Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Building Bridges and Ms. California

For much of my ministry, maybe all of it, I've believed that it was possible to build bridges between a passion for the gospel and the love of Christ and a socially just ministry seeking to open doors and welcome everyone.

My conservative friends have always been suspicious of my faith-confession because I believe in the so-call "liberal" causes - I'm pro-gay, I'm pro-choice, I'd love to see guns disappear from our society, I support universal, single-payer healthcare, I deplore militarism and I think that the best capitalism is one in which big business and big government and big labor all work together to sustain a big middle class.

My liberal friends have always been suspicious of my social vision because of my personal commitment to Bible study and my spirituality, though the gap here has decidedly narrowed in the last ten years, as champions of social justice have seen the need for a lively spirituality in partnership with a just social vision.

If anything, the reluctance, these days, comes on the conservative side of things, as so many of them continue to fight the ghosts of the culture wars of the 80s and 90s.

In the recent Miss USA flap regarding top contender Carrie Prejean's comments against gay marriage, once again FOX news champions the old divide:

"Hollywood isn’t just liberal, it is fearfully liberal. It is easier in Hollywood to say you’re a drug addict or to pretty much anything than to admit to being a committed Christian," media expert and longtime Hollywood publicist, Michael Levine of Levine Communications, told FOXnews.com.

There are a lot of committed Christians in Hollywood, but many of them espouse a progressive Christianity, a Christianity of open doors and welcoming faith.

The sun is setting on the James Dobson kind of dogmatic Christianity and rising on an emerging Christianity comfortable in the world as Jesus was comfortable. A Christianity clearly committed to welcoming the stranger and caring for the oppressed, sensitive to global issues, working hand-in-hand with folks of other persuasions to build a safe world and preserve the environment.

Perhaps one could say, "It's easier in a conservative church to say your a drug addict or to pretty much anything than to admit to being a committed Christian" open to gays and lesbians, committed to environmental issues and comfortable with other religions.

The times, they are a-changing, and it's exciting to see a new kind of Christianity rising out of the ashes of the culture wars, and it would seem that the old liberal establishment is leading the day.

I'm sad for Ms. Prejean - her little remark likely cost her the title, but what saddens me the most is that her remark represents Dobson's version of Christianity, a Christianity creaking with old age, increasingly irrelevant and testy. For Ms. Prejean to default to "what she was taught as a child" and then to claim the high moral ground because she refuses to compromise her values is the kind of mindless faith championed by Dobson, the very faith that has created so many false battle fields and forced so many young people into corners they don't want to be in. But these young people have had little choice, growing up in a community of faith that allowed no thought and no opinion other than the accepted party line.

I feel for Ms. Prejean, and I wouldn't be surprised if in the next few years, she'll come out of her shell and discover a richer, and I believe, more authentic Christianity, with open doors and open minds.

May it be so.


  1. Amen Pastor Tom.

    While I am uneasy about some of the more liberal view points, I think it is time people started to branch out a little. The people on the left are wounded from the culture wars, so it may take some time for them to quit seeing Christianity as the "enemy." But, very truly I tell you we are not the enemy.

    I frankly wish Miss California had been more articulate in her answer. There are a ton of different ways she could have maintained her values and still expressed them in a way that was uniting to all.

  2. The old guard would do well to invite us into their churches and include us in the values of compassion, forgiveness and service, rather than continue to assume that the fact of our homosexuality makes us incapable of embracing such values.

    There is selective deafness on both sides as well as a mutual urge to taunt each other like school kids. Mr. Hilton unnecessarily challenged Miss California and then was a defiant brat when she didn't answer to his liking. His reaction was no more mature than her answer. We have a ways to go before we reach middle ground.

  3. Nice piece Tom. Deborah and I experience this too. She stays home with our children, I "work outside home" so the assumption has been, we must be right-wing evangelicals. Yet, my secular, liberal acquaintances raise eyebrows about our interest in theology, bible or references to church, a spiritual life. I think it's our societal tendencies to want to put everything in a box. Make things simple. Our 'either/ or' Americanism. Progressive theology? Sounds too complicated to some folks. What's happening now is people act locally off of a national, political and/or religious platform which at the local level disconnects. That's inverse from what we have known: all politics are local.

  4. I'm all for free speech and that's what Ms. Prejean was practicing. She gave an honest answer to a question that had nothing to do with the beauty contest.

    The judge who got angry with her was very typical of judgmental, aggressive progressives that do nothing for their causes.

  5. Stushie,

    There are no off limits beauty contest questions. The purpose of the Q&A is to show that you have brains as well as beauty. My mom was Ms. North Dakota.

    Her answer was sincere, but lacked eloquence. Mr. Hilton was even more bratty, and did his side no favors.

  6. Mac, you and I are sure in different places ... I've just read your profile.

    I'm a child of God, too, through Jesus Christ my lord ...

    So, that makes us brothers in Christ ... but we sure see the world differently.

    By the way, I'm a PCUSA pastor ... and you're New Wineskins ... but glad you're reading my blog ... and thanks for the comments - they're thoughtfully framed, though I would take issue with just about everything you've said, except the love of Christ.

    You mention your "four angels" - there must be some sad stories here.

    Blessings and Peace ... I guess when we all stand before Jesus, it'll be figured out for us.