Thursday, January 7, 2010

Does Christian = Wrong?

Two interesting stories these past few days caught my eye.

1. A new study emanating from Dr. Marjorie Gunnoe suggests that spanked children may turn out to be more well-adjusted and successful adults. (see brief discussion of her article here http://www.nationalpost.com/most-popular/story.html?id=2409510). While a discussion of the relative merits of spanking would be enlightening and valuable, that is not my purpose here (except to say that spanking is not the same as hitting or beating). What I'm interested in are accusations launched against Dr. Gunnoe, who teaches at Calvin College (a Christian Reformed college in Michigan). The National Post story quotes:

"Grant Wilson, president of the Canadian Children's Rights Council, suggested that the study's results may have been influenced by Calvin College's Christian affiliation, adding that some religious groups have opposed abolition of corporal punishment." Is that so? I'm curious whether Mr. Wilson would accuse a study published by Harvard psychologists of being unduly influenced by the school's "secularist affiliation"? Obviously not! However, it is common and easy today to discard conclusions drawn by Christian researchers simply by invoking their faith. "They're Christian - that's why their research finds that."

2. American pundit Brit Hume apparently claimed that Tiger Woods needs Jesus, particularly the forgiveness and redemption that Christianity offers. Apparently this has caused a huge firestorm, including accusations that Hume is trying to force his religion upon Tiger Woods. Assessing the sensitivity or worth of Hume's efforts is not the point of this reflection - rather, I want to look at the response of others. E.g. http://newsbusters.org/blogs/brad-wilmouth/2010/01/06/olbermann-hume-tried-force-threaten-tiger-woods-christian-conversion In this link, Keith Olbermann accuses Hume of proselytizing and threatening Woods, and interviews Rev. Welton Gaddy, of the Interfaith Alliance, about Hume's sins. What I found particularly amusing in Olbermann's interview with Gaddy is that Gaddy says "anybody who is pro-American, who loves liberty in this nation, wants to support the unity of religions and not contribute to their divisiveness." What Gaddy is really saying is that true religious, freedom-loving American patriots recognize that all religious are fundamentally the same, and seek to have others recognize the same - a move which is itself an attempt to 'impose' Gaddy's own religion (pluralism and universalism) upon others (particularly Hume).

In the public square, Christian expression is often associated with intolerance, ignorance, and threat. Now, I think Gaddy is right, that American Christians do not experientially know persecution and oppression ... yet. But I still find it instructive that Christians are so easily castigated in public - their research conclusions are "religiously-motivated," and their attempts to persuade others are "threatening proselytization". Is Gaddy's attempt to have us all believe in the fundamental unity of all religious threatening? No. Is it an attempt to persuade people? Yes. Is it religiously-motivated? Definitely. Is he wrong? Absolutely. But he has the right to set forth his incorrect views in public - just as Hume has the right to encourage Woods to consider and embrace Christianity.