The Politics of Jesus

partisanpolitical.jpgOn Wednesday morning, Southern Baptist missiologist Ed Setzer tweeted the following:

This bothered a number of folk. Among them was theologian James K.A. Smith who replied with the following tweet:

I’m thinking that Setzer and those responding were talking past each other.  My take is that he was responding to a certain situation. He was at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, where, Vice President Mike Pence was coming to make a speech.  Setzer had his own opinion of the speech and the ideology behind it:

So, is politics and religion a bad mix or not?

I think Setzer is 70 percent correct and thirty percent wrong.

Setzer could have phrased this better. Of course, at a basic level, the church is political. It can’t be apolitical in the face of racism or sexism or name any other social sin. When liberation theologians say that God has an option for the poor, it is saying that God chooses sides. God is not sitting on the sidelines.

The church has been political, especially when people are being oppressed for who they are. In the book God’s Politics, Jim Wallis shares a story about former Archbishop Desmond Tutu and what he faced when he and religious leaders involved in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa:

“The former South African archbishop Desmond Tutu used to famously say, “We are prisoners of hope.” Such a statement might be taken as merely rhetorical or even eccentric if you hadn’t seen Bishop Tutu stare down the notorious South African Security Police when they broke into the Cathedral of St. George’s during his sermon at an ecumenical service. I was there and have preached about the dramatic story of his response more times than I can count. The incident taught me more about the power of hope than any other moment of my life. Desmond Tutu stopped preaching and just looked at the intruders as they lined the walls of his cathedral, wielding writing pads and tape recorders to record whatever he said and thereby threatening him with consequences for any bold prophetic utterances. They had already arrested Tutu and other church leaders just a few weeks before and kept them in jail for several days to make both a statement and a point: Religious leaders who take on leadership roles in the struggle against apartheid will be treated like any other opponents of the Pretoria regime. After meeting their eyes with his in a steely gaze, the church leader acknowledged their power (“You are powerful, very powerful”) but reminded them that he served a higher power greater than their political authority (“But I serve a God who cannot be mocked!”). Then, in the most extraordinary challenge to political tyranny I have ever witnessed, Archbishop Desmond Tutu told the representatives of South African apartheid, “Since you have already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!” He said it with a smile on his face and enticing warmth in his invitation, but with a clarity and a boldness that took everyone’s breath away. The congregation’s response was electric. The crowd was literally transformed by the bishop’s challenge to power. From a cowering fear of the heavily armed security forces that surrounded the cathedral and greatly outnumbered the band of worshipers, we literally leaped to our feet, shouted the praises of God and began…dancing. (What is it about dancing that enacts and embodies the spirit of hope?) We danced out of the cathedral to meet the awaiting police and military forces of apartheid who hardly expected a confrontation with dancing worshipers. Not knowing what else to do, they backed up to provide the space for the people of faith to dance for freedom in the streets of South Africa.”

So, yeah the church gets political and it has to. But I don’t think that was what Setzer was getting at. He was more concerned with how the church bows down to Ceasar, meaning how conservative and progressive Christians bow down to the current makeup of American politics.

We often tend to look at the mixing of partisan politics and religion as something that occurs on the right, but progressive politics and religion are also in bed together.

The thing is, the church in America doesn’t really know how to be political without being partisan. What churches in America tend to is ape what happens in Washington or name your state capital. From Sojourner’s on the left to Focus on the Family on the right, we tend are politcally engaged not as the church being the conscience of the society, but as another interest group a political party must deal with.

This is what Setzer is getting at when he says mixing religion and politics means you get politics.  It means that what happens is that you become the spiritual wing of the political parties.  Instead of transforming politics, we allow politics to transform the church.

This is what Episcopal priest Frederick Schmidt gets at in his latest post observing the different plans being put forth ahead of the 2019 General Conference of the United Methodist Church.  The denomination is trying to find a way to both open up ordination to LGBT Methodists and keep traditionalists in the church. Schmidt thinks that the individualism of the culture, the lack of any kind of ecclesiology or theology of the church is destroying the modern “body of Christ:”

The language of ecclesiology (a theology of the church) has slipped to the margins. Instead, Methodists draw comparisons with Starbucks[3] and talk about the church’s “constitutional” polity, and everyone assumes that whatever needs to be done, it should take the form of national legislation.[4]

This behavior and this way of navigating decisions in the church is now the standard. There is little room for theological deliberation. There is even less room for theological struggle, and there is no room for pastoral care and attention to the individual or community.

That is, in large part, because both by design and by inattention the politics of the culture have invaded and overrun the life of the church as the body of Christ.

That loss of talking about the body of Christ has been evident in the discussion on homosexuality. I can remember back in the mid-90s when churches were really dealing with this issue. When a church was deciding to more publically welcome gays, there was usually a vote and after that hard vote, it was not uncommon to hear a pastor say that they now must attend to healing. They knew there were good God-fearing people on both sides of the issue and that for the body to move forward, attention had to be paid to the losing side.

When the state of Minnesota approved same-sex marriage five years ago, I commented to friends that we must think of the other side who lost. They looked at me as if I had come from Mars. The church no longer was interested in dealing with those who were on the losing end. We have sucumbed to the politics of the now.

Maybe one of the most important things that can happen in these times is for the church to recover its ecclesiology. It is only then we can really recover what it means to be the church political and not the church partisan.

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The Politics of Fear, Reconsidered

I looked into the mirror, (Yeah)
Proud as I could be, (Yeah)
And I saw my pointing finger (Yeah)
Pointing back at me,
Saying, “Who named you accuser? (Yeah)
Who gave you the scales?” (Yeah)
I hung my head in sorrow; (Yeah)
I could almost feel the nails
I said, “This is how it is
To be crucified and judged
Without love”

-Amy Grant, What About the Love

ISIS_zpsebcsoq8xAs the news about the list of Governors either pausing or barring Syrian refugees from coming to their states continued this week, I started to be bothered by what I was seeing on social media.  At first it was a sense of righteous outrage, but it soon morphed into a self-righteousness.  It felt like the Good Samaritan all of the sudden became a big jackass talking about how open minded and compassionate he was as opposed to those other two losers.

I still think we need to welcome refugees no matter where they come from.  But like most of life, this issue is not as black and white as we want it to be. We can talk about Baby Jesus being a refugee (which is true), but it doesn’t mean that this issue is that simple.

Political blogger Kevin Drum noted in a blog post yesterday, that people should tone down on the mocking tone because the concerns about safety are legitimate:

The liberal response to this should be far more measured. We should support tight screening. Never mind that screening is already pretty tight. We should highlight the fact that we’re accepting a pretty modest number of refugees. In general, we should act like this is a legitimate thing to be concerned about and then work from there.

Which brings up an interesting point: did you know that the Obama Administration paused the immigration process of Iraqi refugees in 2011 because of terror concerns? This is from an ABC News article:

Several dozen suspected terrorist bombmakers, including some believed to have targeted American troops, may have mistakenly been allowed to move to the United States as war refugees, according to FBI agents investigating the remnants of roadside bombs recovered from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The discovery in 2009 of two al Qaeda-Iraq terrorists living as refugees in Bowling Green, Kentucky — who later admitted in court that they’d attacked U.S. soldiers in Iraq — prompted the bureau to assign hundreds of specialists to an around-the-clock effort aimed at checking its archive of 100,000 improvised explosive devices collected in the war zones, known as IEDs, for other suspected terrorists’ fingerprints…

As a result of the Kentucky case, the State Department stopped processing Iraq refugees for six months in 2011, federal officials told ABC News – even for many who had heroically helped U.S. forces as interpreters and intelligence assets. One Iraqi who had aided American troops was assassinated before his refugee application could be processed, because of the immigration delays, two U.S. officials said. In 2011, fewer than 10,000 Iraqis were resettled as refugees in the U.S., half the number from the year before, State Department statistics show.

Now, what happened in 2011 is not the same thing happening now. We don’t have proof that there are terrorists among the refugees. But this does make me think that in light of last week’s attack in Paris, it isn’t so far-fetched to request a pause.

Which leads me to the article that prompted me to write this blog post. Evangelical blogger John Mark Reynolds wrote that being prudent doesn’t mean being anti-refugee and that accepting a token amount of refugees makes you virtuous. Reynolds believes that Christians must care for the refugee, but he also thinks a lot of what is being done by the United States is not enough and not helpful:

We can pretend to be making room for Baby Jesus at our inn while doing almost nothing for Syrians relative to the need of the Syrian refugees. If we wanted to help by repopulating, then we should be moving tens of thousands more, but nobody thinks this is a good idea.

Why?

Our goal is for people to flourish in their homelands, not depopulate Syria of Christians and other religious minorities. We do not want to move Syrians to the US and Europe in such great numbers that we effectively end Syrian culture.

In the meantime, we do need safe havens near home for the refugee populations. I wish the Obama administration were doing more . . . but taking in ten thousand is doing next to nothing that is meaningful.

Leaving the Islamic State and terrorist groups in charge of much of Syria while helping the good people of Syria depopulate the area of those who have lived there for centuries is questionable policy. What happens next? Where will the next million Syrians go? Will we take another ten thousand and pretend that is enough?

Reynolds also notes that we haven’t done a good job of preventing Syrians from having to leave their homes in the first place:

I have no doubt that almost none of the ten thousand are here to commit terror or will commit terror. I also have no doubt that if one does that it will be devastating to the political will to do anything again. We do little and risk much through this gesture.

Yet if I say this, then I am shown a picture of a dead child and told I support this policy, generally by people who oppose putting boots on the ground to end the regime that is causing the refugee crisis. I want to preserve Syria, beautiful, multi-cultural Syria, not appropriate her people into permanent exile or cultural isolation.

Fortunately, I am blessed to have sensible, loving friends who know how painful this decision is on both sides. I am not sure I am right and this is hard. Loving Syria and the people of Syria makes me wish to throw all caution to the wind and do all that can be done . . . but we are already not doing all we could. When on Facebook I was told my “prudence” would kill a Syrian child, I wanted to say: “What of the Obama administration that through prudence has let Syria burn?”(emphasis mine). What of your prudence in only taking ten thousand? Why not one hundred thousand?”

That is the question we aren’t talking about: why did we let this happen in the first place? In 2013, the President had a chance to go into Syria to deal with the crisis, but backed out of it. I along with others, thought we should stay out of Syria. Wasn’t our concern, we said. Why is it now our concern? Did Syrians have to leave their homes for us to give a damn?

In some way, a lot of this is just another part of the ongoing political polarization of America.  People lumped together every Republican governor that said “no” into a xenophobic cowardly bigot.  Some of the governors are cynical bigots, but not all of them.  Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was one that asked for a pause.  I was dissapointed in his decision because earlier in the year he said rather publicly that he would accept Syrians.  Michigan (which is my native state) already has a substantial Arab population, including a number of Syrian immigrants in Metro Detroit and Flint. The governor has gone to great lengths to explain that he is not wanting to shut the door permanently; he simply want to be sure.  Maybe that’s not the right course.  Maybe he should have just accepted the refugees without question.  I don’t know.  What it seems to me is that he is trying to be both welcoming and responsible.  But all of that nuance gets lost in the debate.

I still think we should accept refugees.  But I’m less willing to automatically chastise anyone who doesn’t agree with me.  I will denounce the naked racism that I find on Facebook when we talk about these issues, but I will also think about when and why we should get involved in conflicts around the world. I will learn that sometimes the issues we think are so black and white, aren’t.

The reason I started off with the lyrics from an Amy Grant song is that even when we are doing good things, our pride can taint them.  It’s wrong to be hate another person for their religion.  But God also looks down on pride, the sense that you are better than others because you are so righteous.  I think there has been a lot of pride over the last few days and we have to ask if this is leading to something better or not.  We can be right and yet be so wrong.

The Invisibility of Progressive Christianity

Church-You-Can-See-Through-10Every so often, I’ve heard an argument that goes like this:  “the press only talks about the Christians vs. the gays as if all Christians are against being gay.  Don’t they know that there are Christians who support gays?”

The frustration comes from being ignored by the wider culture, especially the media.  When we think of Christians, we are more likely to think of evangelicals or Catholics, but never liberal Protestantism.  This has long been a problem.  Some, including former evangelical-turned liberal Christian Randall Balmer, think there is a conspiracy afoot inspired by groups like the Institute for Religion and Democracy.

I will agree that liberal Protestantism does get ignored in society.  While groups like the IRD tend to go after liberals, I don’t think they have as a big as an impact as we would like to think.  I think that there is something else going on, something that we in progressive churches are doing to ourselves and it is this: I believe we are so uncritical of socially liberal society that we blend into the woodwork.  In essence, when you say the same thing the wider society says, you tend to cancel yourself out.

I’ve been think about that after reading Ross Douthat’s latest piece for the New York Times.  In this essay, he focuses on Pope Francis and the hopeful revival of liberal Christianity.  Could it happen?  Douthat says yes, but it has challenges:

But there are deep reasons why liberal Christianity has struggled lately, which a Francis-inspired revival would need to overcome. One is the tendency for a liberal-leaning faith to simply become a secularized faith, obsessed with political utopias and embarrassed by supernatural hopes, until the very point of churchgoing gradually evaporates. (It’s not a coincidence that the most resilient of left-leaning religious communities, the African-American church, is also the most frankly supernaturalist.)

The other is religious liberalism’s urge to follow secular liberalism in embracing the sexual revolution and all its works — a move that promises renewal but rarely delivers, because it sells out far too much of scripture and tradition along the way.

The first tendency is one that this pope’s example effectively rebukes. However “left” his political impulses may be, they are joined to a prayerful and devotional sensibility, an earthy, Satan-invoking zeal that has nothing arid or secularized about it.

The second tendency, though, is one that Francis has tacitly encouraged, by empowering clerics and theologians who seem to believe that Rome’s future lies in imitating the moribund Episcopal Church’s approach to sex, marriage and divorce.

I don’t agree with everything Douthat says here, but he is on to something.  Douthat says that religious liberals have sold out to the sexual revolution and that has cost it in many ways.

And I think he’s right.

Now before the pitchforks come out, I should explain.  Being gay, I am thankful of having a church and denomination that welcomes me.  The sexual ethics I grew up with was not something I would share with others, at least the ways it was taught.  The problem is this: liberal Christianity asks nothing of us when it comes to our sexuality.  It never asks how we should live as Christians when it comes to sex.  It never asks when abortions are necessary and when it is morally questionable, it just follows the line that comes from secular feminists.  It talks about same sex marriage as “love wins” but doesn’t ask what is marriage for as Christians.

I’m not urging that we create a lists of dos and don’ts when it comes to sex.  But like so much of the modern liberal church, we don’t think theologically about sexuality.  What liberal Christians have done is just tacitly accept what the wider liberal culture has accepted with out thinking about it critically.

So, if a journalist is writing a story and he or she has a choice to talk to either a liberal pastor who supports abortion on demand or the local abortion rights activist, they are going to go with the activist.  Why go to a pastor who will say the same thing when you have the real thing?

I will say it again: I am not advocating for liberal Christians to give up their support for a more liberal attitude towards sexuality.  What I am calling for is to start to think about the whys more often.  We  need to be thinking theologically and not culturally.

Having been trained as a journalist, I can tell you that writers want to get an interesting angle and we don’t have one.  And part of the reason is that liberal Christianity has lost or squandered it’s theological tradition.  In it’s place we have used culture-talk or politics, which make us sound like the Democratic Party at prayer.  If that is what we are, then I can see why people would rather stay in bed and get some extra sleep than go to church.

If mainline/progressive/liberal Christianity, especially the Protestant kind, wants to stand out more, then it needs to be a unique voice in society instead of an echo.

Was Jesus a Progressive Rabbi?

Before I say anything, take a look at this  graphic.

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I’ve seen a few people on Facebook share this image from theologian Benjamin Corey and I have to say that it bothers me.  Maybe Corey thinks he is sharing the gospel truth, but I don’t think he’s doing that.  He is peddaling a Jesus in his own image, one that surprisingly likes what Corey likes and hates what Corey hates.  Which means he isn’t doing anything that different than what conservative Christians do with Jesus.

When I made my journey from evangelicalism to mainline/progressive Christianity in the 90s, I was expecting to join a faith that wasn’t so captive to American politics.  I soon discovered that this wasn’t the case; the “Christian Left” was no better than the Religious Right.    My hopes were raised again a decade later with the rise of the Emergent Church.  It built itself as something apart from the left and right, but over time it was co-opted and became an organ of the political left.

This is why I have a hard time calling myself a progressive Christian.  What I’ve seen more often than not is a mirror version of conservative Christianity; a faith that reflects culture and ideology and not God.

The problem with Corey’s Jesus is that he rather safe.  What I mean is that he doesn’t challenge Corey’s political beliefs at all.  Jesus isn’t Lord but the handmaiden to progressive politics.

My right of center politics are always challenged by Christ’s call to care for the least of these as they should be.  If I don’t feel any tension between my ideology and my theology, I’m doing this faith thing wrong. My frustration here is that there seems to be no tension at all with Corey.  I guess Jesus  is just cool with that.

I left evangelicalism because I was tired of the using of God as some kind of  conservative cheerleader.  I was tired of God being considered a loyal Republican. But I am equally tired of progressive Christians who want to make Jesus a liberal democrat.  What it means is that we stop thinking about how the church should respond in society and instead spend time think how God would have us respond.  Odds are it will be something that will bother Corey and his conservative counterpart.

Big Me and Little Jesus

roadtocharacterOver the years, I’ve noticed a change on social media.  When I started writing on LiveJournal about 15 years ago, the circles of friends were fairly open about their lives.  They wouldn’t share their deepest secrets with everybody, but they would with a certain group.  There was nothing exhibitionist about it- it was just everyday people sharing the struggles of everyday life.

Blogs were the same way.  People were willing to share their imperfections and questions.  The posts were filled with nuance and reason.

But over, say the last 5 to 7 years, something happened.  Social media became less personal.  Social platforms like Facebook and Twitter became more showrooms that presented a more cleaned up and perfect version of the self.  People tend to make more statements instead of  asking questions.  Every one seems happy online; on a few occasions someone isn’t so perfect and that is reflected in a post or tweet, but it is a longing to be the norm on social media the perfect self with the perfect family.

Being a church communicator, I’ve been hawking the importance of social media for years.  I still think that is important for churches to be on social media, but we need to be more aware of what social media, at least the most current version of social media is doing to us as a culture and as a church. Because, like any bit of technology it is changing us.

Social Media has at times made the church less a place of sinners saved by grace than a place where people try to present themselves as correct.  Liberal and conservative Christians focus less on their frailty, their temptation to sin and more on presenting their viewpoint/ideology as the superior one to the other side.  I don’t hear people sharing their uncertainties and questions as much as making a case for their side.

While polemicists on the left, right and center tend to roll their eyes when they hear commentator David Brooks speak, more often than not, Brooks has his finger on what is going on in culture on what has changed for good or for ill.  His latest book, the Road to Character, talks about how as a society we have become focused on resume virtues as opposed to eulogy virtues.  Resume virtues are the skills and experiences that fit on a resume.  Places like Facebook and Twitter are places you will find resume virtues.

Eulogy virtues are those things that people will say about you when you are gone.  More often than not, this is what you will still find in obituaries and on social media sites like Caring Bridge.

Resume virtues are part of what Brooks calls the culture of “Big Me” a resume or highlight reel of your life which shows just the good parts.  “Big Me” is looking at yourself as larger than life.  Brooks shares a set of statistics from the 1950s and from more recent times:

My favorite statistic about this is that in 1950 the Gallup organization asked high school seniors: Are you a very important person? And in 1950, 12 percent said yes. They asked again in 2005 and it was 80 percent who said they were a very important person. So we live in a culture that encourages us to be big about ourselves, and I think the starting point of trying to build inner goodness is to be a little bit smaller about yourself.

This is what I’ve seen in the shift in social media.  When I was on LiveJournal circa 2001, it was basically about sharing the ordinariness of our lives.  Fifteen years later on Facebook we see Big Me in action, where we show all the successful parts of our lives and leave the darker aspects of living behind. Brooks expounds on this in a New York Times column:

We live in the culture of the Big Me. The meritocracy wants you to promote yourself. Social media wants you to broadcast a highlight reel of your life. Your parents and teachers were always telling you how wonderful you were.

But all the people I’ve ever deeply admired are profoundly honest about their own weaknesses. They have identified their core sin, whether it is selfishness, the desperate need for approval, cowardice, hardheartedness or whatever. They have traced how that core sin leads to the behavior that makes them feel ashamed. They have achieved a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.

So where is God in all of this?

I think in the culture of Big Me, God become less the Savior or Father, than the God of Moral Therapeutic Deism, a God that wants us to be happy, but not one that challenges us to be better. We get churches where we are affirmed, but never to be better, more virtuous.  We get churches where we don’t talk about sin (or at least we don’t talk about our sin, the sin of that guy down the street, though…) but we talk about how to be successful.

Brooks believes we needs to recover and older moral frame-work one that uses religious words and concepts:

There are certain words that have been passed down through the generations that we’ve sort of left behind. And some of them have quasi-religious connotations, but I don’t think they need to. Those are words like grace — the idea that we’re loved more than we deserve — redemption and sin. We now use the word sin in the context of fattening desserts, but it used to be central in the vocabulary, whether you’re religious or not; an awareness that we all sin and we all have the same sins — selfishness, self-centeredness. And I think rediscovering that word is an important task because without that you’re just too egotistical. You don’t realize how broken we all are at some level.

Maybe as Christians we need to start engaging and changing the nature of social media instead of letting it change us.  We need to talk more about our own sin and brokeness; not in a tell-all kind of way, but in honesty.  We have to present ourselves as saved by God’s grace and not through merit.  We have to be willing to show the cracks in our armor, to show we aren’t all that and a bag of chips.  We have to be about proclaiming a culture of Big God instead of Big Me.

Social media today  has had the effect of alienating me from my friends.  I don’t care as much about knowing what you had for dinner or your last trip as much as what is your story.  I need to be more honest about who I am and to hell if it doesn’t look good on a resume.

Social media has its place in our society.  But let’s make it a place that is little less about celebrating ourselves and more about telling our stories because we need to hear them.

Diversity in Name Only

diversityA friend on Facebook linked to an article in First Things by Mark Regnerus.  Regnerus is an interesting fellow.  He is a sociologist at the University of Texas and  has been at the center of some controversy in recent years over a study he released on gay parenting that did not put same sex families in a positive light.  Knowing that, I was a little hesitant to share this article because so many will dismiss this article at first read because of who wrote it.

I disagree with Regnerus, but his article on diversity in mainline churches did hit at something I’ve been thinking about.  If you can read past the triumphalism of the post, he shares that for all the talk within mainline churches about diversity, there just isn’t that much to be found vis-a-vis Pentecostal or Catholic churches:

There’s a mainline congregation I walk past on my way to the local Starbucks. The church’s advertising signals a key priority: “We value our inclusivity—whether you are young, old, gay, straight, single, married, partnered, all walks of life and all backgrounds and cultures—we welcome you!”

In a world where our devices, apps, and sites foster narrow social circles based exactly on such categories, it’s refreshing to know that Christian congregations are mindful of their call to reach the spectrum of souls.

But it’s not happening, at least not within the mainline. Data from the 2014 Relationships in America survey reveal that mainline churches are anything but diverse. They’re whiter (84 vs. 64 percent), older (43 vs. 28 percent are ages 50-60), more apt to be married (49 vs. 43 percent), have a college degree (52 vs. 31 percent) and are “straighter” (91 vs. 88 percent heterosexual) than the national population. Have you met an Episcopalian plumber? If you ever do, remember it, because it won’t happen twice.

By contrast, 54 percent of American Catholics are white, and 39 percent Latino. Pentecostals are a shred under 60 percent white, with an additional 23 percent African American and 14 percent Latino. Even evangelicals are less white—at 76 percent overall. And Pentecostalism and Catholicism, by comparison with the mainline, are veritable youth movements (26 percent each vs. 16 percent between ages 18–32). Evangelicals even more so—at 30 percent. Only 28 percent of American Catholics have a college degree, slightly below the national average.

I think there is truth to be found here.  I’ve heard more than enough stories about mainline clergy who are persons of color and how they are treated.  I know some of the hidden racism I’ve faced over the years from people supposedly committed to social justice.  There are problems within other sectors of American Christianity, but mainline congregations have never seemed to me to be naturally diverse in a way that I’ve seen in Catholic or some evangelical communities.  We are good at talking about race and racial injustice, but I think we aren’t that good when it comes to living it.

To add to that, Regnerus’ joke about Episcopal plumbers shows another embarassing truth about most, but not all of the mainline: there are almost no working class folk in the pews. I’ve noticed over the years that a lot of the mainline congregations in my hometown of Flint, Michigan as well as here in Minnesota that are closed tended to be less middle to upper middle class and more working to middle class. When I think of some of the strongest mainline churches, they tend to be large urban congregations that again have few working class people. Regnerus’ quip about rich and poor Catholics taking communion together is very true.  My years attending Catholic schools and having many Catholic friends have shown me congregations where doctors and carpenters worship together.  My Catholic high school in Michigan had a mix of people from  various economic classes.  Maybe that’s because I came from a working class town where General Motors had a big influence, but I don’t think I’m far off.

In contrast most of the mainline churches I’ve been involved in tended to be folks that were professionals of some sort.  Nurses, teachers, middle management folk are what make up some of the Disciple, Presbyterian and UCC churches.

Three years ago I wrote about the fact that the white working class are few and far between in mainline churches. I wrote in 2012:

The thing is, I don’t think the people who make up most mainline churches, who tend to be from a more professional background don’t like these folks very much.  I know this, because I hear how pastors talk about working class whites in meetings with other pastors, and I can tell you they aren’t looking at them as some kind of salt of the earth figure.  I’ve also heard it from people in the pews of mainline churches as well: this kind of contempt for them.
We look down at them because we see them as racist, homophobic, sexist and any other -ist and -ism that you can think of them.  The thing is that working class whites can be all these things, but they are more than that as well.  As Packer notes in his essay, these are people who see very little hope and take it out on everyone for their lot in life.
When we talk about planting new churches to reach young adults, we mostly mean reaching people of the same socio-economic class that we are a part of.  As much as we want to talk about caring about the poor and the workers, I sometimes wonder how accepting we are of those that actually fit this description.  How willing would folks be to accepting a man or woman that you can tell has lived a hard life and whose moral life is kind of a mess?
My own opinion is that the mainline church has a class issue and we don’t know it or at least don’t want to acknowledge it.  A good number of the mainline churches I know exhibit the values of the middle and upper middle classes.  We don’t have any way to connect culturally with the working class.
I also tend to think mainline churches tend to not welcome those of differing political and theological views.  Every so often I notice how some of my pastoral colleagues will say something about conservatives and libertarians.  Now, both political persuasions don’t always adhere to the gospel and they should be called out on that.  But the chatter in I see on Facebook sometimes go further.  They seem to show Republicans as heartless monsters.  In many ways some in mainline churches have adopted the language of politics instead of the language of theology and God’s grace.  So when one hears a pastor rip on Republicans, someone who might lean that way may think that this congregation isn’t really for them.  When an evangelical hears their beliefs and practices being mocked, they might think this church is for them. As someone who leans right, I’ve wondered at times if I’ve really found a home in the mainline.*
I think that mainline/progressive Christians really need to think about who is really welcomed at the table of Jesus. We need to examine our own biases and preferences to discern how inclusive we really are. We need to think about what it really means to say “all are welcome.”
Unlike Regnerus, I am not writing off the mainline church.  I believe it can become once against a Broad Church, but for that to happen it needs to take a good, long look at itself.

Why I’m Tired of Facebook

10553611_722040971164698_4428042271161215709_nFor someone that has touted all the good about social media, I have come to this startling conclusion:

I’m tired of Facebook.

Actually, I’m not totally tired of Facebook.  It’s allowed me to connect with friends that I haven’t had contact with in years.  No, what I’m tired of is the moralizing that goes on.  An example of this are those sharing of Twitter accounts where the writer chastises those who are screaming at the children making their way to the US Border.  “Jesus is ashamed of you,” it reads.  There are other moralizing posts shaming those who oppose same sex marriage or Republicans or Israel or whatever else.  Since most of my friends are on the liberal side of spectrum, I tend to see posts on issues that are important to them, but I suspect conservatives are doing it too.

I will agree that yelling at 8-year-olds is terrible and should be called out.  But the thing is, the point of these moralizing posts isn’t to correct bad behavior as much as it is to boast how we are on the side of the angels as opposed to the other poor sap.  Odds are the people that need correcting will never see it since the person posting probably doesn’t have friends who might engage in such behavior.

I’m not against calling for right behavior.  But these posts are simply full of self-righteous blather that are just plain mean.  I don’t care how much I agree with the writer’s sentiment; I still find these Facebook posts as wrong.

One of the dark sides of social media is that it can force us into little ideological and theological cul de sacs where we feel emboldened to say all sorts of bad things about “the other.”  Social media has become less of a platform for discussion than it has a place where we can show of fealty to a ideology. It’s a place where we can feel good being part of the right group and view the other with contempt.

I know that Jesus spoke out against the religious leaders of his day that had twisted the law.  We want to be like Jesus; calling out those fake Christians and showing them how wrong they really are.  I think too often we use what Jesus does as an excuse to be as mean as we want to.

Showing an image condemning poor behavior is not brave- for the most part it’s arrogant and mean.