Last November, I was invited (and excited) to join Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne on their TV show in Nashville to discuss the topic of ‘The Role of the Church in the Broader Culture.’ The idea for the topic stemmed from my popular (and first) post on Campolo’s Red Letter Christians site titled ‘It is Time For the American Christian Church to Surrender the Gay Marriage Fight, Apologize, and Share Love.’
The producers asked me to record a brief introduction to the topic which you can watch by clicking through. As for the half hour conversation between Campolo, Claiborne, and yours truly, it will air in late January on TBN and its affiliates across the country.
Photo credit: 2009 Jon-Phillip Sheridan/flickr. Use does not represent endorsement by the photographer.
The extramarital affair of former CIA Director General David Petraeus is making headlines across the nation as you already knew. Some reports are examining what the development suggests about our government’s intelligence apparatus, but most of the coverage spends its time zeroing in on the salacious details. Perhaps it has always been true, that public intrigue follows personal stories of drama and decline. What I find unique about this moment in history is our nation’s unquenchable appetite for human weakness coupled with distribution geared to maximize consumption. This is an age of sensationalism on demand, where vice is a commodity and the line between news and entertainment disappears before our eyes. Not unlike pornography and the more mean-spirited forms of reality TV, we can sit down to watch national scandals unfold, and fail to realize the harm that our participation does to the players and the audience. By using stories like the Petraeus affair as an occasion to gawk or denigrate those involved, Christians risk elevating the significance of misdirected sexuality while downplaying other sins closer to home.
Photo credit: 2012 Don Relyea/flickr. Use does not represent endorsement by the photographer.
Eugene Cho published a worthwhile article this week titled ‘Thou Shalt Follow These 10 Commandments of the Presidential Election.’ In this piece, Cho raises several issues which are vital for Christians to consider during this and every election cycle. There was however one point Cho made in the post that ground me to a halt, which is the belief that our two most recent Presidential candidates are good men and worthy of respect. I want to examine his idea here.
In full disclosure, I know Cho personally and think very highly of him, his family and his ministry, in fact it is a little awkward referring to him as Cho in this post because I know him as Eugene and have shared laughs, good conversation, and tea with him a few different times, and was blessed to be a part of his church for a couple of years. So think point/counterpoint as you read this rather than a flame war, and know that Cho is a humble guy with a thick skin. I don’t think this will hurt or offend him if I can manage my points in a kind way.
The cross at Ground Zero. Photo credit: 2002 Ernie Bello/flickr. Use does not represent endorsement by the photographer.
I grew up in an Evangelical Christian home where conservative media was considered part of a healthy diet and fear was a key ingredient. I was raised to believe that the walls were coming down on this planet, and that Christians were target number one. The implication was that it was best to stay close to the people and beliefs I knew, to hold tight, and pray hard. Plug into conservative media today and you will see that little has changed when it comes to employing fear. Consumers are greeted with a barrage of alerts and other perceived attacks on Christianity. The internet piles on, with end-times newsletters forecasting yet another development on the path to Armageddon and scary emails warning of the latest threat to religious freedom. Not only are most of these reports fictitious, but corrosive to faith in Christ.
Photo credit: 2009 nathanm/flickr. Use does not represent photographer’s endorsement.
I subscribe to quite a few Facebook pages for local churches, to keep up on notices for upcoming events and possible areas of need. There is one unfortunate Facebook status update on these church news feeds which seems to be popping up more frequently and it instantly makes my heart sad: “we saved 100 souls today!!!”
It is not the soul-saving part that makes me sad. I know the impact that Jesus has had in my life and I want all to experience the peace and grace that comes with knowing him. What hurts my heart is when I start wondering what will happen afterwards. It feels like we are losing new Christians to the numbers game.
Photo credit: 2006 cbamber85/flickr. Use does not represent endorsement by the photographer.
No longer content to govern itself, the church has spread out to rule the culture through legislative force, attempting to use the tools of government to order the lives of consenting adults. Like an empire, the church finds itself on patrol beyond its rightful territory, which is shocking when one considers how much space the church has been given, by God first and this country second.
Photo credit: 2010 Kyknoord/flickr. Use does not represent endorsement by the photographer.
Loudmouth pastors and politicians land in the headlines for spewing bigoted drivel. This is nothing new. Having spent three decades so far in the church and a few years now in the Christian blogging community, I have observed a response to this which looks something like a pressure Christians feel to over-correct by being stoic, neutral, and balanced above all. It is a virtue that makes partial sense. Many Christians are dedicated to becoming slower to speak, more patient, and to moving with discernment, distinguishing one kingdom from another. God bless them for doing so. But this too can become a crutch.
In this conundrum, only those who strike first get away with it, while the charge of slander and that dreaded label of divisiveness is so often falsely assigned by some Christians to others who only point out the ignorance. Turning to attack checks and balances while tolerating the hate of a public few is a cultish maneuver, and an unfair disadvantage for the compassionate and concerned among us. Perhaps these are reasons why Christians at times choose to moderate the national debate rather than taking a stand. But public ignorance and bigotry matter, because they are the primary drivers of the broken status quo.
Photo credit: 2007 Marc Nozell/flickr. Use does not represent endorsement by the photographer.
In my experience, conservatives are the ones who insist there should be no separation of church and state. While on the campaign trail, Rick Santorum told America that the idea of such a separation makes him want to vomit. So I guess he’s against it. Conservatives respond to the culture war by asserting that we’re a Christian nation with the can’t-miss implication that our government (when not highjacked by liberals) is godly, founded by Christian men, with laws and freedoms based on Judeo-Christian principle. I know these positions well, having grown up in conservative circles.
But when it comes time for the government to act in ways congruent with Christianity, like feeding the hungry (food stamps) or caring for the sick (health care), conservatives grimace, play the small government and personal responsibility card, and argue that we can’t have government in the role of the church. So which is it?
A lethal injection chamber. Photo credit: 2009 T Woodard/flickr. Usage does not represent endorsement by the photographer.
“An eye for an eye.” It is one of the earliest forms of justice we know of. You hurt someone? You, in turn, get hurt back. A kill for a kill. It seems fair, right? But then Jesus makes his entrance into this world. We no longer have to pay for our sins with our own lives. Now the “He who is without sin, cast the first stone” line of thinking comes into play. Forgiveness enters our world and with that I find myself engulfed in the biggest intellectual struggle.
As Christians, are we to be for or against the death penalty? Here is where my battle begins.
Donald Miller (left) and Steve Taylor. Photo credit: 2012 Ian Ebright | The Broken Telegraph
I get a call from Donald Miller’s tour manager Jim Chaffee as I’m turning into the parking lot at the Southcenter Mall, a complex located about 10 minutes south of Seattle if you take the interstate, hence the name Southcenter. The theater won’t let us in ahead of the screening so we’ll have to do the interview somewhere else. Chaffee thinks Starbucks, maybe. “I’ll go get Don, he’s in the car,” Chaffee says as I close my outdated flip phone. Why is Miller, a New York Times Bestselling author on tour to begin with, and at a theater of all places?
His second book ‘Blue Like Jazz,’ a collection of essays on faith and doubt published in 2003, went on to sell over a million copies, propelling the author into the national spotlight. Miller’s ‘A Million Miles in a Thousand Years’ arrived in 2009 and documented the unlikely journey of adapting ‘Jazz’ into a film, with musician-turned-director Steve Taylor and Ben Pearson pursuing the author to write the screenplay as a threesome. As for ‘Blue Like Jazz,’ it’s one of those works so often mentioned by young evangelicals as the spark that re-ignited their faith after years of dismay and an upbringing in religious fundamentalism. Miller and Taylor have been on a tour bus for weeks, taking the film around the country to screen ‘Blue Like Jazz’ before it opens April 13, and tonight their stop is Seattle.