WASHINGTON – The world does not see a distinction between the United States and Christians, said a former humanitarian worker who served in South Asia and Africa and worked with refugees when he returned to the United States.
"America is seen to be a Christian country," said Galen Carey, now director of governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, at the Lausanne Movement Conversation held on Capitol Hill on Friday. "So, for example, in Indonesia, a mostly Muslim country, after the tsunami people would say, 'We thank you Christians for bringing aid,' when they meant the Americans and to some extent the Europeans."
"So on the one hand we got credit for a lot of work we weren't actually doing, since a lot of the agencies weren't Christians, and on the other hand we got blamed for a lot of things we weren't doing because the aid agencies weren't Christian," Carey said, drawing laughter but also nods of agreement.
Before serving at the NAE, Carey worked with refugees and immigrants at World Relief in the United States and also spent time overseas serving the poor in Burundi, Kenya, Mozambique, Indonesia, and Croatia. He also lived in the Philippines as a child while his parents served as missionaries there.
Most people in the world see Americans as generous, humanitarian, successful and wealthy, Carey said. On the other hand, the United States is also seen as depraved – partly because of the imagery provided by Hollywood – and arrogant because of how it uses military power. Americans are also viewed by many countries to be ignorant.
Carey shared a humorous but poignant joke he heard while living overseas.
"What is someone that speaks three languages? Someone who is trilingual. If you speak two languages you are called bilingual. And if you only speak one language, what are you? American," Carey said.
"We are seen as people who don't really take the time to understand other people's culture," the well-traveled evangelical leader said.
Similarly, panelists David Aikman, former Time magazine journalist and author of Jesus in Beijing, and Rob Schwarzwalder, senior vice president of Family Research Council, were concerned about how the world links American foreign policy and culture to Christianity.
Schwarzwalder recalled the difficulty he experienced while at a meeting in the Middle East to discuss U.S. foreign policy. A poster of the popular TV show "Desperate Housewives" loomed nearby. He noted the women in the Middle East are all covered up in contrast to this supposed image of American women.
"America is certainly not only the global power militarily, but culturally too," commented Schwarzwalder, "which imposes upon the church an even greater burden."
The panelists were part of global conversations leading up to the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelism, which is scheduled to be held in Cape Town, South Africa, in October. As part of its effort to know the concern of the global Christian community, the Lausanne Movement partners with like-minded organizations to host a series of conversations around the world.
The Lausanne-NAE hosted event on Friday addressed the issues of evangelicals in the global public square and genuine religion – caring for vulnerable and exploited children.
Jimmy Lee, director of resource mobilization and executive leadership initiative at the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism, said Lausanne III: Cape Town 2010 will hopefully be defined by the changes to the global church such as the shift to the global South, the rise of a new generation of leaders, and the inclusion of Christian pastors and leaders who traditionally would not participate in a Lausanne conference.
Some 4,000 participants from 60 countries are expected to attend Cape Town 2010.