I wrote this as part of another project, but I wanted to post it here in prep for something that I will soon be up to .
I exist in a mixed environment – spiritually speaking. It is progressive (not a capital P) and also includes many people who have ‘emerged’ (not capital E) from a predominately evangelical-protestant-with charismatic leanings type heritage. I also have many friends and conversation partners who would still identify as conservative, reformed, or some other type of evangelical.
In my circles I have always assumed and heard that when public characters like Jerry Falwell sounded off on Hurricane Katrina being a punishment from God for the people of New Orleans – that most people rolled their eyes and knew that his was such a marginal expression that he should not be taken seriously.
or when Franklin Graham said that Islam (as if it were one thing) is a terrible religion filled with hate – that people knew he was not a spokesman for Christians (as if we are just one thing).
or when Mark Driscoll says that he could never worship a Jesus that he could beat up – that it carried about as much weight as a WWF wrestler mouthing off in order to get pumped up before a match, pulsing with vibrato and testosterone.
But apparently that is not the case.
Moving can be a powerful experience to encounter new perspectives. I recently moved A) regions of the country B) from a Masters program to a PhD program and C) from a school with Evangelical in it’s name to a school that is widely known for being wildly liberal.
The weird part is that I have never heard more about hell. Honestly, it comes up several times a week in a variety of conversations and settings. There seems to be a collective obsession with who is going to hell and who gets to say who goes to hell. I have heard more about hell in the last 6 months than the last 6 years combined. It’s almost as if there is a collective trauma that has resulted from so many people telling so many other types of people that they are going to hell. The people that I hang out with take great offense at being told that they are going to hell by our more conservative brethren.
SO here is the moment when I got some clarity:
In our readings for a class, the names Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham, and Pat Roberson came up as the 3 examples of American Protestants . This stuck out to me because two weeks before this class I was at a huge event at the LA Country Library for a global conversation between two nationally known authors – and these same three names came up.
It caused me to stop and think, “Wait – I thought that everyone knew that there were always those marginal voices in any group – that there are clowns at every circus…” but they are not spokesman for the cause. They don’t speak for me and my circles. Less that 5% of the people that I know by name would hold those same views!
So when our class presenter referenced this part of the reading (a mention that was noticeable because it was not the central focus of the reading), I perked up. The presenter said that they are a public face of Christianity – that when people who are not Christians think of Christianity , this is who they think of.
If this were true, I would have to change my approach.
I assumed that when people say Pat Robertson – Jerry Falwell – Franklin Graham they thought “affluent white male christian TV personalities”. I didn’t think that they thought “all Christians”.
When a group like the Gospel Coalition forms with people from that exact same demographic (only this time with a Calvinist bent) – I thought that people just saw a bunch of dogmatic guys from Reformed backgrounds… I am starting to reconsider that.
Lest you think that I am I being too optimistic or that I am being too naive… I have an agenda – I am trying to figure out if the Big Tent vision of Christianity is big enough to include those who think that there is a very small tent – a tent they assume that they in AND that they are in charge of .
I have been giving everyone the benefit of the doubt that they knew that there is not just one type of Jewish (Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed, etc.) – that there is not just one type of Christian – that there is not just one type of Muslim – that there is not just one type of Atheist… that the world is very nuanced! Does everything just get boiled down to a soundbite?
At that point, I was thinking that maybe I need to become more aggressive and more confrontational. Now I think that we already have too much of that and I have decided to just stick with this M.O. and be who I feel called to be. I can not be responsible for the big picture or determine the outcome. All I can do is play the role I am suppose to play and bring my best to the table.
Clowns are a part of the Circus. They play an important part in the show. I don’t want to get rid of the clowns.. I just don’t want people to think that the clowns ARE the Circus! The big tent is just so much bigger than any one act.