The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Evangelicals moving toward the American mainstream

Evangelicals are not generally what comes to mind when one thinks of mainstream America, but that may very well change. These culturally adaptive experts have managed to infiltrate every aspect of our daily lives. From movies like “Ray” and “Narnia” to MTV, fiction books and politics, evangelicals have found new ways to become part of everyday America.

Monique El-Faizy, journalist and author of “God and Country: How Evangelicals Have Become America’s New Mainstream,” kicked off the newly established Richard W. Smith lecture series Tuesday night in the Whitsett Room on the fourth floor of Sierra Hall.

Dean Stella Theodoulo said that earlier this year Smith, a retired psychology professor, established the Richard W. Smith Endowment for Cultural Studies.

The Endowment includes the lecture series in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences as a way of encouraging students to think like cultural psychologists from the perspectives of other peoples and cultures.

The discussion focused on recent changes in the evangelical movement, described by a CSUN news release as a move “from the fire and brimstone of the Jerry Falwell era to the inviting, franchiseable message of Rick Warren.”

El-Faizy’s book, as well as her lecture, is an attempt to explain and bring understanding about evangelicals to those outside of the religion because she said she feels that there is a real lack of understanding in our society.

El-Faizy grew up as an evangelical but later left the religion and said that today it is a very different religion from what she grew up in.

“Today evangelicals are much more moderate,” El-Faizy said.

Evangelicals have realized that they do not have to abandon their beliefs in order to be successful filmmakers, musicians or authors. They have found that by taking the “Jesus” out of the story line, lyrics and text, they can still produce a product that promotes their message of redemption and make it more socially acceptable.

In addition, evangelicals have progressively lowered the bar when it comes to welcoming people into church, and have made the religion more accessible and approachable, first by lowering their standards and rules about how people are supposed to dress when coming to church and second in the way that they are manifesting themselves.

In order to make it easy for people to understand these ideas, El-Faizy used three key criteria to define evangelicals. First is the belief in salvation through Jesus Christ, second is the belief that the Bible is authoritative, and third is sharing the gospel. She said evangelicals have undergone many changes, so that now the religion is much more personal than institutional.

“Today you cannot put (evangelicals) in a box,” El-Faizy said.

They are no longer concentrated in specific areas like Orange County or Arizona; they are now neighbors to each of us.

El-Faizy discussed the many splits evangelical communities have undergone and said that the new issues they will be divided over will be immigration and the environment.

She said that their influence in politics is growing and is no longer just among the Republican Party, but that the Democratic Party is bending their rules in order to appeal more to the evangelical communities as well.

El-Faizy said to expect further influence by evangelicals in the shaping of public policy and popular culture, not because they want a society and government ruled by religion but because they want to be accurately represented in these public spheres.

While El-Faizy was very informative about the changes evangelicals are going through and how they are influencing every aspect of our daily lives, she only briefly mentioned the volatile relationship between evangelicals and Muslims, saying that there is a lot of suspicion and misunderstanding of Muslims within evangelical communities.

Some CSUN students and audience members present said that they would have liked a more in-depth discussion about the views and relations between evangelical Christians and Muslims, as well as where El-Faizy thinks that relationship is headed.

However, El-Faizy did say that “the only dialogue between evangelicals and Muslims is that of evangelicals trying to convert Muslims.”

CSUN student Eder Diaz said he felt like El-Faizy side-stepped that whole issue, and added that there were a lot of holes and contradictions in El-Faizy’s lecture because she grouped evangelicals under too broad of an umbrella.

Diaz also said he thought that one had to come into the lecture with a previous understanding of what El-Faizy was talking about to fully understand the discussion.

After the lecture and a question and answer session, El-Faizy explained to those who stayed and asked about her opinion on Christian/Muslim relations that because evangelicals believe their religion is the right one and do not see any source of redemption in Islam, there is no room for positive dialogue between the two groups.

She explained that to evangelicals, the only religion outside their own that is “acceptable” is Judaism because Jews are the “chosen people,” but that even Jewish individuals have to convert in order to find salvation.

As far as grouping evangelicals under too broad of an umbrella, El-Faizy said that it was a way of putting evangelical beliefs in layman’s terms so that it would be easy for people to comprehend.

CSUN student Joseph Makhluf said he felt that El-Faizy cleared up the stereotypes that our society has about evangelicals.

Makhluf said that people generally think about the radical “world is going to end” type of evangelicals. He added that the most fundamental thing he gained from this lecture was a better understanding of the religion.

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