Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Just who IS John Stott, anyway?

Has the New York Times gotten religion or what? Last week I was impressed by Nicholas Kristof's excellent article, "Apocalypse (Almost) Now." Today Jewish columnist David Brooks has an equally fine article, "Who is John Stott?" Brooks starts with a mini-review of last Sunday's Meet the Press, a disaster encounter between Jerry Falwell and the Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land on the right and Al Sharpton and Sojourners' magazine editor Jim Wallis on the left. The only one of the four who had anything to say that was worth hearing was Wallis. Brooks aptly summarizes the encounter by saying that inviting these four guys to the table to discuss politics was like "inviting Britney Spears and Larry Flynt to discuss D. H. Lawrence. " Then Brooks makes the point that the media elite should pay attention to, namely, that in their quest for ratings and readers, the media misrepresent evangelical Christians by focusing on the "Elmer Gantry-style blowhards" instead of the responsible and important figures such as John Stott. As Brooks says in his column, most people do not know who Stott is. I would guess that even most Episcopalians (and perhaps even a majority of members of evangelical churches) do not know who he is. Brooks does an excellent job of outlining Stott's significance, so I won't repeat it here. But, in short, Stott is unquestionably the most important Anglican evangelical of the last 25 or 30 years. Now, make no mistake: I'm somewhere to Stott's left, but I respect Stott and regard him as an evangelical who holds reasonable and respectable views (unlike Falwell, Robertson, and the SBC's Land).

Brooks' point about the importance of presenting a balanced portrayal of conservative religious leaders can hardly be overemphasized. I would second it and amplify it by saying that the media need to do a better job of presenting responsible voices from all points on the religious spectrum. Too often the media call on Bishop Spong and those like him to represent the Christian left without realizing just how far beyond the pale Spong's views really are. To borrow a metaphor from politics, to believe that Spong is a responsible representative of the Christian left is like believing that Ralph Nader is a responsible representative of the political left. And believing that Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson is a good representative of the religious right is like believing that Pat Buchanan is a good representative of the political right.

Brooks' last few sentences bear quoting in full:

"Politicians, especially Democrats, are now trying harder to appeal to people of faith. But people of faith are not just another interest group, like gun owners. You have to begin by understanding the faith. And you can't understand this rising global movement if you don't meet its authentic representatives.

Not Falwell, but Stott."