Evangelical Christians Need To Respect The Rights Of Others To Make Choices About How They Apply Their Faith

“Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.” (Acts 8:35)

For several years, I received invitations from the graduate program in Public Administration at the University of North Carolina to lecture about the daily life of professional local government manager. These students are provided with considerable background information about me.

Some even “Google” me. Consequently, all of them know that I am devout Christian who writes about my Christian faith by posting devotions on my website and in religion columns in three newspapers. They have also read some newspaper accounts where my beliefs about Jesus, creation, homosexuality, abortion – just to mention a few – that were challenged when I worked in Durham.

Needless to say, they are interested in how I struck a balance between what
my beliefs were and how I behaved when on duty as the CEO of a county government
with 2,000 employees, a $500 million budget, and located in a diverse
community with many different beliefs.

Several years ago, I lectured second-year graduate students who are about to
embark on their careers in public administration. One student asked me how
I felt about other faiths and their rights to exercise it in the workplace
consistent with federal law.

“I respect their right to make their own choice about what they believe,” I
stated. “I don’t agree with them, and I worry about where they will end up
when they die, but I have no right to insist that I be allowed to practice
my faith in the workplace and not be willing to permit others to do the

“Would you be willing to make accommodations for them?” another student

“Yes” I responded, “As long as federal law does not prohibit it.”

I reflected on that exchange in terms of how those who describe themselves
as evangelical Christians might feel about my answers. I have long
considered myself an evangelical Christian and still do. However, there are
many evangelicals who would likely not agree with my point of view.

I don’t disagree with all of the views expressed by mainline evangelicals.
I also don’t think all of them would disagree with my responses to the
student’s questions. My point is we need to be very careful with the labels
we use. Evangelicals are painted with a very broad brush and there is room
in the movement for opposing points of view. If not, the movement will
likely fade in our country as many young Christians do not embrace the “in
your face” evangelical that is often associated with the movement.

We are called to evangelize – or in other words – spread the Gospel. Jesus
did it. In Matthew 28:19-20, He said to all of us, “Go therefore and make
disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and
of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that
I have commanded you.”

The bottom line is we are to make the Gospel known to others. I happen to
believe that making the Gospel known has more to do with my actions than perhaps it
does with my words. In my case, I was drawn to Christianity by what I saw
in my wife by how she lived out her life. I still believe our greatest
chance to win others to Christ is to show them how much Jesus has
transformed us.

The evangelical movement has room for all Christians. To those who lead it,
be careful painting the movement in a narrow-minded way. Otherwise, there
might not be room for the next Billy Graham.

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