A new Pew Poll contains what some might regard as a startling finding:
57% of evangelicals say many religions can lead to eternal life. Given that one of the most important teachings of evangelical Christianity is that salvation comes ONLY through Christ, this finding ought to rattle Christian leaders.
But, clergy aside, this strikes me as a rather hopeful and life affirming statistic. Often non-believers or non-Protestants have a vague and dispiriting sense that most evangelicals are looking at them as pathetic and hopelessly clueless, and always in immanent danger, if they should happen to die, of going straight to a literal hell. There is the assumption, in other words, that the typical pew sitting evangelical is absorbing the sterner parts of a literalist conservative message in an undigested fashion.
In fact, it appears that most evangelicals are more thoughtful, and more accepting of others’ humanity, than that. Like you, most evangelicals probably perceive literal hell belief and lifestyle intolerance as, well, emotionally intolerable. They might believe in hell in some sense, and may think ill of some lifestyles, but they may also be ambivalent about being too dogmatic about such matters. Maybe they go to the church they go to for reasons other than literal hell belief and lifestyle intolerance, as Barack Obama went to his church for reasons other than to hear his pastor’s political rants.
Perhaps this shouldn’t be news. But what this means is that the typical evangelical is as likely to be open to your thoughts and point of view, and open to dialogue, as anyone else might be. And she is not pretending, but probably really does see you as she sees her friends at church–as just another person. You, for whatever variety of reasons, just happen to be on another path, perhaps arriving at as okay a place as the evangelical thinks that she is going to end up when she dies.
This is something to keep in mind should you be a non-evangelical, and feel despair at trying to have a reasonable discussion with an evangelical about, say, gay marriage.
Live and let live evangelicals? More please.
Here’s the link for more information about the poll: http://blog.beliefnet.com/stevenwaldman/2008/06/juiciest-religious-factoids.html