120 meetings at his church” each week. My guess from examining the church's Web site was that he was exaggerating, but even if he were half right, which seemed to be closer to the case, an enormous amount of human care was occurring in these churches.

This Christian therapeutic culture is a potent formula for many in this study. I could repeat any number of testimonials about the healing power of these groups, whether helping individuals to overcome addiction to drugs, alcohol, or pornography; helping them to work through the loneliness and devastation of divorce; “saving them” from homelessness or hunger; or bringing them into a “new family.” But all of these programs of care serve a larger purpose for evangelicals: Unlike liberals who consciously refrain from verbally sharing their faith, evangelicals seek out ways to talk about the “good news” at every opportunity. One lay evangelical spoke about her small group and how it led to charity and her thoughts on opportunities for her to witness: (p.213)

You live out your faith and for me, being involved in a smaller group really allows me as well as the group as a whole to express our faith in the way that we reach out, support, and help each other. One of our small group members, her husband died and we were able to rally around her and pray with her and support her. When we had the big ice storm just a few weeks ago, she has a huge—and she's in her seventies—has this huge cedar tree and a portion of it broke out and two of the gentlemen rushed over with their chain saws and cut out the dead branches that had broken. So, it's just wonderful to have an opportunity to live out your faith in helping one another, whether it's a fellow believer or even a nonbeliever, where you can in a situation that they may be going through, asking if it would be OK for you to pray for them. Sometimes it opens up doors to share your faith with others.

In any number of cases, evangelical laypeople had created opportunities to serve others. One group had spontaneously started painting houses for those who could not do it themselves, and served individuals who were not members of the church. Another group had started building houses locally with all‐volunteer labor and selling the houses at a modest profit, using the money for missions, locally and abroad. Another evangelical had started the “parking lot ministry group” helping the disabled to make it to the church from their cars. Or in more individualized circumstances, evangelicals explained how their “life in Christ had softened their hearts” and allowed them to “smile in grocery stores,” sometimes getting into conversations and “sharing their witness in the cereal aisle.” In another case, evangelical lay leaders spoke movingly about how their teenage daughter had been empowered “by their pastor” to become “an interpreter” for her deaf friend and her family. The pastor noticed it and had begun to advertise it to the larger community and the church had gained more than seven families with deaf members. A similar process had occurred in the church when a layperson had offered to do Spanish interpretation of the worship service; it immediately began to attract Spanish‐speaking families to the congregation. This process of discerning member's gifts and using them for “evangelism” was a critical aspect in these evangelical churches, which had the purpose of stimulating leadership, recruiting new members, and expanding the diversity of the membership. Nevertheless, evangelicals were consistent in admitting the fact that their congregations tended to be ethnically homogenous, not dissimilar to the liberal churches in the study. In each case, evangelicals and liberals wanted to diversify but both sets of churches had limited success in doing so.

(p.214) Again, everyday life for evangelicals became a context for ministry and evangelism and often in quiet, unassuming ways. One evangelical lay leader spoke about how he was learning to witness and minister to the lesbian couple next door and how his “kids would go back and forth between their houses.” In the latter case the evangelical lay leader never made it clear that this meant that they sought to change the lesbian couple, but I believe that was implied. Nonetheless, separation from the secular world, or the “sinful world,” was never a part of the evangelical rhetoric in this study. It was quite the opposite; evangelicals were fully engaged at every level but on their terms. That is, instead of partnering, as the liberals did with community organizations, the evangelicals simply created their own organizations. The exception for evangelicals was that when they partnered with outside organizations, such as Christian ministries to prisons, youth outreach ministries to young people on the streets, Christian clothing closets, or Christian weight accountability programs—whether locally or internationally—they did so with only evangelical Christian groups.

Nonetheless, I think it is important to underline the fact that the liberal critique of evangelicals as being internally focused is partially correct. Evangelicals in this study always began with the premise that individuals needed conversion (an internal process) before they could go out and serve. Thus, at every level of the life stage evangelicals began with “spiritual growth” groups that had as the goal to “convert” and grow an individual in the “love of God.” Now, once this process was under way, evangelical churches' ministries moved to the next level: to “present every member as fully mature in Christ” and “to equip each member for ministry.” In the fall of 2006, a number of the evangelical churches in the study began with large “equipping” meetings to “kick off” the year. One of the themes for this kind of event was “go big for God.” This kick off was led by a popular and successful Christian athletic coach to “empower” volunteers and to help them “find their gifts” and “learn to use them for Christ.” Conversion, of course, was the theme that was virtually universal across evangelical churches, but the consequence of conversion must be action in evangelism, service, and loving others “into Christ.” I was struck again, when I checked all the church Web sites at the end of August 2006, that every evangelical Web site had geared up for fall with splashy visuals and appealing images of “returning to church,” while not one of the liberal churches in the study had done the same on their Web sites.

The local urban evangelical churches in the study generally followed the patterns of the other evangelical churches, but I noticed certain accommodations that they made to their specific context. They carried with them the same moral worldview with its core theological message, but always with a slightly (p.215) more sophisticated appearance and postmodern motif. That is, in one case an urban congregation had developed an elaborate outreach program in the arts. On the one hand, it reflected a quite sophisticated sensibility, using modern themes, but always in light of an epistemology that celebrated the “source” of human creativity as coming from “God in Christ,” and so even here an evangelistic theme was muted but still expressed. Another urban church had this same aesthetic sophistication but was less artful in its theological communication. The church focused its ministry and mission on young urban men and doing “preventive maintenance” (keeping them out of trouble with the law or with “sexual immorality”) so these young men would come “to know Christ” even as they maintained their urban roots and creative and somewhat “raw” aesthetic. Indeed, this urban pastor, who used language that many students who attended his church found appealing and “relevant,” counseled young people: “Get married, have sex all the time, love your spouse, and have some kids. Totally. Absolutely. We're all about that. In the city, teach your kids how to play guitar and grow up to be good tattoo artists and love Jesus. So that's where our cultural liberal comes in.” In other words, one's heart must be “for Jesus,” but one's aesthetic can be a “punk, tattoo artist, jamming for Jesus.” When I responded that it sounded like he was trying to create “suburban‐like” Christians in an urban setting, he was again quite forthright and consistent with the evangelical moral worldview in that his goal was having people come “to know Jesus” and everything else should go by the wayside, although he said it with greater bite:

I love Jesus and I want people to love Jesus, I really don't give a crap about anything else. Christianity has gone to bed with Western society and they give birth to civil religion, which is to me just an ugly bastard child; so everybody is sitting around saying, “How do we preserve the bastard child?” Well, I don't know if we should have had that kid in the first place. I don't know if civil religion is, I don't have verses for it, it's not in my Bible. Heaven is my home, not America. I don't believe all the founding fathers were Christians, a lot of them were Deists. If they were Christians it's been 200 years and it's far in the rearview mirror. I really don't care about preserving the Western democracy, I don't care about traditional values, I don't care about upholding capitalistic principles. I don't really give a crap. I have one goal. I want people to meet Jesus.

He wittily avoided my question but made the larger point: he was not wedded to the usual cultural and political platforms with which outsiders accuse evangelicals; his goal was to create “relationship” with Jesus Christ. (p.216) After the interview, he went on to make the larger point that by creating a marriage culture and encouraging young evangelical men and women to have children that evangelicals would simply “out‐reproduce” liberals in the long run and “take over the city because liberals don't have children.” As we have seen demographically, there is some truth to what he is saying. It gets to the larger point of mission; one can do mission through the reproduction of family, that is, producing more children who will begin to dominate the culture demographically. This pastor's strategy was not vocalized explicitly in other evangelical churches, but it fits with the larger evangelical moral worldview of growth and expansion. And it is not that this pastor wants his young parishioners to simply “know Jesus,” he wants them to engage, change, and transform the wider culture. This is an implicit aspect of his mission. So this urban pastor's style and rhetoric would not work in the suburban evangelical churches in the study, but that in part makes the point about evangelicals—context and local culture always matter and one must accommodate to these cultures to make an impact, to transform the culture, and to make it over “for Christ.”

In the case of liberal and evangelical churches, the local mission of these churches was consistent with their moral worldviews. Mission for liberals meant caring for the marginalized in humble forms of service that met the needs of the hungry, the homeless, and those in life crises. In order for liberals to respect other's perspectives, one refrained from sharing one's faith with another; each person must be understood and accepted as he or she is. Of course, the consequence of liberals' refraining from evangelizing those they help is that even as liberals served others, they did not bring those in need into their churches. Liberals also worked with secular social service agencies, partnering with their local communities to serve those with less. Liberal church outreach mirrored secular social service in these communities. This was not a problem for liberals; in fact, it was a mark of their moral virtue. They served without expecting to change others' religions or expecting anything from the other, and maintained their sense of moral duty and altruism by forgoing their interests in either the reproduction of their faith or their institution.

Evangelicals, on the other hand, were consistent with their moral worldview, serving those with little in their communities by feeding the hungry and clothing those without, but their core ministries were about meeting the needs of their own. That is, these churches become hospitals for every human need, from preschoolers to older adults, from the separated and the lonely to those who are addicted and in bankruptcy. If you are broken in any way you come to these churches for healing and they try to meet your needs and in the process share the “good news of Jesus Christ.” There is no doubt that evangelicals do (p.217) what they do because their interest is in evangelizing the “unsaved” and churching the “unchurched.” One church in the study was about to “possess the land”—build a new building—in the fall of 2006, referring to God's promise to Abraham of the “promised land.” Their budget for the new building was $8 million, and they were on their way to meeting that number. But the goal for the expansion was to reach out to the “60,000 unchurched in the 30‐minute radius of their church.” Their motto was “Connect All to Christ.” Local mission to these evangelical churches is the ambitious vision of Christianizing the PNW. They do not use that early twentieth‐century term Christianizing, but the rhetoric and strategy of these churches is about that goal. In this sense there is a consistency between their goals and their global outreach; anyone who is not in Christ is and should become a target of evangelism. This comes out most potently in their international evangelical ministries.

2. Global Missions

The analysis of global missions presents a dilemma for the broader comparative analysis of the liberal and evangelical churches in this study. In each of the thirty‐four churches in the study I attempted to gain access to interviews with international missionaries. I was successful in nineteen out of the twenty‐four evangelical congregations and in two of the ten liberal churches. The simple fact was that the liberal churches either only supported a denominational missionary program in tangential ways—that is, without any real connection—or they did not sponsor missionaries from their churches. In the two liberal churches, all three missionaries were retired: one had been an active short‐term missionary during her working life (making multiple month‐long visits abroad), while the other two were a couple who had done long‐term missionary work in Bolivia, lasting more than four years. Thus, I begin my analysis with the findings from the limited liberal data, and then focus on the results from the interviews with evangelical international missionaries. The disproportionate number of evangelical missionaries is predictable in part because the moral worldview of liberals is cautious about sharing its symbolic system with others. The task of mission for liberals is not to pass on the faith, but to work for justice and peace, supporting the rights of others to do and believe what they want. The evangelical missionaries in this study do not deny the importance of peace and justice and the support of human rights but they have no doubt that passing on their belief is their chief motivation and the core warrant for their existence as missionaries.

The dominance of evangelicals in global missions and the decline of liberal and mainline Protestant missionary presence are a reflection of the (p.218) twentieth century. In the early twentieth century most American Protestant mainline denominations had thriving global mission programs. My earlier study on a large liberal Protestant congregation in Chicago, Fourth Presbyterian Church, showed a puissant global evangelical outreach program in the 1910s supported by congregational annual giving of more than a half million dollars directly for world evangelism. By the 1960s and 1970s, Fourth Presbyterian Church no longer sponsored any international missionaries, except through their general giving to the wider denomination (Wellman 1999b). This precipitous decline in resources and energy toward global evangelical outreach commenced following the First World War. In the 1920s, moderate to liberal mainline Protestant churches began to move away from global evangelical outreach. The reasons for this are multiple and complex,2 but by the mid‐twentieth century, Protestant denominations had substantially cut back their missionary programs. Evangelical denominations and nondenominational organizations and churches now dominate the field. Over the last generation, approximately 90 percent of missionaries came from American evangelical churches (Baptist and other traditional evangelical denominations, as well as nondenominational and independent churches). Today, long‐term American missionaries (those serving more than two years abroad) number around 120,000; a quarter of this number is sent to Africa, Latin America, and Europe, respectively. Short‐term missionaries, those serving anywhere from two weeks up to two years, are more difficult to count, but they are estimated at 350,000.3 This same evangelical dominance is reflected in this study. The average number of long‐term missionaries supported by the evangelical churches in the study was twelve; these churches supported fifty‐eight short‐term missionaries each year as well. The latter group included youth groups and short‐term adult missionaries who went on one‐ to three‐week trips both in the states (such as Mississippi and other troubled spots hard hit by natural disasters) and abroad to Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Europe.

The liberal churches in the study supported short‐term work trips to the Gulf Coast to rebuild following the Katrina disaster; one church actively supported its denominational missionaries who were working on issues of “justice and peace” in the Middle East; and another church was significantly involved in the Heifer Project (supplying people abroad with animals for reproduction and food). Liberal churches were also involved in microlending activities to support Latin American farmers hit by bankruptcy due to transnational corporations as well as sponsoring rallies for human rights in Darfur. Again, the liberal moral worldview was mirrored in their international concerns: a stress on human rights; the relief of immediate hunger, health, and environmental dangers; the responsibility to preserve a healthy global ecology; the concern for (p.219) indigenous small businesses that were threatened by multinational corporations; and finally the strong support of education, for women in particular, including family planning and learning new skills. Indeed, the number one concern of the liberal missionary couple was to educate the Bolivian Indians to whom they were assigned. This was no doubt difficult and important work in part because the Bolivian government, before 1952, did not allow indigenous peoples to be educated. For these missionaries, it was about empowering the Indians with education, something that these liberal missionaries did with great passion. But even in this case, as they said, once the Indians were educated, “we helped them to take over and now there's not many missionaries left anymore, which is good.” For these missionaries, the passing on of the Christian symbolic system was not the point. They continue:

We attended the local church there. My husband was a Sunday school teacher and so forth, but I think evangelical Christians would say we were not really missionaries because we were not saving souls for Christ. But at the same time we thought we were improving the people's lives. We were doing it for the church. We knew that we would have gotten far better income in the States. But even here at our shelter, we do not say to the people “You have to come to worship service. We'll only feed you if you come first to this worship service.” I'm opposed to that. I would like to give, I would like to see them giving and thinking, maybe this is what they would want to do. And many have joined the church.

This missionary couple took great care to carve out an identity separate from evangelical Christians. They were passionate that they were not “fundamentalists,” and that they did not serve the “Indian peoples to save their souls.” Nevertheless, they were also very clear about what they believed theologically and what they thought this meant in the world: “I think Jesus is the only way, really. But when I say the only way, I don't mean you're damned if you're another faith. It's just that his way makes a lot of sense.” For this couple, the nature of Jesus' way in the world was a passionate commitment to the poor and the marginalized, but, different from other liberals in the study, this conviction was based almost entirely on their reading of scripture and what Jesus would have expected:

Protecting your neighbors, protecting the earth, loving your neighbor, feeding the poor, taking care of the widow and the orphan, visiting in prison—that's something we haven't done, visit in prison, we've never been a part of a prison visitation program. Jesus made (p.220) it very obvious, and I think he also made it obvious that we need to rebel, we need to speak up and rebel when we see it going wrong. In this country if you rebel, your closest friends and my brother might say, you're nonpatriotic, you don't love your country.

Among the liberal interviewees this couple was the most distraught about the Bush administration, haranguing the administration in the interview, arguing that its record of caring for the poor and making war could not be farther from the “way of Jesus.” For them, “conservative Christianity is stealing the faith” supporting big business, going to war, “torturing innocent people.” The liberal missionary couple in particular was adamant in their disdain for the Bush administration and “conservative Christians” who supported the administration. They were deeply involved in political protest. The husband had gone to protest the School of the Americas in Georgia (renamed in 2001, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation); this military base trains Latin American army officers. He told about how he had been arrested in one of his trips to the camp and that he was told that if he ever came back again, “I would be put in jail. I hold the bail order at home as a souvenir.” They reported how they had seen the “dictators” in Latin America up close and the “terror” that they had caused to the indigenous peoples and how the United States had supported this oppression. The husband had also been involved in labor organizing and he lamented the “decline of the labor union movement in America.” All of these activities were for them a response to their faith in Jesus Christ that called them to educate indigenous peoples, to support human rights, to protest against what they felt was an “unjust” government, and to speak against a “corrupt” president. These former lay liberal missionaries were some of the most theologically articulate liberals in the study and some of the most politically radical as well. Many of their conclusions would have been supported by other liberals, but few of the other liberal respondents would have said that “Jesus is the only way,” and fewer still would have been as arch in their critique of the U.S. government.

In arresting ways this liberal missionary couple was similar to evangelical missionaries. That is, their level of belief and commitment to their faith was intense and high; their willingness to take action because of their faith was also clear and unwavering; they tended to be more aware of the global issues than other laypeople in the study; they were willing to critique governments (their own in this case) that did not live up to the standards of the Gospel; and they had opinions about politics that were informed and precise. This same combination of characteristics can be seen in the evangelical international missionaries in the study: intensity about faith; a willingness to take actions that (p.221) were risky; and a critical eye for political bodies and sometimes others in the faith. The conclusions that evangelical missionaries came to were quite different, but the passions were high as well. Liberal and evangelical missionaries embody the most intense notions of each of the liberal and evangelical moral worldviews.

Another retired liberal short‐term missionary was quite passionate on a number of issues as well. She was a critical leader in the move to establish her church as a “More Light” congregation, encouraging the ordination of homosexuals and supporting the blessing of Holy Unions. She was committed to the Jesus Seminar and had “read Marcus Borg.” Her theology reflected the complexity and ambiguity of the liberal worldview, but also a radical commitment to compassion and justice in the world. She read and listened to Jim Wallis, the editor of Sojourners Magazine, an evangelical author and speaker for social action. I found only two people among the evangelical respondents who mentioned Jim Wallis in the study; a dozen or so liberal laypeople mentioned Wallis, and nearly half of liberal clergy had read him; and two liberal churches in the study had had Wallis come speak at their churches. Wallis's relatively conservative theology did not appeal to liberals, but liberals resonated with his antiwar and antipoverty campaigns. This liberal short‐term missionary also was deeply committed to socially responsible investing. She had read David Korten's When Corporations Rule the World (1995), which documented the exploitation of the poor by multinational firms. Nonetheless, she found few within her own local church willing to take action on this issue. Finally, she had developed an annual program of exchange with her denominational church in Cuba. For her, this was an eye‐opening experience:

The hospitality wherever we went was the very best that they could provide. The spirit in those people was what affected us the most. They have so much joy, singing, dancing, and music making and you just wonder “Where does this come from?” Their poverty is different than poverty in the rest of the world. They're all poor, but they all eat and they all have shelter and medical treatment. So there's a difference. What we learned, or what I learned anyway, was that this joy that they're able to express through their creativity has to do with relationships. They care for one another. They don't have that value of independence in our country that causes us to become so estranged from one another. So that's about it. They have needs and we have tried to help them. We met the people and became so bonded to them that the same group of people with one or two new people went again the next year. And it was just like going home (p.222) and visiting our nearest and dearest relatives. It was wonderful. The second year we visited a church that we were considering to be sisters in partnership with. We had a wonderful time visiting them and getting acquainted with them. But they have limited communications. They don't have any computers; they don't have any way to communicate with us. So we hadn't heard from them, but we did hear that their pastor had a brain tumor and is apparently close to death now. So that's very sad. So we weren't able to go this year because we didn't have a license and next year we expect to be able to go again. And I may not be going.

For this liberal short‐term missionary, the Cuba trip was a moment not to evangelize but to learn from her fellow Christians and to be in fellowship with them. At the same time, in that same church, no other liberal laypeople mentioned the program or seemed interested in it. It was not a critical element for the church or for the senior pastor. Nonetheless, the mission activity fit with the liberal moral worldview because it was not about sharing the faith, but about being a “presence” with others on the margins; learning from them and being in service to them. However, even as I heard profound stories of service in global mission from liberals, there was only a handful who shared this passion in these churches.

The data for the evangelical missionaries came from twenty‐seven missionaries (including seven husband and wife teams) representing a total of twenty interviews. The twenty‐seven missionaries represent nineteen of the twenty‐four evangelical churches in the study. Most of the interviews were face to face, six were conducted by phone, and two were accomplished solely over e‐mail. The missionaries who participated only by e‐mail responded to a general questionnaire followed by further clarifying questions. They were asked about their professional and religious background; their reasons for missionary activity; a summary of their missionary experiences; their perspectives on American evangelicalism; their views on American politics and the war in Iraq; and their thoughts on the interaction of church, American culture, and politics.

I originally assumed that the initial effect of being abroad for evangelical missionaries would be a critique of American foreign policy, influenced by alternative perspectives they encountered overseas among other international missionaries and in response to the native populations in the nations they encountered.4 What I found was quite the opposite. The missionaries in the study, with few exceptions, found their conservative cultural and political moral worldviews reinforced. Nonetheless, international missionaries were distinct from the stateside evangelicals in their potent critique of American (p.223) popular culture and its impact on evangelical churches in the PNW. Even here, however, their critique centered on Christian character as opposed to political systems; once again, a perspective that is consistent with the evangelical moral worldview. I was struck in the research on international evangelical missionaries by both the portable nature of the evangelical worldview and its durability no matter the context (Wellman and Keyes 2007).

In order to identify and separate out the evangelical moral worldview as the reason for evangelical perspective, I analyzed each missionary's background carefully for his or her demographic origin, social class, denominational affiliations, education, length of stay internationally, contact with saved or unsaved peoples, as well as contact with missionaries abroad. Descriptive statistics for the missionaries are found in table 10.1 below.

All of the evangelical missionaries in the study, except for one, were supported by organizations, denominations, and churches related to and affiliated with the evangelical churches in the study. Five of the missionaries were sponsored by one denomination (5/27). Many were involved in interdenominational organizations (10/27), such as Food for the Hungry International or the Wycliffe Bible Translators. Many operated independently of any organization whatsoever (12/27). All of the missionaries except one were American citizens who had served or are currently serving abroad. The other missionary was born in Africa, spent most of his life in the United States, and now leads mission and humanitarian teams to Africa. The missionaries served multiple functions abroad, including church planting, humanitarian aid, and other auxiliary roles within the missionary community (e.g., these included teachers at schools for missionaries' children, and an engineer who spent his life building facilities for missionaries, including landing strips, power plants, hospitals, schools, etc.). Two of the missionaries had participated only in short‐term missions (less than a year). The rest served long‐term missions to various destinations around the globe. The median time spent abroad by the sample was six years. Five participants had served for twenty or more years. Of those who served long‐term missions, six had served in Europe, eight in Africa, three in Asia, seven in South America, five in the Pacific Islands, and two in Jamaica. Most of these missionaries had served long‐term missions in multiple locations and sometimes on multiple continents.

The missionaries were relatively well educated, reflecting the PNW in general. More than half of the respondents had a BA degree or higher, with six holding an advanced degree (MA/PhD). Seven had less than a BA, though all of them had at least attended some college or Bible training certificate program. Missionaries were classified by class affiliation according to their current or (p.224)

Table 10.1 Descriptive Statistics for Missionaries

%

(n)

%

(n)

Sex

State

Male

51.90

(14)

OR

40.70

(11)

Female

48.10

(13)

WA

59.30

(16)

Class

Contact with International Missionaries

Working

14.80

(4)

No/little

36.00

(9)

Pastoral Only

25.90

(7)

Yes

64.00

(16)

Professional

59.30

(16)

Sociopolitical Views

Primary Contact with Locals

Unchallenged

7.40

(2)

Nonbelievers

16.70

(4)

Changed

18.50

(5)

Believers

45.80

(11)

Strengthened

74.10

(20)

Both

37.50

(9)

Education

Region of Origin

Below BA

28.00

(7)

Urban

44.00

(11)

Seminary Degree

20.00

(5)

Suburban

36.00

(9)

Secular BA/BS

28.00

(7)

Rural

20.00

(5)

Advanced

24.00

(6)

Years Abroad

0–4

40.70

(11)

5–10

29.60

(8)

11–19

11.10

(3)

20+

18.50

(5)

N = 27

Note: Percentages under or over 100% are due to rounding errors. Ns that do not total 27 are due to missing cases. Variable definitions for choice variables: Region of origin = region where IMs’ home church was located; Contact with IMs = whether IMs had contact with other IMs during their missions; Primary Contact with Locals = whether IMs had contact primarily with nonbelievers, believers, or both.

recent occupations. All of the missionaries had worked or were working in a pastoral capacity as missionaries. The majority of the missionaries (16/27) also had professional backgrounds as teachers, engineers, corporate consultants, or social workers. Only four of the twenty‐seven missionaries came from working‐class backgrounds in construction or the military.

There was a time when conservative Christianity was popularly identified with working‐class affiliations and lower levels of education. This is perhaps a product of the early fundamentalist retreat from the world. However, the evangelical missionaries in this study underscore the fact that evangelical identities (p.225) are no longer incompatible with higher socioeconomic norms, habits, and education. In other words, evangelical churches embody many of the same markers of middle‐ and upper‐middle‐class identity that evangelicals might have sought in mainline Protestant congregations in the past. Moreover, this underscores the fact these missionaries had choices in their professional lives; to be a missionary was a matter of choice not necessity. These were people who could have done other things, made more money, and accumulated greater prestige, certainly in the eyes of the secular and libertarian PNW.

I divided the missionaries into three groups according to how their experiences abroad affected their sociopolitical views. The first group included five missionaries who changed their sociopolitical views in response to their experiences abroad. These were the exceptions among missionaries; they were by far the most critical of American foreign policy—unusual relative to the other missionaries in the study as well as in comparison with stateside evangelicals in the study. The second group included twenty missionaries whose beliefs were strengthened or reinforced in response to the challenge of being abroad, and in many ways reflected the views of the stateside evangelicals in the PNW. The remaining two respondents served only short‐term missions and their views were both unchallenged and unaffected.

The first group consisted of five missionaries who went abroad and relativized their cultural assumptions in response to a different host culture. One example was a missionary couple who served in South America. Both mentioned coming from conservative political backgrounds, and both attended the Moody Bible Institute—a mainstay of the early northern fundamentalist movement (Carpenter 1997). Yet both reported a striking change in their values. The husband characterized his experience in this way:

Anybody [in South America] from the president on down to the trash collectors, they have an opinion about everything and they want to be heard. And it's reality. Everything they have to say is valid. So I guess, coming to the point of how am I changed, is that I've learned to respect other opinions and I've learned to expect other points of view. Because I grew up very black and white and I grew up very dogmatic and judgmental … I need to calm down and make my gray area a little bigger, where I can respect more people.

This missionary's experience abroad not only changed his political persuasions but even called into question the moral black and white binaries that often characterize the evangelical moral worldview that I have covered in this study. Of all the missionaries, he was the most critical of American foreign policy: (p.226)

It seems so depressing that the United States gets involved in other countries for our own good. It's not for democracy. For instance, with Iraq, it's not for democracy. It's for oil. There've been other dictators that we never messed with, we never touched. And why is that? Because they weren't a threat to the United States and we could always get what we wanted from them. … I think we exploit and it's just too easy to do. We exploit for our own good.

This missionary was again unusual not only for the missionaries in this study but compared to stateside evangelicals in the PNW. As I show in the chapter on politics, few stateside evangelicals made this critique. Another missionary who worked with Muslims in East Asia recounted a similar experience of being challenged and changing his opinions:

There were people from Europe that were believers doing mission work, people from Scandinavia, from Germany, from England, Australia, so all over the place. So one thing that I did do is I started saying, “Wow, people come to the Bible from their own political view, from things that are getting fed from their culture.” So that really caused me to say, “What cultural baggage do I take in when I interpret the scripture, when I look at the Bible?” And I saw a number of things.

This missionary began to recognize that while the Scriptures are still inerrant, his interpretation of them was distorted by “cultural baggage” that needed reappraisal. As he was confronted by international Christians with different perspectives, he reevaluated his views on the death penalty, spanking children, and the war in Iraq. Although he did not make explicit declarations about any of these issues, he expressed much more ambivalence than was characteristic of the stateside evangelicals and particularly other members of his home church. This same missionary also expressed discomfort listening to conservative talk radio and even some of the sermons at his sponsoring church that were quite conservative culturally and politically. Nonetheless, even in instances such as this where contact with diverse perspectives changed the missionaries' views, it never changed their core theological or moral worldviews. Rather, it honed or deepened them toward what they felt was the “true” meaning of the faith.

Another evangelical missionary representative of this group served in Jamaica, the United Kingdom, and Africa. In response to this service he too showed the beginnings of critical thought about the cultural and political consequences of what it meant for him to be an evangelical: (p.227)

Because we're evangelical Christians we're kind of expected to be Republicans and to just say whatever the Republican agenda is, that's the Christian agenda. But because we lived in Jamaica when it was coming out of a strong Socialist, it's still Socialist, but in the 70s had a very strong Communist influence, and because we've lived in the UK, which is a strongly socially oriented economy and government, I guess I'm just not as Republican as I ought to be. I tend to see both sides of it.

This missionary was skeptical of the conservative agenda in the United States, but on the other hand, he said that seeing “a very high percentage of third‐generation welfare‐dependents” in the United Kingdom did not enamor him with liberal fiscal positions either. He expressed some ambivalence about the war in Iraq, but did not criticize or oppose it. Although some of these missionaries were critical of the Bush administration, none went so far as to oppose it. None mentioned voting against Bush or made political defections to the Democratic Party. The few missionaries who did come out against the war in Iraq did not waver on their core moral worldview or the values identified with it such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage. Again, the core allegiance to Jesus Christ, the inerrancy of the Bible, and the moral values of the tradition were nonnegotiable. Political issues were somewhat more negotiable, but most often reflected the elective affinity between conservative Christianity and conservative Republicanism.

The second group, which was by far the largest, said that their experiences abroad strengthened their political persuasions. This happened in one of two ways: They saw things that confirmed their political views, or, in response to alternative political positions, they strengthened and defended their own. One missionary, when asked whether his political views had been changed by his experience abroad said that, “my political views have been hardened to the point where I'm probably a more conservative individual than I would have been, although I was pretty conservative before that.” He said that this change was because he had seen the problems of Communism firsthand in Nicaragua, Socialism in Scotland, and corruption in Africa:

When you go to a place like Nicaragua where the Communists had been in place for ten years and you see a whole nation demoralized by the effects of Communism, you realize what that system does to people. … My time that I've spent in Scotland hardened once again my view of not allowing Socialism to creep into our governmental system because I've seen what it does over there. (p.228) It's pathetic. Everybody's on the dole, so to speak. Getting rid of that is even more important to me now than it was before.

This was a common reaction among the five missionaries who served in former Communist countries. Their beliefs in the American ideals of democracy, liberty, and free markets were strengthened by what they perceived to be the deleterious effects of Communist regimes. In these cases the experience of another culture confirmed rather than weakened their political biases.

The one missionary who identified herself as both a liberal and a Democrat found her experiences made her “more of a Democrat.” Even with her political affiliation she strongly opposed abortion and was passionately against gay marriage. Nonetheless, she criticized President Bush for alienating other countries, for being stubborn, and for his environmental policies. Like her conservative counterparts above, she noticed things abroad that only confirmed her opinions. In her case, it persuaded her to a more liberal form of state economic policy. She said, “I was not a big fan of welfare in the States because it got abused,” but that she would prefer to see a welfare system abused than to see children “dig through a dump to try to find something to eat. … I think going back I'll be more a supporter of government help‐type programs such as welfare and things like that.”

The cultural and political biases of some missionaries were confirmed in response to external criticism. A missionary to South America said that locals had challenged her support of the war in Iraq but that after rethinking her support she concluded that she was right after all.

Their viewpoints of war were different from ours. And most of them really condemned Bush for the war in Iraq. … It actually made me more belligerent, more on Bush's side because I felt like so many of my Peruvian friends and acquaintances were bringing me that and talking about how wrong they thought it was. Yet the more I talked with them the more I realized that what they were saying was not founded on the Truth, not even the truth about what actually was going on, so yeah, it changed me to stand farther away on the spectrum from them.

This missionary went on to say, “Mostly they didn't understand the concept of war and when war is just. So I think if they had a more, well, in my opinion, if they had a more biblical understanding of war then they would have maybe developed a different opinion.” I noted again that most often when evangelical missionaries were challenged about their theological and ideological perspectives, the opposition, short of producing an actual conversion of (p.229) that moral worldview, strengthened their moral worldviews, causing them to rearticulate their views more persuasively and coherently in response to the challenge. This is reflected in the standard comments from missionaries that their perspectives were biblical and thus absolute, such as in the above question.

The views in opposition to the war in Iraq mentioned above caused another evangelical missionary to reexamine his views and further strengthen his original moral worldview. He justified the war using two moral arguments: “When stronger parties (Saddam Hussein) encroach on weaker parties (the Iraqi people) it is our ethical responsibility to intervene and protect the weak.” He also said his pro‐life position against abortion—which he judged as biblical, moral, and absolute—motivated him to support the war because of all the lives that were being lost under Saddam's regime. Thus, in response to challenges he integrated what was originally a political belief with his core values and made it a “moral/biblical” issue.

None of the evangelical missionaries in the study changed their opinions on issues they felt were moral, biblical, and thus absolute. A minority of missionaries became critical of their political biases but not to the point that they would actually oppose the Bush administration or its conservative political agenda. The largest group found their political opinions confirmed for various reasons. In light of these findings, the durability and portability of the missionaries' moral worldviews is consistent and confirmed by the analysis. This moral core, echoing Brian Stanley's observations (1990, 173), is perceived as absolute and above culture. The values are held with absolute certainty, often confirmed by and in reaction to opposition.

Indeed, I found that the missionaries who had experienced greater cultural and religious diversity (and thus opposition) at home were more resistant to change in their encounters abroad than those who came from more homogenous backgrounds. The consistent variable that distinguished those missionaries who changed their views while abroad from those who reinforced them was their exposure to diversity and challenge at home. Those who experienced more diversity in America while at work, at school, or in their community showed more resilience while abroad. Table 10.2 shows how these two groups compare relative to their region of origin, class affiliation, and educational background.

Participants who changed their views were drawn exclusively from suburban and rural areas, whereas almost all participants from urban areas found their views strengthened by their experiences abroad. Smith (1998) and Rodney Stark (2000) suggest a connection between the location of participants' home churches and the strength of their commitments to their moral worldviews. The plurality inherent in any metropolitan environment creates tension (p.230)

Table 10.2 International Missionaries: Region, Class, and Education

%

(n)

%

(n)

Strengthened (N = 20)

Changed (N = 5)

Region of Origin

Urban

55.60

(10)

Urban

0.00

(0)

Suburban

22.20

(4)

Suburban

80.00

(4)

Rural

22.20

(4)

Rural

20.00

(1)

Class

Working

20.00

(4)

Working

0.00

(0)

Pastoral Only

20.00

(4)

Pastoral Only

60.00

(3)

Professional

60.00

(12)

Professional

40.00

(2)

Education

Below BA

33.30

(6)

Below BA

20.00

(1)

Seminary

16.70

(3)

Seminary

20.00

(1)

Secular BA/BS

33.30

(6)

Secular BA/BS

0.00

(0)

Advanced

16.70

(3)

Advanced

60.00

(3)

Note: Percentages under or over 100% and Ns that do not total 20 are due to missing cases. Variable definitions for choice variables: Region of origin = region where IMs' home church was located; Pastoral Only = IMs who had held only pastoral occupations; all other IMs are classified by recent or current secular occupations.

with evangelical worldviews. This was exacerbated by the tension between supporters of gay rights and conservative Christians in both Seattle and Portland. It follows that missionaries from urban areas who experienced more tension and challenges to their values when home were more likely to solidify and strengthen these values, thus making them more impervious to change abroad.

A seeming discrepancy in the general trend could be drawn from the fact that four respondents who affiliated with the working class found their views strengthened. As working‐class affiliation and conservative sociopolitical views are associated (Gans 1988; Lipset 1960; Warren 1976; Zuckerman 2005), one would expect these subjects to be more susceptible to change as they likely encountered little tension in the workplace. However, all four of these missionaries came from urban home churches that had directly participated in the evangelical movement against gay marriage by sponsoring the “May Day for Marriage” rally at Safeco Field in Seattle on May 1, 2004. Thus, all had encountered significant conflict and diversity in the context of their urban home churches.

Finally, this same counterintuitive trend is displayed in the educational backgrounds of the missionaries. Advanced degrees were disproportionately (p.231) represented among those who changed their views. This may seem to contradict the larger trend that would have predicted that those who exposed themselves to more diversity through advanced education would, like those who experienced more diversity in the workplace, display more resilience in their moral worldviews. In the case of college degrees this is precisely the case: All of those participants who graduated from a secular university found their views strengthened. However, on a closer look, this is also true of those with advanced degrees. Without exception those who reinforced their views attended secular schools (University of Texas, Texas A & M University, and Bentley College). Similarly, all of those with advanced degrees who changed their views attended Christian schools (George Fox University, Biola University, and Wheaton College Graduate School). Thus, exposure to diversity solidified the sociopolitical views of missionaries rather than weakened them. Thus, counterintuitively, the moral worldviews of those who stay within the conservative Christian tradition either in their schooling or in their workplace are more susceptible to change when confronted by diversity abroad.

Finally, the primary critique that evangelical missionaries make of the United States is a cultural and spiritual critique of consumerism. The evangelical critique is subjective and personal rather than social and systemic. The form of critique was consistent with what I found in stateside evangelicals—the tendency to criticize character traits rather than systems. However, missionaries, while they were critical of the “lifestyle” and “morality” of popular American culture, took their critique one step further and questioned the impact of American culture on PNW evangelical churches. Missionaries in the study focused their concern on the deleterious spiritual effects that consumerist culture had on American evangelical Christians. Indeed, nearly half of the missionaries brought this up without being prompted and discussed it at length. One of the missionaries to South America said that although he enjoyed the United States, its consumerism brought spiritual emptiness:

It also feels like too much. I mean, you've heard it, too many options, too many choices, too many malls, all of those things. And then something else that has crossed my mind … people have so much that it feels like they think that they … have everything … but at the same time they can be terribly spiritually empty and maybe be much less aware of it than people in other countries.

This missionary worried that the material fullness of American life numbs Americans to their spiritual emptiness. Another missionary who had served in South America and Africa expressed a similar concern: “We don't have to trust [God] as much here in America. … We are so affluent for the most part with (p.232) money. … [But overseas] they learn to trust the Lord to get them through those things and times and families. And we don't pray like they do, we don't trust like they do. We're so far behind them in spiritual development (emphasis mine).”

Both these missionaries expressed concern that the affluence and excess of American culture were stunting its spiritual growth. A missionary to South America and Africa expressed the concern that this aspect of American culture threatened families: “It's not that we're antifamily here, but our job situation takes us to Chicago or San Diego, we move around so much, the affluence, the automobile, private homes, pushes everybody away.”

Another area of concern was the acquisitiveness of Americans. Almost all the missionaries reported being surprised by how “happy” less affluent people seemed abroad.5 Many missionaries found not only that they could survive with less than they thought, but that they enjoyed life more that way. One of the missionaries to South America reported: “It's amazing what I can live without and how much happier I am. There's less stuff in my mind—we're less busy in our minds.”

Yet another common critique was of how “busy” Americans were. Missionaries explained that Americans were so engaged in work, tasks, and errands that they had no time for things like building relationships with friends, enjoying the weather, entertaining guests, or reading. Two missionaries talked about the importance of learning to “sit around and drink matte”—a drink shared communally in South America. By this they meant that one should take the time to enjoy one's company whereas “sometimes as North Americans we just want to go in and get it done and go on out.” They critiqued this “busy” task‐oriented aspect of American culture primarily because it detracts from relationships: “Planning everything out and having everything really set is really an error. Because that puts time and schedule and program above people … relationships should be our primary concern, and the intensity of getting the material done is really erroneous.” Relationships, as noted earlier, play a central role in evangelical moral worldviews and this is an instance where an evangelical missionary found an alternative value to be more coherent with his moral core and thus adopted it.

Missionaries picked up similar themes in their critiques of American evangelical churches. Many criticized American evangelicals' preoccupation with “superficial” things like programs, facilities, and the “production” of worship services. Almost all of the missionaries said that the things American Christians could learn from international Christians were “simplicity” and the power that suffering and going without had in their lives. One missionary to Fiji said that he was discouraged by the practice of putting rooms with video games, pool tables, and pinball machines for youth in American churches. (p.233) “How does that challenge the youth to be heroic?” he asked. As one missionary to Africa admonished, American evangelicals need to find “joy in the midst of suffering, in the midst of poverty.” In all these cases they highlighted values that run directly against the culture of American consumerism.

The missionaries' critique of American capitalism was not a structural one. None were concerned with the systematic disadvantages capitalism posed to the poor—differentiating them from the American Protestant social gospel tradition (Evans 2004; Hughes 2003). Rather, it was a critique of the cultural and spiritual side of capitalism: The negative effects capitalism had on the consumer by forcing them to pursue a narrow set of unfulfilling objectives and stunting individual relationships with God. In this way their critique of consumerism was not all that different from what I found in liberal churches. Many liberals in the study “abhorred” popular culture, which they thought too often encouraged materialism and selfishness. Nonetheless, like the evangelicals, few liberals questioned the economic system as such.

The missionary critique of the excess and affluence of American culture is not unique to missionaries. However, the reason that missionaries gravitated to this critique is based on their particular moral worldview. I argue in the next chapter that the moral structure through which they understand the world shares an elective affinity with conservative political systems that presuppose that capitalism, democracy, and a limited but militarily strong government are structural “blessings” and “benefits” to society. Thus, evangelicals seek to redeem the American economic, social, and political system by restraining its excesses (materialism, moral relativism, and the welfare system) while supporting its core values of freedom, self‐determination, self‐discipline, and the defense of economic, political, and religious open markets.

The theology and moral worldview of the missionaries make it unlikely and even unnatural to make structural or institutional critiques of capitalism, democracy, or of a strong military that can deter evil (Wellman 2007; Marsden 2006). On the other hand, the evangelical moral worldview does give evangelicals a vocabulary in which to launch a moral critique of the cultural excesses of consumerism, the moral relativism of popular culture, and what they call the “socialist” tendencies of political liberals. The evangelical development of moral and ethical character within the family and church system can not only act as a prophylactic against the excesses within the larger cultural and economic systems but can redeem these systems. Thus again, moral and spiritual rectitude can restore systems as opposed to systems undermining moral character.6

For liberals, the very core of their ideological caution undercuts and even paralyzes their willingness to move out into global mission. Nonetheless, (p.234) liberals take their stand on the importance of human rights, particularly for women; the alleviation of human need with social service; the support and willingness to learn from others, whether an alternative religion, cultural system or political ideology; and the responsibility for ecological, social, and economic stewardship in the United States and abroad. Evangelicals, on the other hand, support a global mission that, while aware of the tragic consequences of colonization in early mission work, is enormously ambitious in its goal to evangelize the globe. Today's evangelicals seek both to evangelize the world and in process plant churches and pass on the reins of leadership to indigenous Christian leaders. Evangelical missionaries are also deeply concerned with social needs abroad; even as evangelicals witness to their faith many work to assuage suffering. Indeed, there is a powerful and growing partnership of service and evangelism in the many Christian NGOs that now lead the world in taking care of human need (Hertzky 2004).

At the core of the evangelical moral worldview is the relationship to Jesus Christ, repentance for sin, and new life in Christ. Above and beyond all else evangelicals seek to spread this seed and reproduce their evangelical faith—this missionary drive has not only achieved results in the PNW but has made impressive progress particularly in the southern hemisphere. In the twenty‐first century the heart of Christianity may soon no longer be centered in Europe and America but in the Pentecostal and charismatic churches of Asia, Latin America, and Africa (Jenkins 2003).7 This transformation has its roots in America and historically in Europe, but its consequences on culture and politics in particular are hard to predict. I now turn to the chapter on religion and politics—twin sons of the same mother—mimicking, fighting, and partnering with each other in the evangelical and liberal churches of the PNW.

Notes:

(1.)  National data back up my own findings that American religious conservatives lead in financial charity as well as volunteerism. Religious liberals are close behind, but secular liberals trail badly, underscoring the finding that religious worldviews mobilize charitable giving not only to religious groups but to secular nonprofits as well (Brooks 2006).

(2.)  See Joel A. Carpenter and W. R. Shenk, Earthen Vessels: American Evangelicals and Foreign Missions, 1880–1980 (1990) for the full story.

(3.)  The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon‐Conwell Theological Seminary (http://www.gordonconwell.edu/ockenga/globalchristianity/) is quite helpful in determining this figure, along with the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College (http://bgc.gospelcom.net/bgcadmin/aboutus.html).

(4.)  This assumption was based in part on data that indicated that the strong correspondence between evangelical Christianity and conservative politics in America is not common to evangelical movements abroad (Freston 2001). David Bebbington (1997) argues that Canadian evangelicals, while still opposing abortion, work on behalf of a number of socially progressive and liberal issues such as economic fairness and social improvement. In addition, the missionaries in the study often said that while American evangelicals tend to be politically conservative, evangelicals in other nations are not (Demerath 2003; Jenkins 2003; Reimer 2003).

(5.)  This is not a romantic projection. David Myers (2000) shows that once basic necessities of survival are provided, there is no statistical correspondence between wealth and happiness both on a national level (comparing developed and developing nations) or on an individual level (comparing rich and poor individuals in the United States).

(6.)  It can be said that evangelicals consistently overrate the power of personal agency in relation to systems, and underestimate the tendency of systems to shape and even determine human moral behavior (Zimbardo 2007).

(7.)  See the Pew Survey that gives demographic evidence about the enormous success of the Pentecostal and charismatic movement in the southern hemisphere, (p.290) “Spirit and Power: A Ten‐Country Survey of Pentecostals.” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (October 2006); http://pewforum.org/surveys/pentecostal/.