Manage episode 198188325 series 2049784
We're kind of a little bit of a pivot for the afternoon, still working on these themes of faithful presence and culture, but I think for Brett and I both, we're going to talk a little bit more about the church. I want to talk a little bit more about some pastoral priorities as I see them right now. This wasn't what I intended to get into this week, but just over the last few days, some of these thoughts have kind of emerged and I felt an urgency about it. Regardless of what the talk was titled, this is a different talk. Really, one of the things I want to do, is think about the church's current cultural situation. The church in the era of Trump and Trumpism, church in the era of where someone like Steve Bannon is given the platform at a Values Voters Summit.
Quick reminders on why this is problematic. Hopefully most of y'all are on board already with this, but our evangelicals by and large supported a thrice divorced casino owner as Rod Dreher once referred to him, a guy who, weeks before the election, was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault, a guy who's business dealings are disreputable, a guy who, since he's been in office has lied openly and freely, and been caught in it over and over again and just dismissed it as fake news. He's actually currently under investigation for sexual harassment. He's been subpoenaed in a case in New York City. He was kind of hesitant to condemn Nazis and the Klan a few weeks ago. This is our guy.
The reason I think it's worth talking about, is because I came to this revelation just a couple of weeks ago. Myself, and some of my friends around the country and people I know via Twitter who had kind of followed the election together and talked about these things together, we all found ourselves just exasperated over the last year. Exasperated in part because we couldn't comprehend the support for Trump, but just as exasperated by the fact that, it seemed like every time we turned around, people were saying, "Evangelicals are for Trump. Evangelicals are for Trump." We're like, "We're not for Trump. What about us? We're evangelicals."
The revelation, over the last couple of weeks has been, oh, I live in a really tiny bubble. The vast majority, and I think this is probably true for a lot of us here, a lot of us that are part of this network, we live in a bubble of ideas. The vast majority of the people around us, including the people in our pews, and that was one of the things I learned last year, was that the vast majority of folks in my own congregation were by and large Trump supports. I want to sort of lay aside, there's sort of two groups that you could talk about when you talk about this. There's the people like, again, like folks that I know, family members of mine, who threw inauguration parties, right, who were super amped, "We won! We got the power!"
Then there's like another whole class of people and for today, I want to give these folks a pass. The other class of people are the ones who said, "I was going to vote. I held my nose. I pulled the lever. I made the best choice I could. I felt conflicted about it. I don't like the guy but I disliked him less than I disliked the other person." We can have a whole conversation about that but we'll lay that aside for today because I'm more interested in the fact that someone like Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist of Dallas, has been this raving supporter for Trump, and that his congregation gets behind this. I mean, this weekend, in a single week, Jeffress, condemned Catholicism as a pagan blood cult, and then welcomed Shawn Hannity onto his platform on Sunday morning, who's a Roman Catholic. Don't tell me that political ideology isn't driving a lot of what's going on in our evangelical situation.
I think you have to, you know, Trump complicates this even more because how ideological is Trump actually? He seems to pivot on things right and left. Christopher Lasch, in his book, A Culture of Narcissism, says you can tell a narcissist because the world is a mirror, and all they know how to do is try to reflect back at you what they think you want from them. That seems to describe Trump better than these ideological things. But then you have someone like Steve Bannon, a guy who gave a platform to the Alt-Right and celebrates it, who pushes this kind of blood and soil, and nationalistic ideology, and again, is given a platform at a Values Voters Summit.
Point being, we're in this really interesting place. I think we're here for a lot of reasons. One is, we're here because of identity politics. In a lot of ways, you can look at the rise of the Alt-Right as a direct reaction to the identity politics of the last decade and a half. Meaning all of this sort of angry push from the left around sexuality and gender, around race, around feminism, and all these things have caused an equal and opposite reaction, kind of doubling down on, you know, again, blood and soil, nationalism, and all of this. I rehearse all this to say, I think we have to make peace with the fact that our churches are here. Our congregations, many of them, maybe most of them, if you look at the statistics, the statistics would tell us that if your church is a majority white, evangelical congregation, which describes most of Sojourn Network's churches, then your church, by and large, our congregations, had no problem coming behind Donald Trump. That's one phenomenon.
We have this sort of ... Which I would summarize in saying, I think we got the Trump phenomenon because there was a magnet to the power that he represented. He was going to make America great again. He was going to make people say Merry Christmas again. He's going to be the greatest president evangelicals have ever had. That's a direct quote from Donald Trump. He was essentially promising, "I am your guy, and I'm going to give you power, and I'm going to get things done on your behalf. I think in the midst of feeling pushed out by secularism, pushed out by the left, made to feel marginalized, white evangelicals heard somebody going, "I see your pain and your problems, and I'm going to show up, and I'm going to fix them."
He did this on all kinds of other levels too, economics, and all of this. But the spiritual stuff is what I'm interested in today. You have these kinds of compromises. You have the pastors who came around him and supported him. Again, the thing with Jeffress just fascinates me, that he could one minute be talking about Catholicism as a blood cult, and the next minute putting a Roman Catholic on his platform on a Sunday morning and celebrating him as this hero for the faith, especially because it was Shawn Hannity.
Second big cultural phenomenon, second big bucket to kind of take in, is this idea of disenchantment. This is something I've talked a lot about here at Sojourn Network stuff in the past. I've written about it. To try to sort of summarize this, this is sort of a cultural phenomenon that's emerged over the last 500 years, that has led us, you know, it's essentially the modern era, the modern movement has done this. Over the last 500 years, you know, 500 years ago, if you were sick, someone would have thought, oh, you're cursed, or you're being attacked by demons. Now we know that there's germs, and there's medicines that can fix that. You get a bad storm, you think, oh, we've angered the gods. Now we know, well, there's all these weather systems. There's all these factors. We can tell you why the storm came and all of this. There's no need to super naturalize any of that.
You had these voices in your head and they're telling you to do evil things. Used to say that those were demons. Freud came along and he said, actually it's just your mother. You have this sort of systematic undoing of any sort of mystery in the universe, undermining religion, undermining spirituality, undermining any conception of the supernatural, going along step by step, over the last 500 years. Charles Taylor, the philosopher calls this, first said this is disenchantment, and says that this is what these steps, these brick by brick dismantling of a kind of supernatural understanding of the world, is what gives us this secular age that we live in right now.
A couple of interesting representative symptoms of it, I think, are something that happens a lot, is in the aftermath of a tragedy, you see people take to social media and just say, "Our thoughts and prayers are with," you know, the victims of the hurricanes, or the victims of the shootings, or whatever. Like clockwork, you'll see people respond, "We don't need your thoughts and prayers. We need you to get something done." Of course the underlying assumption is, well, your thoughts and prayers are meaningless. Your prayers can't do anything. That's the default understanding of the way the world works. Your thoughts and prayers are meaningless. Send money, or give us gun control, or shut up.
The second phenomenon that I think is significant, and again, can't get into in great detail today, but I think, is the way the church itself functions in the modern world often represents a sense of this disenchantment. What I mean is, we have a church culture that's so dependent on hype, and spectacle, and making people get pumped up and excited, and making them feel like something happened when they gathered with us on Sunday morning. We do that because our natural assumption is, if we simply lay before them the gospel, and the scriptures, and the chance to gather with the church, it might not be enough, so, we've got to drum something up. We've got to make something happen.
You know, Bart Simpson's great quote describing contemporary church, he said, "It's lights, smoke, and Tae Bo," right? It's this need for hype. It's this need for spectacle and I think it betrays an underlying distrust that perhaps if we don't make something happen, nothing will. There's these two phenomenon to look at that I think are actually connected. I think you can look at this phenomenon of disenchantment, of a world without God, of a world where Christians themselves have this underlying assumption, that if they don't do something, God is not going to show up. That's the deep background of our culture. Then you have this more recent background of our culture of secular pressure against Christians, identity politics, and all this, and it gives rise to the Trump phenomenon.
I think the disenchantment, it drives this attraction to Trump for three reasons. The first is, we have a doubt, we have a sense of the absence of the real kingdom of God. We have a doubt that the kingdom of God is actually amongst us, and working, and advancing. We don't trust that promise and so we're attracted to power that says it can do it for us. I think there's an absence of eschatological hope, of a hope that Christ is returning and is going to make all things new, and is going to ultimately satisfy the longings and desires of our hearts.
If that hope's not in front of us, then what is in front of us is this need to make things right, and this need to make the world a safe place for Christians, this need to resolve these cultural tensions. We've got to find a way to build our own kingdom and to finish this kingdom. Then, again, this absence of supernatural power, if God's not going to do it, we have to do it ourselves so we have to go to these great lengths. We have to make compromises, and join forces with people who we might otherwise find suspect, in order to get our work done.
In light of this kind of, these two big buckets, these two big phenomena, I just want to visit a little bit with Psalm 121 and talk about how I believe this Psalm speaks for our current cultural situation in particular, but really speaks to the church in general in a lot of ways. Psalm 121, it's a Psalm of ascents. This would be one of the road songs that the Jews would sing on their way to Jerusalem for the annual festivals. The journey to Jerusalem wasn't always a safe one. The roads were often full of bandits, full of thieves, full of hostile folks who would, you know, when you're on your way to Jerusalem, you're bringing wealth with you, so the threat from thieves was really significant. This Psalm actually speaks a lot to the kind of fears of the road that Israel would experience on the way.
It says, "I lift my eyes up to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made the heavens and earth. He will not let your feet be moved. He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever more."
The first thing to know, a lot of times this first stanza of the Psalm gets misunderstood. People think that he's looking at the mountains and remembering the Lord. But actually, when he's looking at the mountains, he's looking at the place where trouble actually comes from. He's looking at the fact that the mountains around him, that's where the thieves are going to come from. That's where they're going to get ambushed. That's where people would be laying in wait. The other things that's in the mountains and in the hills around the road, are these pagan shrines and there were a lot of them. It was actually like ... A lot of scholars actually think it was like a protection racket. Basically you'd be traveling along the road, and someone would come up to you, and they would say, "Hey, there's a shrine to such-and-such god up there. This god protects this part of the road. If you want to be safe on your way to Jerusalem, go make an offering to this pagan god, and he'll protect you on way."
You'd go up there and you'd give a burnt offering, or you'd give them some money, or you'd give them whatever, and then you'd go on your way, and you'd be safe. If you didn't go up there and make the offering, that same guy who said, "Hey, go make an offering," would meet you around the corner, and beat you up, and take your money. This temptation for pilgrims was to stop along the way, to stop at these different shrines, and to sort of pay homage to these different idols along the way because it promised them safe passage to Jerusalem.
The psalmist is looking up, and he's looking at the hills, and he says, "Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth." I don't think it's insignificant that the reference he makes immediately is the God who is our creator, the God who made heaven and earth. Creator over creation, it's an answer immediately to the ideology of these pagan gods, of whatever it is that they stood for. He's saying, "No, I worship the God who made heaven and earth," which obviously covers everything. It's going to cover whatever territory these pagan gods are promising to cover up.
He says, "He will not let your foot be moved. He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. It's a simple promise that God isn't asleep at the wheel. He sees you on the road. He sees your journey. He's there to protect you. It says, "The Lord is your keeper. The Lord is your shade on your right hand." He's capable of protecting you. "The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night." That's a really beautiful reference because the threat of the sun was the threat of physical weariness. The sun's going to dry you out. It's going to burn you out. It's going to burn your skin. You're going to be physically beaten up by the sun.
But then the threat of the moon was, at the time, sort of understood as this thing that too much time under the exposure of the moon, could make you crazy. That's why we talk about lunacy, lunar moon. There were all these legends around the moon in ancient mythology that there's something toxic about moon exposure, and so the Lord protects from this physical weariness. He also protects your mind. He's going to protect you from going crazy, from losing your mind, in the midst of this journey.
The final stanza, "The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever more." What he's really ending on here is, I think, is this eschatological hope, this ultimate hope that in God's hands, we're ultimately safe. Isaac Watts has a translation of this Psalm. He puts it like this, "He guards thy soul. He keeps thy breath where the thickest dangers come. Go and return, secure from death, till God commands thee home." It's this promise that God holds us, God keeps us. Whatever suffering may come, we're ultimately held secure in the hands of God.
I think this Psalm speaks a whole lot to what it means to be the church, what it means to be living in this world and not of this world. What it means to be living as a people who are in this kingdom that's already and not yet. The church is a people that are on a journey. We are established as God's people, and yet we've not yet experience this inaugurated kingdom, where all things are made new. The temptations surround us, right and left, that promise to make that journey safer or easier. To go back to some of the previous examples about sort of contemporary worship, there's something in hype, and spectacle. There's something in sort of celebritization of the church and all this, that kind of says, this is going to be an easier way to hold things together while you're on this journey. You can excite people. You can tie people into your personality. You can tie people in with these big, emotional, cathartic experiences that makes the road easier. That's going to keep people on the path easier.
I think there's a danger, and I don't want to overstate the danger, but I think there's a danger that, that can become idolatrous, that we can become so confident in our methods, and our abilities to stir people up and move them along, that we're not leaving any room for the Spirit to actually connect to people through God's word and His presence in His people. What people need along the road, and there's a reason this Psalm exists, there's a reason that this song is given to Israel to sing on their way to Jerusalem, is they need reminders that their hope isn't in the hills. The church needs to be reminded of the danger of idols and they need to be reminded that God's present, and God's capable. The Creator God is present, and He's powerful. He has mastery over all these powers. You don't have to trust in the hills. You don't have to trust in the idols. You can trust in the God who is present, and who's got sovereign care over your circumstances.
Then again, I think this final stanza, this ultimate hope that He'll keep you from all evil, that He'll keep your life, again as Watts put it, "Go and return secure from death till God commands you home," this ultimate hope of eschatology is so important to hold in front of us as a church in order to kind of outshine the gloss of idols, the gloss of whatever else it might be that we're drawn away to.
How does this apply to our current situation? I think there's a few things. I mean, I think first of all, this idea of a Psalm of ascents, of being a church on a journey, it invites us to identify ourselves as God's people over and above any other sense of identity. I think that's the answer for the church in an age of identity politics. Ultimately, our sense of identity has to be defined as, we are God's people. Something Russ Moore is fond of saying, he says, "If you're a believer in Christ, you have more in common and a deeper bond with a woman living in poverty, in a village in Kenya, than you do with your nextdoor, unbelieving neighbor, that, that bond in Christ surpasses any national, any socioeconomic, any racial bond, and it's the first and foremost thing."
I think this is something that's been lost on us, lost on evangelicalism a bit, in the time that we're in, because of this revived sense of nationalism. No, we're Americans. We've got to put America first. We've got to do x, y, z. I'm not saying that there's not room for like, real policy debate around these things but if we're talking nationalism, and we're talking about hitching our wagons to people who see that as a racial division, a blood and soil division, then we've compromised ourselves for the sake of power. We've compromised this vision that we are one body in Christ with people from all over the world. Being a Psalm of ascents, says you're a called out people, journeying on your way to a, to be realized kingdom. You're not in Jerusalem. You're on the road, on the way to Jerusalem, and that's how we need to understand ourselves as a church. We're positioned in a world where we have not yet experienced, and we will not yet experience, apart from Christ's return or our own death, the ultimate restoration of all things.
Another to thing to see from this is that the Psalmist is willing to look to the hills, and call out the presence of idols. I think it's a duty for us, as pastors, who want to shepherd congregations through this strange set of circumstances we're in, is that we have to be willing to name the idols. We have to be willing to name the competing ways, the competing senses of identity, that are making claim on the hearts and souls of the people in our church. Name the idols, and then brace yourself, because the consequences will come, and they will be swift, and they will be infuriating. This was something that many pastors and many writers, many friends of mine, again, we mentioned Russ Moore a moment ago. Russ Moore almost lost his job over the stance that he took in the elections, which was simply trying to say, "Hey, this is not a candidate that is representative of our actual values."
The consequences of this are tremendous and I think, you know, when you look at politics, our politics, across the board, our politics are just foaming with anger. Everybody's angry. Everybody's angry, and it's always somebody else's fault. But if you look at what, like, sort of the psychological world has to tell us about anger, anger's always a secondary emotion. Underneath anger, there's always something else going on. When you're angry, you're angry because you're actually either in pain, you're sad, or you're afraid. I think when we look around us at a culture that's so furious, I think we actually see a culture that's profoundly afraid, and that's what makes power so attractive.
We're afraid, and this would be Christian evangelicals in particular, we're afraid because all this pressure is coming at us from the left. Crazy stuff is going on. Let there be no doubt, the culture has lost its mind, right? Crazy stuff is happening with gender, with sexuality. It's in our public schools. It's all over the place so there's no doubt crazy things are going on, and it's making people very, very afraid. In fear, fear turns to anger, and you look to power where you can find it. You grasp for power where you can.
When we preach against cultural idols, and political idols in particular, we're activating people's deep fears. When you call out these idols, people are going to be asking themselves, "Well, what's going to happen to us if we don't have power? What's going to happen to us if we don't fight where we can fight, where we have people on our sides?" That's where you speak to the fear the way the psalmist speaks to the fear. You say, "The Lord is your keeper."
I love what David said earlier today about the arts being this sort of similar to the Psalms, orientation, disorientation, reorientation. I think Psalm 121 is a reorientation Psalm because it's looking at the world, and it's saying, "What do I do? I'm on this journey. I'm afraid. I'm surrounded by idols. What am I supposed to do," and it calls the Psalmist back to God, their creator. I think that's the way we speak to the fear. We have to speak to the fear in our churches by calling them back to God, by calling them back to the promise that you belong to these people, and He's promised to keep you, and to keep you safe. We do that by reshaping people's imaginations in a way that being kept by God feels safer than being protected by the tempting idols. I think that's a spiritual formation task. Again, to steal from David, that's not one sermon, that's not one service, that's not song, that's not one program, that's a long, slow transformation along the way.
I think that's the pastoral task that should feel urgent to us in or time. I think one of the reasons it should feel urgent to us is because yes, the world is going crazy, you had this victory in this election but do we really think that it's going to last? Do we really think that a Republican Congress and House of Representatives, and a Republican Presidency is here to stay, and that all this cultural momentum that we've seen over the last 15 years is going to be stopped by what's come in this election? I think if you think that, you're drinking Drano. The backlash is going to be swift and terrible as soon as the opportunity comes. The fomented rage against the right is going to be terrible and they're going to blame evangelical Christians because every poll, every survey, every demographic study that looked at what happened in the last election, said, "You put this guy in office. You bunch of bigoted, racist, you know, gay hating, etc., etc., etc., you put this guy in office. Now, once he's out, we're coming after you."
How do we prepare ourselves, and our churches, to be ready for circumstances like that? The temptation is going to be, there's going to be another Trump. There's going to be another Bannon. There's going to be more people who come along and promise power at the cost of some kind of compromise. I actually think that this sort of white nationalist thing that's growing, is going to get way bigger, and way, more attractive because it comes with a sense of power. It comes with a sense of identity and people are craving a sense of power, and craving a sense of identity. If the church can't root them in a sense that they're kept by God, and that their primary identity is as a child of God, which bonds them with people who are nothing like them, then the temptations of these alternatives, these alternative grabs at power are going to be profound. Again, we need to reshape imaginations in such a way that being kept by God feels safer than grabbing for power.
The last thing I'll say, and I'll wrap up so there's time for you to yell at me. The last things I would say is, I think we need to preach more and more about the kingdom of God, and the coming kingdom of God. We need to situate people in such a way that they understand themselves as belonging to a kingdom that isn't of this world, and that they live in hope of the ultimate inauguration of that kingdom, and restoration of all things in this world. The kingdom of God is the pearl that's worth selling everything you have to get in on. It's worth losing everything to be a part of this kingdom. I think that's one of the things that we've got to be prepared for, and we've got to prepare our congregations for. In these culture wars, I think we're about to lose. I think we're about to lose real bad, and that's okay. Like, we can lose that, and gain something better, if our hope is in Christ, and if we belong to a different King, and a different kingdom.
Then the kingdom coming, the greater hope of a world that will come, where suffering and sorrows end, that's the thing, again, we hold this out in hopes and in trust, that what comes in the restoration of all things, is worth whatever we have to endure on the road to get there. That's what I've got. I'm going to put a helmet on and you guys can let me know what you think. Any questions, thoughts?
Audience Male1: Why do you like [inaudible 00:31:14]?
Speaker 1: That was good. That was good.
Audience Male1: I've got to ask that question.
Speaker 1: I got asked that question so many times last year.
Audience Male1: Yeah.
Speaker 1: It's like, no, that's not how it works, you know? Yeah.
Audience Male2: I watched you interact with [Rachel Held Evans 00:31:45] the other day on Twitter.
Speaker 1: Always a mistake.
Audience Male2: Yeah.
Speaker 1: Cut that off the recording. Go ahead.
Audience Male2: It kind of put a picture in front of me of something I already knew to be true, that we're, as evangelicals, losing our ability to speak into cultural issues.
Speaker 1: Yeah.
Audience Male2: Simply because Trump is our figurehead right now.
Speaker 1: Yep.
Audience Male2: What I want to do, it's probably not healthy, create another title and let's just all run underneath that tent, and leave the evangelical tent to burn down, and just watch it from afar. But what counsel do you have for us, as we're trying to interact with fellow evangelicals that see so differently? That's one part of it but do you think we're going to be able to, more importantly, speak into a world culture that's so in need with this massive elephant hanging over our heads the whole time?
Speaker 1: Let me get to the first question first. Just for context, Owen Strachan posted an article a few days ago, basically saying, "Hey, you know, a couple weeks ago we were lauding Hugh Hefner for what he gave us as a culture. Now we're lamenting Harvey Weinstein, and every chance we get, we make fun of Mike Pence for his own sexual boundaries, his own sexual boundaries and ethics." It was an interesting piece to me. I think in fairness to the whole argument, he could have mentioned the fact that one of the guys who makes fun of Mike Pence for his sexual ethics, is Donald Trump. He didn't make mention of that. That's fine, it's his article. But he posted the article and Rachel Held Evans just lit him up, and was like, you know, how dare you make any commentary about sexual ethics when you guys, you guys, evangelicals, elected Trump.
I spoke up because, not that I want to be Owen Strachan's defender on Twitter but because Owen vocally, you know, was an outspoken critic of Trump throughout the election Process, so I just spoke up and said, "Hey, this is a guy whose hands are clean on this particular issue. Are we not allowed to make any other sort of cultural commentary so long as Trump is in office?" Essentially what she and her several thousand followers followed up and told me was, "Yes, you're not allowed to say anything anymore," so lesson learned.
I think it's huge. I think it really deeply hurts us. There was a great article Rod Dreher wrote a few days after the Nashville statement came out. He actually met with some friends of mine that are in college ministry in Nashville. He signed the Nashville statement, didn't quite understand what some of the uproar against the Nashville statement was. He met with these campus ministry guys, and they basically said, "Yeah, we can't sign the Nashville Statement because of the other people who signed the Nashville Statement. It's the height of hypocrisy to have," you know, and they named off half a dozen pastors, "To have these guys signing off and saying, here is what our sexual ethic should look like, and you're two clicks away on the internet of pictures of them standing with Donald Trump, shaking his hand in front a Playboy Magazine on the wall."
The article goes on and describes like, how some of these kids, going to these private Christian schools, their parents cut them off when they brought up the fact that they weren't Trump supporters. That's how, like, ideologically intense evangelical association is for the Trump supporter, you know? I was talking to somebody about this the other day and he was like, "Yeah, my father has hung up on me one time in my entire life and it was the night I told him that I couldn't vote for Donald Trump." My dad joined Twitter just to troll me about Trump through the elections. He looked like one of the Russian bots, because he was an egg, and any time I Tweeted an article about Trump, he'd have some snarky comment to throw on there.
Yeah, I mean, I think it really hinders our witness. I mean, it already has. It hinders our ability to speak to the culture because if you're not a white evangelical looking in, then you're saying, "How can you guys talk about sexual ethics when you gave us this president, you know?" Even if you sit there and say, "Well, I didn't do it," you know, it doesn't matter because you're associated with this movement that has done this. What was the second question? Or did I get to it?
Audience Male2: Kind of two part. Is there any benefit to trying to start some other label just to get out of this, and then how do we ... I guess it's two fold, should we stick with it, fight like heck to redefine-
Speaker 1: What it means to be evangelical?
Audience Male2: ... stay in, or should we just start telling people we're not really evangelicals, we're post evangelical [inaudible 00:37:17]?
Speaker 1: Right.
Audience Male2: Or whatever title we can come up with.
Speaker 1: Yeah, I mean, there was a fight over the word, evangelical, just a few years ago, about whether you could be affirming and evangelical. We should ask the TGC staff guys if we won or lost that fight. I feel like most of the affirming people left at that point, right? I'm looking at you guys. No. You have any ideas? Any thoughts? No, maybe not. I mean it's such a broad word. It's been disputed. Ten years ago, there was anger because evangelicals became like a demographic block that just referred to white Christians, and so there was this pushback that said, no, that's not what it means to be an evangelical. Evangelicals are not fundamentalists, and they're not theological liberals. That's not, like a lot of Roman Catholics were dumped in with evangelicals in the way that, that was getting counted. It's like, no, you've got that definition of it wrong.
Then a couple of years ago, there was a fight over the word, because a lot of gay affirming evangelicals wanted to hang onto the term evangelical. Now, this divide with Trump, do we lose the word? I don't know. Like, I don't know how helpful the label really is right now anyway, not that I want to throw it out, or certainly not that I want to separate myself from its origins. What evangelicalism started off as, was a great and beautiful thing, and that movement, that set of sort of core ideas, still exists. But the extent to which that is actually representative of the people who are thrown under that label, I think is just not true. I don't know. I don't think starting a new movement spares us from any of the trauma to come, personally.
Audience Male3: Here's my question. It's a kind of piggy backing long one. In today's society where it is [more binary 00:39:20], you know, if you don't agree with homosexual inclusivity, then you're homophobic, you hate all gays.
Speaker 1: Right.
Audience Male3: [inaudible 00:39:26]It's either got to be black or white.
Speaker 1: Yep.
Audience Male3: You know, like, you don't like Trump, you like Hillary, or whatever.
Speaker 1: Right.
Audience Male3: Vice versa. Here's my thing. It's kind of what you were impacting earlier too, is the fact that society is just moving in the repercussions that we potentially are going to be facing four years down the road or whatever it is.
Speaker 1: Yeah.
Audience Male3: You guys know you're going to reap it. The way that society at large is becoming, you know, with all the different ... it's out of control, like you said. That's all-
Speaker 1: Sure.
Audience Male3: My question is, how do we, you know, even if defining terms, evangelicals, or redefine terms, it is one of those things to where, are you just literally shouting into the wind to where a tornado is really coming, and you're not going to stop it. It's going to come, and so, do you continue to shout into the wind or do you try to just prep for what is coming, you know? Or do you try to do both, and what does that even look like without really compromising? No one should be compromising the gospel-
Speaker 1: Sure.
Audience Male3: But how do we ... Does that make sense, what I'm asking you?
Speaker 1: Yeah. No, I mean, I think it's the tension. I think that's kind of the key tension. Do we take like the Benedict option approach, Rod Dreher's book where he's, and this is a caricature of it, but Dreher's basically saying, look, the storm is coming. We all see it. Winter is coming and so what we need to do is sort of buckle down, shore up our own institutions, make sure that there are formative communities in place, so that as these different kinds of pressure arrive, we're prepared to be able to raise our children, maintain our faith communities, and sort of ride out the storm. Then there are others who are more optimistic that the pendulum can only swing so far, and they're saying, no, no, no, stick with faithful presence. Keep doing your work. Yeah, it's going to be hard but we're going to be able to sort of weather through it.
I'm more pessimistic than I probably was a year ago. I'm pretty sympathetic to a lot of the stuff that Dreher says. But I also think this, and I think this is really important, like, I think Dreher's right, that we need to shoring up our own institutions. Our churches need to be places where people are spiritually transformed into the image of Jesus. Whatever it takes to do that well, we should be doing that. I think concerns about education are a big, big deal. Like, I wouldn't have dreamed of saying this ten years ago, but I think private, Christian education is going to become more and more important. If you look at the ways that, like Orthodox Jewish communities have maintained their sense of identity in very hostile cultural situations for generations, they did it by having their Hebrew schools. I think there's something to that for us. It's not now. It's not every school system. It may not ever be every school system but I think that's something that we're going to have to take very seriously, is how are we educating our kids.
At the same time, on the other side of it, when it comes to the place of the Christian in the world, this might sound strange, but I'm kind of, of the opinion that you stay in it, and just be prepared to lose, you know? Like, for instance, we, you know, at Sojourn, we rant this thing called The 930 Arts Center. It was an art gallery/music venue. Ran it for about three years. We had partnerships with local radio stations, and art dealers, and it was this beautiful, kind of thriving thing. We were like doing faithful presence in the Louisville art scene. Then a local newspaper, lefty liberal newspaper did a piece on us that basically came at us to say, yeah, these people, they hate gay people, they're into the patriarchy, they hate women, you know, across the board. What it did was it activated just enough angry activists that when we would book shows, or we would book artists, they'd start spamming the websites and saying, "Hey, you can't play there. They're bigots. They hate gay people," etc., and it shut down the gallery. We just couldn't continue to book events.
I look at that particular story and I think, yeah, that really sucked, but it was really good while it lasted. I think it's worth risking those kinds of ventures in the midst of a hostile culture, knowing that you might lose, even knowing that you will probably lose in some situations. It's worth trying to have a voice in there, and trying to be a presence in the midst of the culture, trying to make our cities a better place. That's the example in the arts. I think you could find a ton of great examples for that, for how Christians could be a vital presence in their cities by investing in things like education, public health, nursing ministries. How can Christians build bridges into places where there's a real risk, and real vulnerability, that kind of makes people shrug their shoulders, that, "Well, I don't care what they believe. I think their beliefs are crazy but our public schools, we couldn't feed our kids if they weren't invested the way that they're invested." Or there wouldn't be enough shelter for homeless people if they weren't invested in the ways that they're invested.
I think there's options like that for what it means to be culturally engaged, that'll become more and more important. I mean, one of the things that I saw, I don't know what the exact statistic was, but the vast majority of the hot meals that the Red Cross served in the aftermath of one of the recent hurricanes, the vast majority of those hot meals were provided by Baptist Relief. It's the Southern Baptist, like the greatest punching bag culturally that we've got right now, Southern Baptist were showing up and feeding anybody who needed food. I think they could have done a better PR job of letting people know it was Southern Baptists, but again, like, those are the opportunities where, if we can step into places of risk and vulnerability, and make ourselves vital, it's a way stronger apologetic than shouting about pluralism, not that we don't need people shouting about pluralism. Yeah?
Audience Male4: One [inaudible 00:46:04] How do you see ... How would you recommend church pastors and staff participate in social media conversations?
Speaker 1: Yeah.
Audience Male4: How do we, just knowing how anger filled these movements are, and sometimes I think the temptation to tie ourselves to a secular movement-
Speaker 1: Yeah.
Audience Male4: You know, that has some ideologies that we believe but also has ideologies we don't, and how do we-
Speaker 1: Yeah.
Audience Male4: ... participate in that conversation in a healthy manner?
Speaker 1: That's a great question. I should probably start by saying, don't go look at my Twitter account as a model, because I don't know what's there, and I'm sure it's not good. I think pastorally, when it comes to these issues, we've got to focus on being constructive. I think you're going to win people to this, not by rebuking them for their nationalistic ideology but by captivating them with a vision of what it means to be a child of God. I think we've got to do constructive, theological work in the pulpit, and throughout the systems and ministries of our churches, doing constructive work that gives them a compelling enough vision, that when confronted with the ideology, they're able to begin to make those conclusions on their own.
That's not to say that you don't confront it but I would say, confront it vocally one time for every ten times that you're doing constructive work and saying, this is what it means to be a child of God. This is what it means to be one church, one new man in Jesus, as Ephesians says. I think focusing on the constructive side of it, is a better long-term strategy. In terms of like how you engage online and on social media, yeah, I don't know that I have great guidelines for that because I'm kind of impulsive on Twitter and it gets me in trouble. I do think those who serve in teaching roles, and particular in the pulpit roles, have a different kind of burden, in terms of how you're read. It's very easy to be misunderstood. It's very easy to be misapplied.
It's less dangerous, for instance, it's less dangerous for me to be put in a position where somebody says, like Ivan said, "Well, why do you love Hillary so much," because I've got platforms online where I can go, "No, that's not where I am. This is where I am," all of that. You don't want to use the pulpit for that, right, and so creating Twitter controversies or Facebook controversies, where people are going to come in, then disappear, and miss your explanation and your followup, I think is really risky. I think people who are primary teaching pastors have to be really careful about that. I'd be interested ... I'm going to make Lyle answer that question. What do you think? What have you experienced?
Lyle: I'm not on it.
Speaker 1: Yeah.
Lyle: Twitter, I'm not on social media a whole lot. I'm on in the sense of like, looking and seeing what's kind of going on, but I'm just ... and part of it is that.
Speaker 1: Yeah.
Lyle: Helpful, you get a fuller context. They don't see you holistically. It takes down by its, you know, I live in a suburban, overchurched area-
Speaker 1: Yeah.
Lyle: ... so it's probably way, different than some of you guys, who are coming from a more urban context but I just don't feel like it ... I just don't find it real helpful. That's just kind of where I'm at.
Speaker 1: That's kind of you too, Jameson, right? Kevin Jameson's back there. I'll make him answer. Yeah, so it's something you have to be really careful about. Being misunderstood is not the greatest, like, greatest wound in the world but when it comes to these issues that are so toxic, it's good to avoid being misunderstood as much as possible, I think.
Audience Male5: It's also been, in my experience, that our church doesn't get on social medial. Maybe some people do, some young people.
Speaker 1: Yeah.
Audience Male5: But by and large, most of our congregants are not there, living like yours.
Speaker 1: Yeah.
Audience Male5: [inaudible 00:50:34] are on social media.
Speaker 1: Right. Right. Right.
Audience Male5: What happens too, if I have a new person who's going to come to my church, and they, you know, feel some of our staff, [inaudible 00:50:48] and have the idea of who we are, and when, and what our responsibility is.
Speaker 1: Sure.
Audience Male5: [inaudible 00:50:56]
Speaker 1: Yeah. No, I think it's really complicated. I think it's really complicated. Well, hey, I'm going to wrap up. We're going to take a five minute break and then it'll be Bret McCracken. Thank you guys.
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