JOHN STOTT AS SEEN BY A NON-RELIGIOUS JOURNALIST

The death of Rev John Stott, whom I mentioned in yesterday’s posting, has meant a massive outpouring of obituaries, good, bad and indifferent. You would expect this from the Christian media, but I was surprised to find it in the New York Times although I do know that Stott was named by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.

Nick Kristof defines himself as ‘not particularly religious’, but speaks very warmly of John’s compassionate, humble and scholarly evangelicalism. He goes on

‘Mr. Stott didn’t preach fire and brimstone on a Christian television network. He was a humble scholar whose 50-odd books counseled Christians to emulate the life of Jesus — especially his concern for the poor and oppressed — and confront social ills like racial oppression and environmental pollution.

“Good Samaritans will always be needed to succor those who are assaulted and robbed; yet it would be even better to rid the Jerusalem-Jericho road of brigands,” Mr. Stott wrote in his book “The Cross of Christ.” “Just so Christian philanthropy in terms of relief and aid is necessary, but long-term development is better, and we cannot evade our political responsibility to share in changing the structures that inhibit development. Christians cannot regard with equanimity the injustices that spoil God’s world and demean his creatures.”

Mr. Stott then gave examples of the injustices that Christians should confront: “the traumas of poverty and unemployment,” “the oppression of women,” and in education “the denial of equal opportunity for all.”

For many evangelicals who winced whenever a televangelist made the headlines, Mr. Stott was an intellectual guru and an inspiration. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, who has worked heroically to combat everything from genocide to climate change, told me: “Against the quackery and anti-intellectualism of our movement, Stott made it possible to say you are ‘evangelical’ and not be apologetic.”

I am aware that the label ‘evangelical’ in this country can bring down fire and brimstone on one’s head … but John Stott, with his intelligence and reasonableness, made it intellectually respectable. Evangelical churches in this country are most likely to be flourishing, with real commitment in its members both to God and to social need. Kristof remarks:

‘Evangelicals are disproportionately likely to donate 10 percent of their incomes to charities, mostly church-related.
tithing-giving-offerings[2]

More important, go to the front lines, at home or abroad, in the battles against hunger, malaria, prison rape, obstetric fistula, human trafficking or genocide, and some of the bravest people you meet are evangelical Christians (or conservative Catholics, similar in many ways) who truly live their faith.

I’m not particularly religious myself, but I stand in awe of those I’ve seen risking their lives in this way — and it sickens me to see that faith mocked at New York cocktail parties.

Why does all this matter?

Because religious people and secular people alike do fantastic work on humanitarian issues — but they often don’t work together because of mutual suspicions. If we could bridge this “God gulf,” we would make far more progress on the world’s ills.

And that would be, well, a godsend.’

And wouldn’t that be great?

The whole article is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/31/opinion/sunday/kristof-evangelicals-without-blowhards.html

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23 thoughts on “JOHN STOTT AS SEEN BY A NON-RELIGIOUS JOURNALIST

  1. I am not in awe of this article, GillyK. It reeks of typical American myopia and does few real favours to John Stott’s undoubtedly ‘good quiet man’ qualities. The writer chooses to use it as a Crusader banner, not exactly inclusive, in my book. The Crusaders never were inclusive, nor are they today.

    There are many people, not Christians or faith aligned, who do brave sterling work on front lines of war zones and in needy areas, for example. They just don’t shout about their faith, they do demonstrate the need for their work, taking risks as they get on with it. Medicin Sans Frontieres is a very good example of this.

    In the current global economic situation, Americans, those who call themselves human beings in that country, and elsewhere, would do well to heed the core message of John Stott and work with it. It should not be subverted with banner waving in the way the article, in my view, tends to do. It presents a contradiction of thought and behaviour, to say the least

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    1. Interesting response, Menhir. Thanks. I didn’t read it the same way: it surprised me to find a secular journalist speaking positively about an evangelical in a country where evangelicals have a very bad name, and I for one can not remove myself fast enough from some of the people he quotes – and others, too. It seemed to me that he is comparing the way Americans ‘do evangelicalism’ unfavourably with Stott’s legacy.

      As for people of any faith and none getting stuck into needy situations – he does mention that at the end. What he doesn’t seem to realise is that the church, of most stripes, has been working with community agencies for a long time on this side of the pond. It appears that this would be a new thought ‘over there’.

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      1. Community agencies working Religious organisations a new thought in the States. That would be novel. Everything over there is held up as an exemplar to us to follow, (what a thought!) I don’t think it will catch on over there, Americans don’t appear to do joined up community, at least, not very comfortably. There’s is something cultural about it, every organisation having to shout loudest for itself, people second.

        Perhaps I am being unfair, tarring everything and everyone in America with the same brush, there must be individuals who do care and do work in particular ways as unsung heroes and heroines. That’s the issue though, ‘individuals’ and not networks.

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      2. That’s a very circular thought. Our organisations and networks have to shout to save themselves these days, but the are organisations and networks, often one and the same.

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      3. I was always suspicious of the ‘big society’ talk on the grounds that it was simply going to mean cutting off help to the poorest and most needy and looking to voluntary organisations to make weight. Now the funding is being cut from the voluntaries too. How does Cameron think his big society is going to function? None of his ideas follow through. What a lightweight!

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      4. You, me and many others, who are prepared to admit the cuts to the voluntary sector, would have known what the euphemism ‘the big society’ was all about.

        There was a similar process in the 1980’s when you-know-who was queen bee. then it was called a transfer of funding to the voluntary sector to take over the roles of the statutory sector “better”, but with a lot less money with which to do so. How were the voluntary organisations meant to set up the rival structures and meet legally required levels of commitment without even the basic finances to do so? The laws were not going to change. The plan quietly fizzled out. The financial and service risks were too high for the voluntary organisations.

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      5. The political decisions seem to me to be topsy-turvy, and they will impact society for a long time to come. The government had better be getting this right, but there are a great many of us who fear the worst!

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      6. I like your phrase… Government had better get it right. they never do. Some perform differently, spread largesse a little more equably, other Governments definitely do not.

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    1. Thanks, PP! The fact is that the church all over this country is working closely with community agencies to meet social needs, and has been doing so for a long time – it’s nothing new here. But the fact that Kristov suggests it, seems to mean that this situation is not common in America. I don’t know exactly why this should be, but Janet may have some light to shed on it, as she lived there for many years.

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    1. I think organised religion will survive anyway, Janet, although it is a matter of opinion … but if we are all to play a responsible part in society we must learn to trust each other and work together.

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