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Religions 2012, 3(4), 887-901; doi:10.3390/rel3040887
Published: 27 September 2012
Abstract: In the last half of the twentieth century, neo-evangelicalism moved from an anticommunist nationalist consensus to a new internationalism characterized by concern for human rights, justice, and economic development. Case studies of World Vision, a global relief and development organization, and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a campus ministry, demonstrate that this trajectory was due in part to a growing global reflex in which many missionaries and third-world evangelicals “spoke back” to American evangelicalism. Interpreting the Bible for themselves—and increasingly for American evangelicals—substantial numbers of non-Western converts and missionaries offered sharp criticisms of American politics, culture, and capitalism. These critiques, sacralized by their origins on the mission field, helped turn some young evangelicals toward Vietnam protests, poverty relief, civil rights, and a tempered nationalism. By the 1970s, these progressive elements—and a more resolute global concern generally—had become important markers of the evangelical left.
Barbara Benjamin, granddaughter of English and Polish immigrants to New York City, grew up, as did many evangelicals in the postwar era, with hard-earned middle-class comfort. Her father had started his career in the 1940s as a mechanic, rising in rank at a trucking company until he finally opened his own Shell fuel station on Long Island. As a young adult Benjamin remembered her father’s drive to own “a decent car, a house of his own, the best tools, money to enlarge his stamp collection, time for bowling clubs, even some savings.” The Benjamins’ social climb continued in the 1950s as Barbara attended college, a first for the family. At Queens College she joined the campus’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter along with dozens of other white, middle-class students from evangelical congregations in the area.
After graduating in 1957, Benjamin followed another typical evangelical path by becoming a missionary. She moved to Ecuador, where she taught women the Bible. In turn, they taught her about poverty. In the grimy port city of Guayaquil, Benjamin encountered the long-distance effects of American economic and political decisions. Her neighborhood was stricken by malnutrition and unemployment when U.S.-owned fruit giants United Brands and Chiquita pulled out of the region. Attempts in the 1960s to strengthen the Latin American economy through the Alliance for Progress, she observed, “never touched the masses.” Benjamin mourned over the “ridiculous [American] policy of working only through government channels, so the [aid] money was greedily devoured by opportunists. Political expedience determined how money flowed.” Inept U.S. policy, she concluded, had resulted in 50% unemployment for men in her neighborhood, naked children whose families could not afford clothing, and hostility toward the United States.
Benjamin left Ecuador in 1968 embittered toward U.S. policies in Latin America. Encountering the indifference of evangelicals in the United States toward conditions in Ecuador only heightened her angst. Based in a multicultural InterVarsity chapter at Brooklyn College, where she taught education courses, Benjamin began to speak out. “You cannot separate social concerns and evangelism,” she wrote in an article read by tens of thousands of InterVarsity students. Railing against “middle-class gentry out in suburbia-land [who] talk about illegal aliens,” she urged students to move to cities where they could follow “God’s mandate to take the Gospel to the poor.” Ten years after she left Ecuador, and one year before the founding of the Moral Majority, Benjamin urged political activism. “Christian churches must become centers of action,” she wrote. “We need to exercise a stronger prophetic voice to our culture, speaking up against the sins and shortcomings of our society. When I read the Old Testament, I become convinced that our churches need to be addressing the president, the Congress, and all those in high places.” She continued, “The prophets spoke out loudly and plainly. We must too—more than we do. We can’t just sit and mutter, ‘But they’ll call me a liberal.’ Let them call you a liberal—let them call you a Communist if they have to—but speak up! I believe there’s a real moral majority out there that will hear us and respond” (; , pp. 33–35).
Benjamin’s “moral majority,” given the fortunes of the evangelical left and religious right in the 1980s, turned out to be a moral minority. Nevertheless, the evangelical left, a movement embracing both theological conservatism (emphasizing evangelism and the historicity of Scripture) but political progressivism (emphasizing social justice), was more substantial than most observers realize, encompassing at least a third of American evangelicals. Benjamin herself went on to a career of multicultural ministry with InterVarsity, the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, and as an educator at Brooklyn College and the Seminario Biblico Alianza in Jamaica, New York . Her story reflects a growing global reflex in which many missionaries and third-world evangelicals “spoke back” to American evangelicalism. These critiques enjoyed an outsized influence as the evangelical left took shape in the 1970s and 1980s.
A well-established literature on conservative sectors of evangelicalism has matured in recent years into a more nuanced description of a broader movement that includes a significant number of progressive evangelicals . But this nascent body of work on moderate and progressive sectors of evangelicalism fails to fully explore the global dimensions of the movement . Indeed, the bulk of scholarship on cultural exchanges in missions centers on the beliefs and activities of American missionaries. The relationship between Americans and foreign nationals, however, went beyond the imposition of foreign values upon indigenous peoples; it was a relationship, however unequal, of mutual exchange. The encounter forced American evangelicals to think more critically about their own heritage and assumptions. If travel to Marxist countries by leaders of Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s encouraged radicalization of the New Left, exposure to the third world pervaded the evangelical left even more. Evangelical missiologist, C. Peter Wagner, noted in 1966 that “on mission fields such as Latin America, where people are deeply involved in one of the most explosive and widespread social revolutions in history, the relation of the Church to society is a top-priority issue. There is no pulling back. Christians, like everyone else in Latin America, are caught in a whirlpool of rapid social change, and they demand to know what the Bible has to say to them in this situation” . Interpreting the Bible for themselves—and increasingly for American evangelicals—substantial numbers of non-Western converts and missionaries offered sharp criticisms of American politics, culture, and capitalism. These critiques, sacralized by their origins on the mission field, helped turn some young evangelicals, especially those associated with significant neo-evangelical organizations such as InterVarsity and World Vision, toward Vietnam protests, poverty relief, civil rights, and a tempered nationalism. By the 1970s, these progressive elements—and a more resolute global concern generally—had become important markers of the evangelical left.
2. Nationalist Consensus
Barbara Benjamin emerged out of a neo-evangelical nationalist consensus. Concerned by aggressive Communist regimes in the Soviet Union and China, Christians associated with the National Association of Evangelicals in the 1940s asserted that the United States had a special set of moral standards to offer the world: democracy, free-enterprise capitalism, and God. At a rally at Chicago’s Soldier Field in 1947, just two years after the United States claimed victory over Nazi totalitarianism, 60,000 evangelicals gathered to celebrate these ideals. The event was financed by “The Business World” committee, a group of evangelical businessmen who manufactured glass, roofing supplies, insulation, iron, and appliances . After a tender rendition of “Just As I Am,” attendees triumphantly sang “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” Then a spotlight was thrown on the U.S. and Christian flags as a deep bass voice sang the words to “God Bless Our Boys.” Tributes were offered to Army Lieutenant Colonel Stoll, who participated in the first wave of the New Guinea invasion in World War II, and to Robert Nelson, vice-president of the Arma Corporation, which employed 8,000 people to build precision equipment for the Navy. The national anthem was sung, then the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” These patriotic homages were followed by an hour-long pageant to a different set of conquering heroes: American missionaries to China, India, Russia, Mexico, Africa, and the United States (represented by Billy Graham), all critical sites in the emerging Cold War . This single event, characterized by piety, business, anticommunism, and patriotism, reflected the most salient characteristics of postwar American evangelicalism.
Rising neo-evangelical activism increasingly was taking international shape, and American military intervention in Korea had an evangelical analogue. In 1950 Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision (which eventually became one of the largest relief and development organizations in the world), arrived in Korea to save souls from hell and the world from communism. In a 30-minute film seen in countless evangelical churches across the United States, Pierce intoned the following words: “Like a deadly red plague spreading out in all directions, the massive force of Communism has spread over the globe until today it claims over one third of the world’s population. China . . . Japan . . . Africa . . . India . . . all have succumbed to its insidious workings in greater or lesser degree; and wherever Communism holds sway, the forces of Christianity and Christian missions are bitterly opposed and, where possible, eliminated” . In the face of “Communist jet bombers poised only twenty seconds away,” Pierce fought back with spiritual ammunition . His 1957 Seoul Crusade reached drew nearly 300,000 people and boasted “3,115 first-time decisions for salvation” . World Vision followed up these evangelistic efforts with substantial relief efforts on behalf of Korean orphans. This was followed by similar activity at other important Cold War sites. In the 1950s World Vision purchased a huge tent for evangelistic crusades and opened a medical clinic in Calcutta (, p. 412). Featuring top names from the National Association of Evangelicals on its board of directors, World Vision’s campaigns fell squarely within the nationalist consensus.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical campus outreach to students founded in 1941, nurtured a similar, if milder, version of World Vision’s patriotic spirit. Literature acknowledged the difficulties of military life, but assumed that service to God and country were compatible activities . One young InterVarsity woman in 1946 imagined the postwar era as “the golden age of missions . . . when the doors would be flung open and the gospel of the grace of God would find a ready acceptance in countries all around the world” . But rising communist movements, especially in China, caught InterVarsity by surprise. Initially preoccupied by traditional Chinese culture and worried about Japanese invasion, InterVarsity workers such as David Adeney and Calvin Chao turned more visibly anticommunist in 1950 when Chinese Marxists began to expel Christian chapters from the country . Evangelicals, seeing the doors to evangelism closing in godless communist nations, felt compelled to force them back open as Cold Warriors in the 1950s. Both InterVarsity and its global counterpart, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), functioned as an evangelical counterpart to NATO, SEATO, and other anticommunist alliances.
3. Global Reflex
Significant numbers of missionaries and converts objected to the triumphalism of InterVarsity and World Vision. These objections began to surface at mid-century as increased travel led to more cultural exchanges between international and American evangelicals. Transatlantic flights from New York to Calcutta cut the months-long voyage from America to India of the nineteenth century down to twenty hours in the twentieth century. An increasingly prosperous postwar climate meant that some students could spend academic breaks volunteering overseas instead of working to pay for tuition. Neo-evangelicalism, with its thousands of missionary and relief organizations, became an international movement during the postwar era. InterVarsity, because of its own international roots, was uniquely positioned to receive global critiques. C. Stacey Woods, founder of the first American chapters, was from Australia, and David Adeney, an important InterVarsity staffer, was from England. While anticommunist, they were circumspect about American supremacy. Woods, for example, liked to conspicuously read Lenin around American evangelicals, and he exposed thousands of youth each year to global perspectives through the IFES, InterVarsity’s bloc of international affiliates (, p. 173).
Objections to the nationalist consensus appeared early, especially from IFES students who did not align with neo-evangelical conservatism. They observed what less globally oriented evangelicals could not: the economic aggression of American corporations that often followed in the wake of missionary activity. Barbara Benjamin’s horror at Chiquita’s rapid expansion and then departure in Ecuador, for example, signaled the growing antipathy among some key evangelical Latin American leaders toward the vagaries of free markets and the failure of the Alliance for Progress. The divide was evident as early as 1956, when the NAE’s Harold Ockenga spoke at an InterVarsity retreat center in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In front of a group of missionaries and international students, Ockenga spoke of the United States as the greatest nation in the world, its role in spreading American ideals of faith, democracy, and capitalism, and the importance of maintaining America’s position in the world. While Ockenga was not verbally challenged in the meeting, observers noted a palpable level of discomfort among the international guests (; , pp. 166–67).
By the 1960s and 1970s, however, global evangelicals were more confidently articulating their misgivings. Many encounters between global and American evangelicals took place at InterVarsity’s Overseas Training Camps in Europe, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. At a 1968 symposium in Switzerland, InterVarsity administrator Hans Burki assembled nearly 100 recent college graduates from all over the world to discuss contemporary culture, the family, and politics. Burki took delight in watching international leftists challenge a group of right-wing American students . In 1972 InterVarsity students at a Costa Rican camp heard from “Padre Chemita,” a rebel priest “disowned by the hierarchy but who has held on to his parish and is carrying out progressive innovations”; Jorge Monterroso, “a leftist evangelical lawyer”; and Marco Tulio Cajas, “an evangelical university student who is carrying out a creative social work program coupled with evangelism.” Local missionaries took students to Costa Rican farms, discussed socialism, and discussed the politics of the Peace Corps. InterVarsity leaders hoped to force American students to come “to terms with their own innate attitudes of cultural superiority” through encounters with Latin American farmers, priests, and intellectuals .
The journey away from American nationalism occurred most dramatically among evangelicals immersed overseas for extended periods. The hard realities of local conditions shattered illusions held by InterVarsity workers about the ease of proselytizing third-world nationals. Working at a Costa Rican hospital, for instance, drove missionary and InterVarsity worker David Howard to consider the role of “social concern” in traditional evangelistic efforts. “I had been of the persuasion that social concern smacked of the old social gospel, which earlier fundamentalists had repudiated,” Howard remembered. But seeing the sick and dying triggered “a major change in my … missiological development” . Howard, Benjamin, and countless other evangelical missionaries found themselves far more socially active overseas than they had been in the United States. When they returned home, many sought with increased energy to engage social and political issues, often with less conservative perspectives.
Both American expatriates and internationals deluged evangelical students with these contrarian views. In each issue of InterVarsity’s HIS magazine, a “World in Transit” insert addressed international concerns, usually from the perspective of foreign writers. A monthly newsletter exposed American readers to regular features about InterVarsity affiliates in Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere. InterVarsity regularly lauded the civil responsibility of the Peace Corps, urging its members to sign up for a year of service. Urbana conferences, in which dozens of speakers and thousands of students converged on the University of Illinois campus every three years, also featured this global flavor. At Urbana 70, planners provided over 100 headphones with translations to international guests. At Urbana 73, Colombian Gregorio Landero told InterVarsity students that “the human race cannot get along just on spiritual ministry; we must minister to the material needs also, that which is necessary for daily life” . Speakers trained students to contextualize the gospel and address salient social and political concerns. InterVarsity administrators offered seminars on agriculture and “the impending world food crisis,” anthropology “as a tool in the task of world evangelism,” urban problems overseas, “social concern and the Gospel,” and “War, Peace, and Missions.” As debate over the future of the Panama Canal raged, members of InterVarsity’s International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Costa Rica wrote:
“Panama has waited patiently while you procrastinated in the renegotiation of the treaty through the years of Vietnam, Watergate, and the recent elections. You condemn the relics of colonialism in Rhodesia and South Africa. Why are you so slow to see the ‘beam in your own eye?’ During the construction of the canal more than 25,000 poor laborers from the Third World laid down their lives on the altar of the First World economic development—yet your politicians have the gall to boast ‘we built it’! Your senators have been swamped with letters from citizens blinded by ignorance, greed, and ethnocentrism. We exhort you as brothers and sisters in Christ to write your senators today, indicating your support for the new treaty as a step toward justice for Panama and better relations with all Latin America” .
Latin Americans, in fact, enjoyed outsized influence within InterVarsity. René Padilla, a Colombian who attended Wheaton College, married an InterVarsity worker and was hired by IFES to start chapters at universities across Latin America. Peruvian Samuel Escobar left Latin America to serve as General Director of InterVarsity-Canada from 1972 to 1975 and then at IFES for the next 25 years. He was author of a critical, yet open-minded, booklet Dialogue between Christ and Marx . A main speaker at InterVarsity’s Urbana conventions of 1970, 1973, and 1981, Escobar also participated in key international congresses on world evangelism in Berlin (1966), Bogotá (1969), Toronto (1970), Madrid (1974), and Lausanne (1974). Escobar and Padilla were one of a hundred prominent evangelicals who formed the Latin American Theological Fraternity (FTL) and began to circulate in the North American evangelical world, reversing the trajectory of the American missionary diaspora.
Lausanne was FTL’s biggest stage. Padilla criticized American forms of evangelism concerned primarily with numerical growth. Such strategies, he said, “turned the Gospel into a cheap product.” He instead urged evangelical activity in the political realm that would ameliorate social injustices. “A church that is not faithful to the Gospel in all its dimensions,” he contended, “inevitably becomes an instrument of the status quo.” Escobar’s speech sounded the same theme. It was hard for third-world nationals not to believe that religion was an opiate, he declared, since “Christians, evangelicals in particular, oppose the violence of revolution but not the violence of war; they condemn the totalitarianism of the left but not that of the right; they speak openly in favor of Israel, but very seldom speak or do anything about the Palestinian refugees; they condemn all the sins that well-behaved middle class people condemn but say nothing about exploitation, intrigue, and dirty political maneuvering done by great multi-national corporations around the world” (, p. 304). “Jesus’ work had a social and political dimension,” Padilla echoed, which worked itself out in the politically charged, Jewish-Roman context of first-century Palestine (, pp. 130–37). Padilla and Escobar enjoyed unexpected resonance from delegates, so they organized a dissenting group that sought to persuade the committee drafting a “Lausanne Declaration” to incorporate clearer statements about social justice. 500 dissenting delegates emerged with a document entitled “A Response to Lausanne,” which pronounced attempts “to drive a wedge between evangelism and social action” as “demonic” (, pp. 91–92). Their advocacy was successful. The Declaration underwent telling revisions in the wake of this third-world dissent. The first draft included one sentence on social justice; the second draft promoted simple living, international sensitivity, and social justice in a section that was larger than any other in the Declaration. The international networks of InterVarsity were important conduits for the global reflex.
The founders of World Vision, on the other hand, did not have to be convinced that material relief was an appropriate activity for a missions’ agency. Bob Pierce wrote, “Underwear, stockings, shoes, a spaghetti-making machine, a rope-making machine? Somebody says, ‘Is that missions?’ Yes, that’s missions. If it’s something that is breaking the heart of a compassionate God, then—yes—you can call it missions” (, p. 204). But Pierce’s methods of social justice—and his framing of American intervention in Korea as that of a capitalist, democratic, Christian nation protecting the masses from communism—did come under attack. World Vision, assuming the legitimacy of American intervention in Southeast Asia, was accused by European observers of abetting South Vietnamese and U.S. strategies such as villageisation. The World Council of Churches, according to progressive evangelical Wes Granberg-Michaelson, regarded World Vision as “the evil empire, seeing it as a pawn of U.S. foreign policy, with a narrow focus on charity that encouraged paternalism and avoided matters of justice” (, p. 162). Rising international voices echoed these critiques and helped add an emphasis of development to World Vision’s programs of relief and evangelism.
A process of de-Americanization by World Vision gave global evangelicals a platform to make their critiques. Signs of such a transition were apparent as early as the 1960s, even as Americans still dominated the organization. World Vision periodicals began to give international evangelicals a face and voice. Photographs of Korean landscapes and large groups gave way to close-ups of suffering children. As World Vision expanded its reach to Africa and Latin America, disembodied statistics gave way to thick biographical descriptions. And most importantly, American analyses of the Korean situation yielded to the words of Korean evangelicals themselves. To be sure, the introduction of global voices was mediated by American administrators and editors. And they were motivated in part by pioneering efforts in sophisticated public relations methods. But an important transition was beginning to take place as new voices were heard. “Must Christian relief agencies be the monopoly of the West?” asked Singaporean Chua Wee Hian, the general secretary of IFES . A multitude of global voices, especially from Thailand and India, began calling for a more democratic structures and a “strict equality between North and South.” The difficulties of Vietnam and elsewhere, contended former staffer Alan Whaites, made World Vision more open to hearing “lessons on the danger of internal domination by a single culture and national perspective” (, p. 414). This global pushback culminated in the internationalization of World Vision’s bureaucratic structures in the 1970s (, pp. 77–87). In what President Stanley Mooneyham called “a grand experiment,” recipient nations from Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa became full partners of World Vision International. On May 31, 1978, the dominance of the U.S. office, writes VanderPol, officially was “replaced by a United Nations-style confederacy” (, p. 106).
These new international voices urged a more structural approach to world hunger and poverty. One exemplary 1975 issue of World Vision Magazine featured the views of L. R. Bawla, a professor at Burma Divinity School, and a group of Sri Lankan evangelicals: B. E. Fernando, the former Collector of Revenue for Ceylon and current director of World Vision in Bangladesh; Celestine Fernando, a minister and secretary of the Bible Society; and Neville Jayaweera of the Marga Institute. B. E. Fernando indicted evangelical efforts that focused solely on personal evangelism and disaster relief. Against the objections of neo-evangelical titan Carl Henry, he insisted that evangelicals should recover the theme of liberation from the Old Testament. “I have often seen attempts at social action on a limited scale motivated by undoubtedly genuine Christian concern,” stated Fernando. “Well-meaning people, totally committed, set up farms and communal groups or perhaps hospitals. But over the ages, while these groups might have been able to eliminate specific instances of pain or deprivation, they have basically left untouched the larger grounds which give rise to these instances of poverty. And it is in that area that the Marxists have been able to steal a march on the Christians” . Lee Huhn of Latin America World Vision International modeled his leadership after the Nicaraguan Evangelical Committee for Aid and Development (CEPAD), whose remarkable work at the end of the Somoza regime was going “beyond relief to a completely new dimension of exciting development” . Other sites for development projects initiated by third-world nations included Indonesia and Bangladesh .
International exchanges within InterVarsity and World Vision represented a much broader phenomenon. Wheaton College’s student newspaper in the 1960s and 1970s contained a remarkable number of articles by international students, many of whom enjoyed minor celebrity status on campus. American students, for their part, wrote copiously about international politics and urged participation in the Peace Corps. Moreover, campus programs such as the Student Missionary Project and the Human Needs and Global Resources Program (HNGR) sent students all over the world. HNGR, offering a minor degree, periodic seminars, and a mandatory 9-month overseas internship, launched dozens of careers in international development. Upon re-entry into the United States, HNGR students (and those in similar programs on other evangelical campuses) offered campus’s most militant evangelical critiques of American diplomacy and culture . Progressive American evangelicals, especially those based in Sojourners, Evangelicals for Social Action, and the World Evangelical Fellowship, featured many of the same voices and critiques.
4. New Internationalism
These emerging third-world voices encouraged the formation of an evangelical left, of which many InterVarsity and World Vision members were part. While neo-evangelicals in Chicago in 1947 stressed American prosperity, military strength, and global evangelism, progressive voices in the 1970s emphasized two fundamental elements. First, they stressed a more holistic ministry that included global economic development. The de-Americanized World Vision, encouraged by global evangelicals, began in the late-1970s to stress development more than relief. Stanley Mooneyham’s 1975 book What Do You Say to a Hungry World?, a favorite book among progressive evangelicals, contrasted sharply with World Vision’s strident anticommunism and relief work in the 1950s. While Mooneyham continued long-standing evangelical tropes of “intense personal encounters,” he added penetrating discussions of the structural causes of global hunger, which were “numerous, interrelated, and complex.” The United States was culpable, he wrote, because very little American foreign aid addressed hunger. Most went toward military hardware and exports that the third world did not need (, p. 19).
In addition to a new rhetoric, evangelical aid transitioned from food delivery and emergency medical care to long-term approaches to hunger. World Vision took cues from the World Bank on development strategies and poverty statistics, added the phrase “long-term survival and growth” to its list of Basic Objectives, and launched a new Relief and Development department. Critical to the implementation of the new strategy was a five-week training seminar sponsored by the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) attended by more than fifty World Vision staff in 1978. Founded by noted development expert James Yen of China, IIRR introduced World Vision to new development strategies and organizations. In a landmark 1979 issue of World Vision’s in-house newsletter, Robert Ainsworth wrote, “Those were euphoric days that will remain in our hearts and minds for at least as long as we have the strength to visit piggeries, help fill out PSF’s, discuss irrigation problems, and plead the case for better latrines.” Bryant Myers, the new director of World Vision’s Relief and Development department and future board chair of progressive organization Evangelicals for Social Action, declared that “development was to be a major direction for the next 10 years” and that the organization would henceforth “commit 75% of its funding to development” (, p. 113). In the 1980s World Vision continued to work closely with IIRR in the Philippines, helped establish the Association of Evangelical Relief and Development Organizations, hired urban specialists, and began to publish Together, a magazine which promoted collaboration between evangelicals working in the development field. It also developed community-organizing, income-generation, health, and educational initiatives. The 1987 Urban Advance Initiative, for example, forged a local approach that fostered “empowering principles” among transient urban slum populations. World Vision encouraged these groups to establish cooperatives that would lobby local authorities (, p. 418).
World Vision also plunged into national and global politics. Mooneyham’s successor Ted Engstrom and other World Vision leaders met with President Carter to discuss the hunger crisis, and Senator Mark Hatfield, who served on World Vision’s board, worked tirelessly in Washington, D.C. Both Hatfield and World Vision, for example, headlined Project FAST, a luncheon on Capitol Hill in which members of Congress were fed the same food offered to famine victims at relief centers in India (, p. 117). World Vision gained “consultative status” with the United Nations and established official relations with the World Health Organization (, p. 126–27). By the early 1990s, World Vision, already a behemoth NGO of 100 entities overseen by 6,000 full-time staff, had transformed from an American-dominated, relief-oriented charity to a truly international organization devoted to partnership and long-term solutions to world poverty (, p. 420).
Numerous other evangelical organizations adopted these new structural critiques and methods. They included HEED, Jubilee Crafts, Tearcraft, Worldcrafts, the International Institute of Development, the Society for Community Development, Partnership in Third World Ministry, United Action Association, and the World Evangelical Fellowship. These agencies developed urban food-for-work and leadership training programs; built roads, hospitals, and schools; established cooperatives, credit unions, and loan programs; started micro-enterprises for small industry; and taught new agricultural techniques. Some also urged acts of moral suasion, boycotts, selective investment, and shareholder resolutions in order to constrain American corporations. Transformation, World Christian, and Together magazines relayed their exploits to an American evangelical audience. An impressive scholarly oeuvre articulated the vision and strategies. Economist George Monsma, for example, decried the lack of U.S. aid to the poorest of the world’s nations and condemned the rise of multinational corporations and their tendency to eliminate indigenous firms in third-world nations . In 1979 Mary Janss-Clary invoked the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child, defining human rights broadly to include racial, religious, national, and gender freedom—as well as access to healthcare and education . Ron Sider rebuked laissez-faire capitalism and global trade inequities in Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger . These critiques—which continue under the current World Vision leadership of Rich Stearns—resemble secular progressive perspectives, but they also include uniquely evangelical traits such as deep emotionalism, the use of the language of sin, and the blurring of personal and social boundaries. Dominated at first by food delivery and emergency medical care, interest shifted in the 1970s toward theoretical, scholarly, political, ecumenical, and long-term approaches to hunger .
Second, progressive evangelicals tempered the nationalism of the neo-evangelical consensus. A steady diet of third-world critiques exposed the evangelical left to American complicity in human rights violations and economic imperialism. Filipino Lysander Molo reported that problematic U.S. foreign policies toward the Philippines also hurt other third-world nations . In Sojourners magazine, the Diliman Bible Church called their American “sisters and brothers to repentance … for past apathy and to become engaged in nonviolent struggle for justice, human rights, and freedom in the Philippines” . Bill Conrad, a missionary to Peru, wrote in InterVarsity’s HIS magazine that “All too long I linked Christianity with U.S. democracy, but now I feel that U.S. democracy is probably not the answer for most of the world, and that—amazing enough—Christ’s believers can well live under, and perhaps even participate in, a wide range of political ideologies.” Mooneyham noted that poverty was not just a third-world problem; “the world’s sixth largest underdeveloped nation is contained within the borders of the United States” (, p. 43). According to scholar Gary VanderPol, Mooneyham’s frequent public disapproval of America’s gluttonous consumption habits “indicated a new willingness to criticize Western culture generally and its political leaders specifically; it was a striking departure from Pierce’s warm and uncritical patriotism” (, p. 117). There was a stiff reaction to suggestions that evangelical missionaries collaborate with the CIA, and the 1976 bicentennial celebrations were marked by profound ambivalence. While critiques of communism continued—as did expressions of appreciation for American freedoms—there was a new progressive evangelical uncertainty about the global role of the nation. World Vision, in fact, began to work at cross-purposes with American diplomacy. In Nicaragua World Vision cooperated with the Sandinista government, and in the Middle East it pushed for Palestinian human rights. These contrarian stances, writes Whaites, reflected World Vision’s decision to “sacrifice support in order to pursue legitimate justice goals” (, p. 415–16).
Even some establishment evangelicals seemed to have transformed into multiculturalists. Carl Henry, an exemplar of neo-evangelicalism, traveled the globe for World Vision in the 1970s. After years of interacting with global evangelicals, Henry wrote, “It may be that our future lies neither with the free world nor with the communist world.” Vernon Grounds, who had lectured at seminaries in Latin America, wrote, “Are we prepared to abandon our stance of superiority as senior partners in the missionary enterprise, accepting non-whites and non-Westerners as our equals? Have we come to grips with liberation theology, accepting its insights without abandoning our own theological convictions?” Waldron Scott, a missionary and leader in the World Evangelical Fellowship, quoted Latin American leaders’ conviction that Americans should support “indigenous missionary endeavors and rethink the gospel in terms of the biblical promise of justice.” Joseph A. Grabill warned that Protestant missionaries—along with spreading the Gospel—had substantially contributed to the Westernization of Asia, Africa, and the Pacific . Michael Cassidy, president of African Enterprise, insisted that “mission will not be only from the First to the Third World but also vice versa” .
This global reflex portended a broader interest in multiculturalism. InterVarsity Press launched hundreds of multicultural books in the 1980s. InterVarsity’s Urbana conferences continued its global flavor. Urbana 2006, for example, featured Sri Lankan leader Ajith Fernando as a main speaker and addressed the issue of reconciliation between Korean and Japanese students regarding World War II . The Urbana bookstore sold titles on racial justice themes such as Cornel West’s Race Matters , Michael Emerson and Christian Smith’s Divided by Faith , Brenda Salter McNeil’s The Heart of Racial Justice , and Orlando Crespo’s Being Latino in Christ . In 2010 Christianity Today launched a continuing feature on the global church and development. The implication of all these projects was that American evangelicals had much to learn from global evangelicals.
To be sure, this global reflex had limits. Not all third-world evangelicals were progressive, especially on issues of sexuality. Moreover, the emergence of the religious right in an era when third-world evangelicals were speaking more critically of American capitalist imperialism demonstrates that considerable numbers of American evangelicals were not listening at all—or were emphatically disagreeing. Many organizations, including the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council, and Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse, remained politically conservative and enthusiastic celebrators of the nation. And some, including Graham, turned their global antipathy toward Islam . Their new interest in development often came with the result, if not intent, of securing the world for free-market capitalism. Evangelical missionaries and development workers, believing that they had spiritual and moral resources to offer the world, sometimes inscribed tacit neoliberal strategies on their activities . Conservative attitudes on domestic and international affairs still dominate some sectors of evangelicalism.
Yet the stories of World Vision and InterVarsity demonstrate that not all missionaries and converts have tacked toward a less regulated capitalism. Nor have all been the conservatives of their denominations. In fact, their influence has pushed important sectors of moderate and progressive evangelicalism away from American individualism and triumphalism. “Even agencies steeped in the politics of the religious right and the Cold War,” writes David Sogge, “can reach the point—at least in their rhetoric—of smashing their icons and rejecting old orthodoxies” (, p. 146). Due in part to global encounters, progressive evangelical denunciations of multinational corporations and establishment evangelical interest in multiculturalism now contrast sharply with the scenes of lily-white, pro-business patriotism at Soldier Field in 1947. John Green contends that while there are a higher percentage of “militant internationalists” among evangelicals than the public as a whole, a plurality of evangelicals supported a “cooperative internationalism” (45.7%) over an approach of military strength (38.1%). And he sees evidence that “cooperative internationalism” has become more commonplace from 1992 to 2004 . International evangelicals helped broaden the spectrum of political and cultural activity for American evangelicals.
These emerging structural and global sensibilities are likely a mere shadow of the future. International voices will most certainly swell to a chorus in the next century as the Global South demographically overwhelms northern and western centers . Sixty percent of all Christians now live outside the North Atlantic region. Even the United States increasingly reflects this global reality. Borders have opened up significantly to nonwhite immigrants since the Immigration Act of 1965. Given these trends, global concerns and influence will only continue to carry more weight. This, in turn, could revitalize an evangelical left marginalized since the 1980s .
References and Notes
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- Barbara Benjamin. The Impossible Community: A Story of Hardship & Hope at Brooklyn College in New York. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1978.
- Barbara Benjamin Archilla. “Seminario Biblico Alianza—The Impossible Community.” Urban Mission, 1993, 50–59.
- On conservative evangelicalism, see David Farber, and Jeff Roche, Eds. The Conservative Sixties. New York: Peter Lang, 2003; John G. Turner. Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ: The Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008; Steven P. Miller. Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009; Darren Dochuk. From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010; Daniel K. Williams. God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. On progressive evangelicalism, see James Davison Hunter. “The New Class and the Young Evangelicals.” Review of Religious Research 22 (December 1980): 155–169; Robert Booth Fowler. A New Engagement: Evangelical Political Thought, 1966-1976. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982; Kyle Cleveland. “The Politics of Jubilee: Ideological Drift and Organizational Schism in a Religious Sect.” Ph.D. dissertation, Temple University, 1990; Boyd T. Reese, Jr. “Resistance and Hope: The Interplay of Theological Synthesis, Biblical Interpretation, Political Analysis, and Praxis in the Christian Radicalism of ‘Sojourners’ Magazine.” Ph.D. dissertation, Temple University, 1991; Brantley Gasaway. “An Alternative Soul of Politics: The Rise of Contemporary Progressive Evangelicalism.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina, 2008; Shawn David Young, and David R. Swartz, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.
- Several of the few works to address the global dimensions of moderate and progressive evangelicalism are Earthen Vessels; David King. “Seeking a Global Vision: The Evolution of World Vision and American Evangelicalism.” Ph.D. dissertation, Emory University, 2012. Jay Case. An Unpredictable Gospel: American Evangelicals and World Christianity, 1812–1920. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
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- William F. McDermott. “Bobby-Soxers Find the Sawdust Trail.” Collier’s, 1945, 23. Copy in Photo Album I, Torrey Johnson Collection, BGCA.
- World Vision Magazine. 1957, p. 2.
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- World Vision Magazine. 1979, p. 18.
- Graeme Irvine. Best Things in the Worst of Times: An Insider’s View of World Vision. Wilsonville, OR: BookPartners, 1996.
- Gary F. VanderPol. “The Least of These: American Evangelical Parachurch Missions to the Poor, 1947–2004.” PhD diss., Boston University School of Theology, 2010.
- “Striving for a Christian Social Perspective.” In World Vision Magazine. 1975, pp. 8–11.
- Lee Huhn. “Aglow with Victory.” In World Vision Magazine. 1979, pp. 18–19.
- Katherine Halberstadt. “A Matter of Perspective.” Wheaton Magazine 9 (2006): 20–23.
- W. Stanley Mooneyham. What Do You Say to a Hungry World?. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1975.
- George N. Monsma. “A Christian Critique of Neoclassical Welfare Economics.” Toronto: Institute of Christian Studies, 1978.
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- Ronald J. Sider. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: A Biblical Study. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1977.
- “Saving the World from Suffering: The Development of the Christian Humanitarian Organization, World Vision.” Boston, MA, USA. For more on World Vision’s trajectory toward a more political and technocratic approach, see David King: American Historical Association, 2011.
- Lysander Molo. “The United States and the Philippines: What Kind of Crises.” Public Justice Report 8 (1984): 1–5.
- “A Church Awakened.” Sojourners 12 (1983): 21.
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- “The Decade Ahead.” In World Vision Magazine. 1979, p. 4.
- John Schmalzbauer. “Whose Social Justice? Which Evangelicalism? Social Engagement in a Campus Ministory.” Indianapolis, IN, USA: IUPUI symposium on evangelical social engagement, 2012.
- Cornel West. Race Matters. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993.
- Michael Emerson, and Christian Smith. Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Faith in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
- Brenda Salter McNeil, and Rick Richardson. The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change, 2004.
- Orlando Crespo. Being Latino in Christ: Finding Wholeness in Your Ethnic Identity. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
- Thomas S. Kidd. “American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism.” Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009, pp. 144–164.
- Bethany E. Moreton. “The Soul of Neoliberalism.” Social Text 25, Fall 2007, pp. 103–23. For examples of neoliberal NGOs, see Jennifer Butler, and Glenn Zuber. “Empire-Building or Democracy-at-Work? The Growing Influence of White U.S. Evangelical NGO Lobbying at the United Nations and in Washington, DC.” In Evangelicals and Empire: Christian Alternatives to the Political Status Quo, Bruce Ellis Benson and Peter Goodwin Heltzel, eds. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2008, pp. 67–75,
- David Sogge. Compassion and Calculation: The Business of Private Foreign Aid. London: Pluto Press, 1996.
- John C. Green. “New and Old Evangelical Public Engagement: A View from the Polls.” In “The New Evangelical Social Engagement” conference. Indianapolis, IN, USA: IUPUI, 2012.
- Philip Jenkins. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
- David R. Swartz. Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.
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