Interview With Billy Graham's Grandson: Why Has America Soured Toward Evangelicals?

The negative view held by Non-Evangelicals about Evangelicals, as reflected in a recent poll, is because believers have lost sight of the Gospel's core message, said Billy Graham's grandson and Florida pastor Tullian Tchividjian.

(FILE) | (Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/susieq3c)

"The core message of the Christian faith has been lost in the public sector because what we are primarily known for is our political ideology or opinion," Tchividjian told The Christian Post.

Over the last 30 years, the Religious Right has replaced Christianity's foremost message of the Gospel with that of a political movement, argued the current pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.

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"We're well known for saying things, 'We exist to reclaim America for Jesus,' and stuff like that and in the process what has been lost, is the message which I trumpet in [my book] One Way Love, which is God's inexhaustible grace for exhausted sinners like you and me," said Tchividjian.

Tchividjian's claims came in response to a new Pew Research study poll which suggests that only 30 percent of non-Evangelical Americans feel warmly about this religious group. The survey, which measures the country's religious groups' feelings towards one another, also showed that 42 percent of non-Evangelical Americans gave responses in the "middle" towards this group, while the sentiments of 27 percent could be described as cold.

"Specifically the reason why Evangelicals in America are unliked by non-Evangelicals is because we've branded ourselves as a political movement. It's not like Christians don't have opinions about what's going in our world and what's happening in our culture; I think that we do, I do, we all do, but when the primary message that the world hears from us is, "We need to fix the world…We need to stamp out all of the bad stuff," they don't hear the message that Jesus has entrusted in us," continued Tchividjian.

What is the message Tchividjian believes that Evangelicals ought to be sharing?

"In Luke 4, Jesus about says himself, "I have come to set the captives free. I've come to liberate the oppressed. I have come to save broken people," said Tchividjian.

For Christians who claimed that their negative image was a consequence of them speaking an unpopular truth, Tchividjian cautioned against automatically arriving at this conclusion.

"If people are going to stumble over what we say, it's going to be because we're called to speak the Gospel which Paul says is a stumbling block. But I can't go out there and be a jerk and align myself with a political party or a candidate and get crucified on either the right or the left and just say "I'm just a martyr for the truth." No, you're not even speaking the truth that God has called you to speak first and foremost."

Tchividjian also noted that it was problematic that not all Evangelicals felt positively towards those who did not share their faith. Pew's study revealed that while white Evangelicals rated one another on average an 82 (with zero the coldest and 100 the highest,) only Jews and Catholics received a score over 60. Buddhists were scored a 39, Hindus a 38, Atheists a 25, and Muslims a 30.

"Where there is a lack of love for others on the other side of the aisle, there in that moment we are not accurately representing the Christian faith," said Tchividjian.

Tchividjian suggested that Evangelicals wishing to positively respond to the negative feedback of the survey might emulate his grandfather.

"He has told me that the biggest mistakes he made early on his ministry, in the '50s and early '60s, was speaking too much about cultural and political issues at his evangelistic crusades. He says that's one of his big regrets from his early years in ministry," said Tchividjian.

The turning point for Graham came after the Watergate scandal, noted Tchividjian.

"He had sort of had, an a-hah moment when he realized 'I have particular calling as an evangelist and that is to preach the Gospel to human beings, regardless of whether they're red, yellow, black, white, rich, poor, Democrat, Republican, gay, straight, didn't matter. My job is to preach the Gospel to humans.'"

After his realization, Graham "stopped endorsing particular candidates publicly because he knew the moment he endorsed the candidate of one particular party that the people on the other side of the aisle wouldn't listen to what he had to say. He wanted very much to be a bridge builder and the way he did that was to stay above the fray and sticking to his calling."

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