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September/October 2006 Issue

An Uneasy Conscience

By Bruce J. Clemenger

Are we who claim to be Christ-followers truly living out the message of Jesus?

Why do 31 percent of Canadians feel uneasy around born-again Christians? This statistic comes from a poll in the Canada Day issue of Maclean’s. By comparison, only 18 percent are uneasy around Muslims and only five percent around Jews.

At first blush, the poll seems to indicate a higher intolerance for some Christians compared to other religious minorities. Since the poll was conducted by Reg Bibby in 2005 (and will be released in a forthcoming book this fall), the numbers reflect attitudes of last year and do not reflect the political shifts or events such as the arrest of the 17 suspected terrorists in southern Ontario that have occurred since. Still, the numbers warrant some reflection.

Pundits will explain the numbers by mentioning Canadians’ discomfort with “born-again” George Bush’s policies. They may also express concern over the rise of fundamentalism and religious extremism.

But born-again Christians are not religious extremists who use violence to advance their agenda. As well, in Canada born-again Christians are not as right wing as their American counterparts. And if by born again we mean people who have committed their lives to Christ, then 44 percent of Canadians are born again.

Who are our society’s models of being born again? Perhaps the quirky Ned Flanders – neighbour of Homer Simpson. Frankly, there are few other examples in pop culture. The best known and most respected is Billy Graham. And his message? We are all sinners and are in need of salvation through Jesus Christ. Not necessarily a popular message in a culture that promotes individual autonomy and self-love.

The survey also reports that police officers make 24 percent of Canadians uneasy (compare born-again Christians at 31 percent and Muslims at 18 percent). Why police officers? We do not live in a police state and the powers of the police are tightly regulated. I think instead it is because they make us feel self conscious. How many of us find ourselves slowing down and checking our driving when a police car is near, even when the lights aren’t flashing?

When there is unease, it is good to consider the causes – whose conscience is being pricked. Perhaps born-again believers serve in some way as a reminder of an alternative vision of life that challenges the way of living promoted by our society. If this is so, then we should not be surprised that those who follow Christ make people feel uneasy – assuming of course that the Christians are truly living out the message of Jesus.

And that is the essential point. Are we who claim to be Christ-followers truly living out the message of Jesus? Are we imitators of Jesus or a stumbling block to the gospel? Are people uneasy because in us they confront the gospel which will cause offence, or are they uneasy because they see followers of Jesus as being judgmental and hypocritical? Despite our words, are our lifestyles that different than our neighbours? Do we model an alternative in our ways of living and our attitudes? Do we extend to others the grace that was extended to us?

In Ron Sider’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience (Baker, 2005), he probes the disconnect between the call of the gospel and the lifestyles of evangelicals. He ends with a message of hope and a call to be transformed. In the pages of Faith Today you will continue to read stories of Evangelicals and ministries that seek to be an incarnational presence in their communities. Let us not be conformed, but be transformed agents of grace and faithful witnesses of the Good News.

Bruce J. Clemenger is the president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

Other Articles
Sept/Oct 2006 Issue

Cover Story
Every Nation, Tribe & People: How to Become an Intentionally Intercultural Church

From the Editor
Sharing Space

Feature Article
How to Advertise the Good News: Professional Advertising Campaigns

Kingdom Matters
Website Brings Bible to Kids

The Gathering Place
An Uneasy Conscience

God at Work in Denominations
Transformers and Reformers

A Church You Should Know
Mill Woods Assembly, Edmonton

Ask a Theologian
What Does "Made in the Image of God" Actually Mean? 

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