Is the United States Becoming More Hostile to Christians?

One of the constant points I hear a lot from Christians is that the United States is becoming more anti/post/etc Christian. This is usually backed up by anecdotal stories of people becoming more aggressive and combative with Christians/Christ-followers/etc. Of course, you can go back for decades and find Christians saying the same thing for as long as any of us have been alive. I like to listen to historic Christian music a lot, and “the U.S. is more and more against us” is a common lyrical theme all the way back to the beginnings of Christian Rock in 1960s.

Of course, if “anti-Christian” sentiment has been increasing all this time… how is it even legal to be a Christian still? I myself have heard since the 80s that “Christianity will be outlawed within a few years.” Yet, you don’t see attacks on Christians increasing (quite the opposite), nor do you see the influence of Christianity decreasing in politics, tech, or entertainment.

Of course, it is hard to quantify an entire nation “becoming more hostile to” something. Its even harder to prove that is happening online with so many private Facebook groups, Twitter accounts, discussion forums, the Dark Web, alternate social media services, etc, etc. What you see happening in your own world is really just your anecdotal view. In my anecdotal view, all kinds of people that weren’t Christian 10 years ago are suddenly “praying for the Church to win the culture war.” Anti-LQBTQA / BLM / Liberal / Female / etc sentiments have been increasing year after year. But again, that is just my view. I live in a conservative suburb in a Red state.

One way we can quantify hate is by the officially tracked FBI hate crimes statistics. I will highlight some statistics from the past five years that are reported to see if there are trends:

  • In 2015, religious-based attacks were 19.8-21.4% of reported attacks. 56.9-58.9% were race/ethnicity/ancestry based. 19.5-20.1% were sexual-orientation/gender-identity based.
  • In 2016, religious-based attacks were 21.0-21.3% of reported attacks. 57.5-58.5% were race/ethnicity/ancestry based. 18.7-19.7% were sexual-orientation/gender-identity based.
  • In 2017, religious-based attacks were 20.7-22.0% of reported attacks. 58.1-59.5% were race/ethnicity/ancestry based. 17.6% were sexual-orientation/gender-identity based.
  • In 2018, religious-based attacks were 18.6-20.2% of reported attacks. 57.5-59.5% were race/ethnicity/ancestry based. 19.1-19.4% were sexual-orientation/gender-identity based.
  • In 2019, religious-based attacks were 19.6-21.4% of reported attacks. 58.1-59.5% were race/ethnicity/ancestry based. 19.5-19.6% were sexual-orientation/gender-identity based. (this is the last year reported)

It seems that most forms of hate crimes are staying at about the same level, with religious attacks on about the same level as sexual-orientation/gender-identity attacks – but all falling far behind race/ethnicity/ancestry based attacks.

However, I should point out that the category of “religious attacks” account for ALL religions, and the exact divisions within that percentage tells a different story for Protestant/Evangelical Christians:

  • In 2015, 51.% of all religious attacks were anti-Jewish, 22.2% were anti-Islamic (Muslim), and 3.5% were anti-Protestant.
  • In 2016, 54.2% of all religious attacks were anti-Jewish, 24.8% were anti-Islamic (Muslim), and 1.3% were anti-Protestant.
  • In 2017, 58.1% of all religious attacks were anti-Jewish, 18.7% were anti-Islamic (Muslim), and 2.4% were anti-Protestant.
  • In 2018, 57.8% of all religious attacks were anti-Jewish, 14.5% were anti-Islamic (Muslim), and 2.5% were anti-Protestant.
  • In 2019, 60.3% of all religious attacks were anti-Jewish, 13.3% were anti-Islamic (Muslim), and 1.5% were anti-Protestant.

Attacks against Protestants seem to be on a downward trend since 2015. But to put this into perspective – in 2019, there were 24 attacks in entire country that were found to be against Protestants (i.e. attacks perpetrated because the person attacked was Protestant), but 1,393 attacks against someone for being LQBTQA. There were 1,930 anti-Black attacks.

Who is suffering more hate in this country?

To be honest, I don’t see the country becoming more against Jesus or people that follow him. But… yes, I have noticed some changes in the national conversations over the past few decades. So I recognized that there are changes happening… many of which DO affect certain versions of Christianity.

In general, the national conversation is becoming less anti-LGBTQA. Yes, there is still a lot of work to do, but if you want to treat someone that is LGBTQA as less than human (by denying them cakes, weddings, bathroom access, etc), you are experiencing more push back against that. However, nothing in the Bible tells you to fight against LGBTQA rights. You added that to your version of Christianity, and you are being persecuted for THAT and not following Jesus.

In general, the national conversation is becoming more pro-choice. This is different that pro-abortion, and those that want to treat it that way are experiencing push back. In fact, those that want to tell a woman what choice she has to make with pregnancy are receiving more push back as well. However, nothing in the Bible tells you to fight against the Pro-Choice cause. You added that to your version of Christianity, and you are being persecuted for THAT and not following Jesus.

In general, the national conversation is becoming more anti-racist. Again, there is still a lot of work to do here as well. But if you want to respond with “All Lives Matter” to someone that points out ongoing systemic racism, you are experiencing push back against that. If you want to have racist responses to immigrants or immigration, you are experience more push back against that as well. However, nothing in the Bible tells you to see BLM as a terrorist organization, or immigrants as less than human, or to participate in racism against any group. You added that to your version of Christianity, and you are being persecuted for THAT and not following Jesus.

In general, the national conversation is becoming more anti-corporation and anti-capitalism. There has always been a strong anti-big business trend in the U.S., but it is gaining momentum as the corporations take more and give back less… or more people realize that nothing trickles down. If you are supporting corporations that overwork and underpay it’s employees, you are experiencing more push back against that. However, nothing in the Bible tells you to see Big Business as the answer for everything in our economy. You added that to your version of Christianity, and you are being persecuted for THAT and not following Jesus.

In general, the national conversation is becoming more anti-rich. This is connected to the anti-corporation and anti-capitalism statements, but if you continue to support the people making huge profits by not treating their employees well, then you are facing more push back against that. Nothing in the Bible ever supports the rich person over the poor person. You added that to your version of Christianity, and you are being persecuted for THAT and not following Jesus.

In general, the national conversation is becoming more anti-conservative. As more People of Color, LGBTQA advocates, disabled people, and other historically marginalized groups are gaining more of the conversation space, they are speaking out more about the oppression they have faced. And they actually speak out against all political parties, but Conservatives seem to have the most party positions that are against them, so yes if you are of that political party, you are experiencing more push back against discriminatory political stances of your party. Nothing in the Bible favors one party over the other. You added that to your version of Christianity, and you are being persecuted for THAT and not following Jesus.

There is a lot more that I could go into there, like how Conservatives claim they are being censored more and more on social media, despite studies that show they are not (and in fact, they are usually more prominent at those companies than people realize). But let’s be honest: through the decades, every complaint that the U.S. was becoming more hostile to Christianity was actually a compliant that conservatism was losing ground. And yes, I am aware that Church attendance is declining… but it just now dipped below the majority of Americans this last year. The U.S. is still somewhere between 60-ish to 70-ish% Christian depending on how you define Christian. It is clear that it is the not the Church that is suffering more hostility, but the Conservative re-imaging of Christianity that is facing the most push back.

Abortion, Murder, and the Creation of a Political Movement

Is there a term out there that means “re-ignited something that was already raging”? Due to the recent passage of HB8 in Texas, the Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice debate has taken off… again. To be honest, neither side is making any new points – the bill just became yet another reason to fight… or fight… more? I’m just not sure how to describe something that was already an intense battle feeling like it has exploded again. But that is where we are now.

At the core of the fight is the statement or belief that “abortion is murder.” Those on the Pro-Life side believe this as an Unchallenge-able Truth that has stood for all eternity as part of their Evangelical/Protestant faith.

Except that, to be historically accurate… the Protestant arm of the “Pro-Life movement” is technically a recent creation of several politically-motivated leaders within the past few decades.

In a 2014 Politico article “The Real Origins of the Religious Right,” Randall Balmer looks at the true roots of the modern Pro-Life movement. Balmer examines historical documents that show how everyone from the Southern Baptist Convention (the largest Church denomination in America) to W. A. Criswell, (“one of the most famous fundamentalists of the 20th century” Balmer claims) took an indifferent approach to abortion. They made statements that sound pretty much Pro-Choice in relation to what they saw as a “Catholic issue” at the time:

“I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.” – W. A. Criswell

Except for a little bit of “mild criticism” from Christianity Today, most Evangelicals were silent or even approving of Roe v. Wade. According to Balmer (and many historical documents he quotes), the real creation of the Religious Right (and the modern day Pro-Life and Evangelical movements along with it) was really in 1979 – as an effort to deny Jimmy Carter a second term so they could protect segregated schools. Abortion is just an easier sell to Churches than racism.

However, I know that people will read Balmer’s Politico article and still stick with the belief that Abortion is murder. And I get that – no matter how politicians have tried to use Religion to cover racism and other evils, if the Religious Book you follow says something is murder, you should still believe it is.

However, another problematic reality is that abortion is a bit more complicated in the Bible.

The Bible contains no direct statement that a fetus is considered a murder-able human in the womb. I know that there are two scriptures that come to mind immediately when I say this, but let’s look at what they really say without any preconceived notions about them:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5

This, of course, is one of the most famous scriptures often connected to abortion… and one of the most misunderstood. You see, it is really a quote of God speaking to Jeremiah about how God set Jeremiah apart as a prophet. There is little proof that this applies to anyone outside of Jeremiah, especially since the Old Testament views of “prophet” were different that New Testament ones.

But, let’s say that you overcome the contextual evidence that this is only for Jeremiah. That would create a belief that the general idea here is that an omnipotent and omnipresent God knew someone before they were formed. This is because this view of God sees God as both inside and outside of time – meaning that God knew all of us before there were any people. “Before I knew you in the womb” just personalizes this fact. So technically, any form of contraception is bad if you view this verse that way.

Therefore, the bigger picture would be (assuming you take this belief) that you can’t just focus on the time in the womb, but also the time before… and after. If abortion is murder in the womb no matter what the reason, then killing someone after they are born for any reason stands as well. This means capital punishment, self-defense, and any other reasons Pro-Life Evangelicals have for justifying certain killings after birth (including denying access to healthcare and safe living conditions) are all on the same level as abortion.

If Jeremiah 1:5 applies to all humans as a declaration that abortion is murder in the womb, then the fact that it refers to “before” the womb would create a standard of outside the womb which also applies to after the womb due to the nature of God. Therefore, you can’t apply Jeremiah 1:5 to be about abortion unless you also are anti-gun, anti-self defense, and anti police action (and military as well).

Of course, the response usually is: “but I would only kill someone in self-defense if my life or property” was in danger. But again, if Jeremiah 1:5 applies to all humans, then it still applies to that person breaking into your home. If a woman can’t have an abortion to save her life or because she doesn’t have the ability to support a child (which would be connected to… you guessed it.. her property), then you can’t kill another human to save your life or property. Unless you want to argue that God’s ability to “know you” ends at birth?

Moving on – this verse in Jeremiah is related to Psalm 139:13, which also runs into similar problems:

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Psalm 139:13

This verse is David writing about himself… so again if we want to take this to apply to all humans and not just David, we have to apply it after birth as well as in and before the womb.

However, if you also honestly look at both verses – neither one directly says that you are alive in the womb and that it counts as murder to terminate the pregnancy there. They just say God creates you in the womb. Any artist or builder will tell you that the thing they are creating does not really become that thing – a song, a painting, a building, a car, you name it – until it is finished. An unfinished thing is called “unfinished” because it is still not that thing.

There fore, lacking any direct statement in the Bible that you are committing murder by ending a pregnancy, we have to look at other verses to see what they say on the topic.

There are really two main scriptures left to look at now. The first is in Numbers 5:

“The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her…. If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry.” Numbers 5:23-24, 27

Now, there are multiple problems with this verse and how it advocates for abuse against women. But for the purpose of this post, the point in quoting it is to show that there is no mention of the miscarriage caused by the bitter waters being a murder. A child that was conceived by adultery would be aborted just because it was an embarrassment to the community – and the Bible says nothing about it being a murder?

In fact, you generally don’t see the Bible treating the baby in the womb as a full person. Exodus 21:22-25 is the starkest example of this:

“If people are fighting with each other and happen to hurt a pregnant woman so badly that her unborn child dies, then, even if no other harm follows, he must be fined. He must pay the amount set by the woman’s husband and confirmed by judges. But if any harm follows, then you are to give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound and bruise for bruise.” Exodus 21:22-25

The basic point of this verse is that if someone hurts a pregnant woman and she miscarries the baby, then there will just be a fine. If there is any damage to the woman, then you will return what ever damage was caused to the woman – up to taking a life.

But – you might not have heard that verse that way, due to the NIV and other versions translating it incorrectly. These versions refer to miscarriage as “premature birth” in an obvious political move. But the general consensus is that the underlying word means “miscarriage.”

At this point, a Pro-Life person will usually bring up what they believe to be their “gottcha” scripture:

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Luke 1:41

This verse, and other verses that describe babies doing things in the womb (like Jacob and Esau struggling with each other), are said to be proof that the Bible views the baby in the womb as a fully alive human. Now, sometimes people take this verse too far to say that the baby was able to hear and recognize Mary. This is not really that clear – the verse seems to indicate that it was Elizabeth that conveyed emotions and recognition to the baby. But the part about verses like these where babies “leap” and “struggle” in the womb is proof to some that the Bible says that a fetus is a fully alive human before birth.

Of course, deeper Bible knowledge would inform one that the Bible ascribes many human attributes to things that are not alive – rivers clapping hands (Psalm 98:8), mountains singing (Psalm 98:8) and skipping (Psalm 114:6), blood crying out (Genesis 4:10), moon and sun being ashamed (Isaiah 24:23), etc. So ascribing human traits to something does not guarantee that the Bible sees it as “alive.” Not to mention that we see animals leaping, striving, crying out, etc and we will still kill them for food.

Of course, the problem with what I just wrote is the context of the scripture. We know by the context that the authors are using literary devices and not saying that rivers, mountains, the sun, and the moon are alive. Context is important!

Exactly. And context is important for Jeremiah 1:5 and all of the other scriptures examined here. There are no scriptures in the Bible that have a context of abortion. No where does the Bible ask or answer the question of abortion, and therefore there is no scripture in context that is meant to address the belief that abortion is murder – directly or indirectly. In fact, there are hardly any scriptures that have the context of addressing when life begins, either – except for one. Kind of. That is Genesis 2:7:

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7

Some will claim this shows that life begins at first breath, others will claim it is metaphor that shows God forms human beings from conception. Its technically a verse about the unique way that God formed the first human – so applying it to our lives now is probably not a good comparison at all. Unless you know that God formed you from a literal ball of dust outside a womb of any kind. If that is the case – I would love to hear your story.

But again, even if this is proof that abortion is murder because “God forms us from the beginning,” then it still runs into the logical problems that Jeremiah 1:5 does.

In the end, you have to decide for yourself when life begins. The Bible is pretty obscure on the topic if you are looking at any given verse for what it is actually saying, and the historical stance of the Protestant Church is not as Pro-Life as you would think. I have my beliefs, and I am sure you will keep yours. But if you are Pro-Life, I hope you would at least take seriously the way your stance has been manipulated through the years. I would also hope that you would understand the lack of Biblical backing you have as well. Really, neither the Pro-Life nor the Pro-Choice side has any Biblical backing. Neither does typing up this blog post for that matter – the Bible can guide principals that we use to inform modern issues, but it doesn’t speak directly to some of the ones that we face in this world. In such an undefined space, I think it is important that Evangelicals should consider allowing people to come to different conclusions about the things that don’t really impact them personally.

How are Some Evangelical Churches Connected to White Supremacist Violence?

When I heard about the recent mass shooting in Atlanta, Georgia, my first guess was that it was a white Christian male that was the murderer. When I read about Georgia passing Jim Crow-level anti-voting laws designed to suppress Black voters, I had no idea who the Governor was that signed the law at the time… but my initial guess of him being an older white male involved in his Church was quickly proven true (it is tragically symbolic that he signed the bill surrounded by other white males under a painting of a plantation).

Neither of these predictions were born out of any hatred of the Church or Christians at all. They are based on a sad acknowledgement of History. When we see violence or oppression against BIPoC in the United States, it a good guess to think that it is tied to a specific brand of white supremacy that is bred in certain Evangelical Church circles. This is all because more often than not… it is.

Of course, the first response to anyone saying something like this is usually some form of a “not all Churches” mantra that takes on the argument of “well, how come we only see a very small number of people resorting to extreme violence if white supremacy is such a big problem in some Churches?” Or maybe even pointing at some conservative white leader or politician that works against some form of oppression (usually in a very small way). Well, part of it has to do with the isolationist nature of these kinds of Churches. Most of us (even if you go to a moderate or progressive Church) are part of their “evangelism field” that they rarely interact with except to “preach the Gospel.” We just simply don’t see as much violence sparking as we possibly could because the people that would cause it spend a lot of time away from the people they desire to attack.

On the other hand, the oppression aspect happens all the time in society, so if you don’t see it by now (especially all the ways it is tied to the Evangelical Church) – that is on you. But the existence of this denialist mindset is a hard truth that we have to face up to: too many people think of societal violence only in terms of mass shootings. When you take a more honest look at the daily micro-aggressions, verbal assaults, discrimination, and systemic abuse that happens to BIPoC all the time… you realize that white supremacist violence is everywhere. And the Church needs to recognize their role in spreading this violence for centuries, right up to the present day. We never stopped.

But what am I talking about when I ask “How are Some Evangelical Churches Connected to White Supremacist Violence?” Do some Evangelical Churches serve as a kind of breeding ground for oppression and White Supremacy? How does a Christian at one of these Churches go from “Prince of Peace” to violence, murders, and oppression? Usually there are several possible signs – you might find one, some, or all at certain churches:

  1. It almost always starts off with a problematic literal reading of Matthew 5:27-30 which starts at a young age by teaching that Jesus meant for people to literally maim themselves in order to avoid sin. This usually accompanies an admonishment to do “what ever it takes” to get rid of sin. I have witnessed all kinds of unusual theatrics related to this – including a guy that carried a real coffin on his back all the way down an auditorium aisle (nearly dropping it on bystanders several times) so that he could place it at the front for us to write the things we wanted to cut from our life on piece of paper and throw into “the grave.” The stereotypical theatrics are bonfires (yes, these really do still happen) to burn books / CDs / clothes / etc that “cause one to stumble.” It is interesting to note that boys will often bring a effigial Barbie doll or picture of a girl to burn for their side of a relationship they want to purge, whereas girls are usually encouraged to bring symbolic or sentimental mementos, notes, gifts, etc. Boys and men are encouraged to take a more violent approach in most all interpretations of scripture – including here.
  2. Add in a very colonialist view of missions that sees the (white) Church’s duty to go and save the “heathen nations” from themselves, while also bringing (white) civilization and (U.S.-centric) democracy along for the ride. This is usually accompanied by lavish tales of the evils that happen in other lands (well, some of them, mainly in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, South America, etc): demonic possessions, moving inanimate objects, supernatural occurrences, etc. (crime is usually linked to these events as well). Interestingly, Europe is referred to as “post-Christian,” even though that term could also apply to places in Central or South America as well. White non-Christian equals “post-Christian” while Black and Brown non-Christian equals “Demonic.” A foundation of white supremacy and American exceptionalism are usually well entrenched in missionary efforts. They serve as a constant example that racist dog whistles are “okay” as long as you are doing “God’s work.”
  3. More and more passive aggressive racist and sexist comments usually start popping up around election years, when the “godless evil Liberals” are chided for destroying the world. People are asked “Who will stand up and fight? Who will do whatever it takes to stop the Liberals from taking over this country?” Liberals, of course, are always imagined as BIPoC (especially Black) and feminist. Homophobia, transpobia, and any other phobia you can imagine against the LGBTQA community are prominent as well.
  4. Don’t forget to bring the police in as protectors of the Church… or maybe armed members themselves… or both even. This turns the actions of the Police into a “Holy War” alongside the Church, with incidences of Police shootings given as examples of “spiritual warfare” against the evils of crime in the streets (with the criminals almost always being Black in these examples). BLM is then cast as an enemy idea in these contexts – even if there are no armed guards. Sometimes the police presence doesn’t happen, even though the Church embraces a police state ideology.
  5. Then you add in support for local, state, and national political leaders that constantly utter the same racist/sexist/transphobic/etc dog whistles (or just even come out and directly speak hateful beliefs). The vitriol from these leaders is often covered up by excuses, twisting of scripture, and treats of expulsion if you disagree. Everything from “Passion for the Gospel” to being an “Angry Young Prophet” are used to dismiss any concerns over rough language or terms (or even the n-word) that “slip” into these leader’s rants.
  6. Finally, some actual type of violence is upheld as “the ultimate sacrifice” for the “American Way of Life.” Often times it is a person that was killed on the mission field decades or centuries ago. But modern day examples of soldiers fighting in “heathen” lands is often a huge source as well. Now you even have the January 6, 2021 Capital Insurrection attempt, or any number of killings of people by the police to show the potential Christian martyr that they can be the aggressor instead of the victim. Its a weird mixture, but yes they do use martyrs that intentionally let themselves be murdered… and connect them to physically fighting “in the Name of the Lord.” Its… a weird stretch. Many Churches are currently teetering between 5 and 6 right now as I type this. But even when Churches pull away from violence, just image the atmosphere and mindset that all this creates to drive oppression in society.

You can also see in those points where excuses like being a “victim to sexual addiction” and various other justifications come into play. Obviously these are used all the time to blame the people in the church for not “overcoming” their temptations, but they are also very easy to pivot into being ways to excuse the Church from any culpability for the ways that people start acting when they are influenced by the areas listed above.

Ranting about these things on Twitter or Facebook by chiding your connections to “say something” will probably not really get through to those that promote and/or commit to this level of hatred and oppression. They have pulled away from interacting with anyone doesn’t share their beliefs. When they do interact, they see us as a “mission field.” Even former Evangelicals like myself are quickly switched from “insider” to “outsider” the first time we mention any kind of support for BLM, LGBTQA rights, “free” healthcare, or any other “evil Liberal” issues. I have tried to get through to people myself – I know full well that I have some friends that the last words they will ever hear from me were me telling them to stop being racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. Not much I can do about that.

I wish I had some magical insight into how to get through to these people. I have gotten through from time to time, but I will be the first to tell you that there is no one single method for getting through. No matter what article or blog post you can share that shows the “secret” to changing minds, I can promise you there are many, many people that those methods don’t work on as well. Everyone is different, and we may never know who needs the in your face yelling and who needs the loving example to change minds. Maybe we should flip the tables (in a way) and start looking at the Evangelical Church as the mission field. There are all kinds of community outreach programs that look to educate people about hatred. But most of these programs give the Evangelical Church a pass on dealing with the problems in it’s midst. That needs to change if we are ever going to really deal with white supremacist violence and oppression in this country.

Fake Christians and Politics

We have probably heard the term “fake Christian” thrown around more in the past few years than the decades before. Liberal or progressive Christians are called “fake Christians” by conservative Christians, and conservative Christians are called “fake Christians” by the liberal or progressive Christians. Christians from both sides are increasingly looking at the Trump administration and referring to many people there as “fake Christians.”

While it may seem at first that these accusations do nothing but prove “both sides are equally bad” to some, I do understand where the need to determine who is or is not a “true” Christian comes from. All of our societal sociocultural groupings have standards, rules, and/or regulations for what counts as being “part” of that group. You can’t go and eat chicken while proclaiming “I am vegan!” for example. Words have meaning, those word describe our groupings, and we should have some say in telling people when they are misusing terms or claiming to be something they are not.

Also, we know that “being fake” has historically been a part of our cultural interactions. If a person acts like a friend, or the life of the party, or anything else they are not, they get referred to as being “so fake.” Whether it is because they are a “backstabber” in our opinion, or trying too hard to be a part of a social group they are initially not a part of, we are used to hearing the term “fake” used to describe people that are not being what they claim to be. This is nothing new.

Obviously it gets a little more complicated when applying the term “fake” to whether or not someone is a Christian, because really the main thing that makes one a Christian is belief in Jesus. Well… kind of, depending on who you talk to. There is then the whole process of sanctification and following Jesus. Sometimes your actions indicate you really don’t believe, while other times they indicate you really don’t understand fully. It’s all very complicated: some believe in “once saved always saved,” so there is nothing you can do to no longer be a Christian. Unless you renounce it, some say (but even a renouncement doesn’t count to some views). To others, even Christians have to ask forgiveness for their sins before they are washed away, others say all future sins were washed away at the salvation. Then there are others that say you lose your salvation, maybe because of suicide, or the unforgivable sin, or sometimes just because you “back-slide” so much that so much sin piles up and you lose it all. Then there are those that claim that some people pretended to pray a prayer of salvation but didn’t mean it, or just wanted the social look of holiness without making any personal sacrifice. And so on.

So really, what counts as being a “fake” Christian or a “real” Christian is in the eye of the beholder.

But wait! some would say: the Bible tells us that we have to determine who is real or fake, and how to tell which they are. Yes, there are some verses that tell Christians they can determine whether people really are Christians or not (Matthew 7:21-23, 2 Timothy 3:1-5, James 1:26, Romans 16:17-18, 1 Corinthians 5:11-13, etc), and even some limited guidance on how to kind of do that.

Despite all of this, I would still recommend that you not go there. Yes, it is acceptable in society to define boundaries between different groups, and to even to delineate why your group is different from others. But yes, even despite that and even though the Bible even tells you can, I would say its still not a good idea. Many things are permissible, but not all are beneficial as a good idea.

Some people have very good, defined reasons for why you can’t call Mike Pence or Donald Trump or Barack Obama a “fake” Christian. However, many of these reasons ignore the simple fact that all groups can, in fact, determine the rules for the boundaries of their group… even if many factions of that group end up disagreeing.

Others would say that brushing away all examples of bad behavior by Christians as “fake” Christianity ends up giving the impression that Christians never do anything bad. This is a real concern, and many people in the Church do need to wise up to the fact that there are people that do bad things while still very much being an actual Christian.

Sometimes this brushing away of all bad deeds under the banner of “fake Christianity” is seen as an enabling factor that allows abuse to go unaddressed in Churches. It is true that many people hide behind the banner of “they couldn’t be doing anything wrong because they are such a good person.” Or even “they did something bad, so they never were a real Christian, so they are no longer our problem.” These are real problems in the church, but they are ones that are deeper than the term “fake Christian.” In reality, the deeper problem of ignoring abuse in the Church is merely using the the real/fake Christian debate as a shield. If you could somehow ban the term “fake Christian” tomorrow, abusers in the Church would move to a different shield. We need to confront the underlying problem, but focusing on the concept this abuse is currently hiding under won’t really change much.

Besides, we should recognize that the term “fake Christian” is not always used as a way to talk about people we don’t like (in politics or real life). Here in the South at least, a common sermon point is that one can be “a really good person, but a fake Christian.” The idea that one is “fake” is not always tied to being a bad person in all circles.

Additionally, some people say that calling some a “fake Christian” is a No True Scotsman fallacy. The problem is that No True Scotsman is a pretty weak informal fallacy that misunderstands social norming. The main point of this fallacy comes from a hypothetical Scotsman saying “no Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.” Someone else might say “well my uncle Angus is a Scotsman and he puts sugar on his porridge.” Then the first person responds with “well no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.” It is considered a fallacy because Uncle Angus is a Scotsman, this proving the first statement untrue. However, the main final claim is not that Uncle Angus is not a real Scotsman, but that he falls out of the social norms of what true Scotsman are required to adhere to as a group. He is still a Scotsman, just not a true Scotsman. Some see that as changing the parameters after a counterargument is made, but in reality it is just a clarification of what was meant in the first place.

But No True Scotsman only really applies when referring to at least one factor that is a scientific fact, like being born a Scotsman. The concept of a “fake Christian” doesn’t fall under the No True Scotsman informal fallacy because it completely relies on choices and actions related to those choices. If you replace “Scotsman” with “Vegan” and “sugar on porridge” with “eats meat,” you see how quickly the entire concept of the No True Scotsman fallacy falls apart if applied to beliefs instead of actions and heritage.

However, while it seems like I am making a pretty good case that it is okay to call people “fake Christians,” I would still come to the end of all of this and say: don’t do it. If you want to point out that some one who claims to follow the Bible is going against one of its commands, that is one thing. But dismissing them as a fake Christian? I would avoid that.

Why? Well, because it is so complicated. I covered many of the different beliefs in the Church today about what makes one a Christian or not several paragraphs above. It is a long list of contradictory ideas that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the different ways to view what it means to be a Christian. The person you think is a “fake” Christian may interpret the Bible differently than you do. They may sincerely be doing what they think is right. Or they might be doing something wrong, while determined to ask for forgiveness later. They may not know much about what the Bible has to say. They might truly be a bad person and a Christian. The Bible makes it clear that Paul himself did things he knew were wrong (Romans 7:15-20).

Even looking at all of the scriptures I quoted above, it is clear that the Bible writers meant for us to spend a lot of time and due diligence in determining whether a person really is a Christian or not. Tweeting out “Fake Christian!” every time John Piper or Robert Jeffress says something that doesn’t match with your understanding of the Bible (as much as I would probably agree with you personally) does not count as that level of diligence. And even then, most of the time the Bible just tells you to ignore and avoid that person more than anything else. There are times to speak up and disagree, especially when dealing with public statements by public figures. We all have a voice and should use it. But I think there are much better ways to disagree with evil in the world that are more effective than screaming “fake Christian!”

John Cooper and Evangelical Misunderstandings of Pluralistic Society

By now, if you have any friends that are still evangelical, you have probably noticed many sharing the open letter by John L. Cooper of the Christian band Skillet written to former Christian leaders (like Josh Harris) who have publicly renounced their Christian faith. While there are some good points in the open letter about putting people on pedestals before they are ready, most of the letter falls into the typical Evangelical tropes about how every one else is wrong and certain types of Christians are the only ones that are right about the world around us.

From the beginning, Cooper displays an ahistorical ignorance of the fact that Church leaders have been leaving the Christian faith in significant numbers for as long as Christianity has existed. In the past, these people that changed faith affiliations (or even rejected faith of any kind) typically were shunned or ignored more than they are now, but I’m not seeing any proof there are currently any more than there were 10, 20, 30, etc. years ago. The number of attendees at Churches seems to be dropping due to the Exvangelical and EmptyThePews movements, but leaders are still coming and going just like they always have.

Most of the open letter is filled with Cooper being shocked that people who change their religious beliefs would want to share those changes with others. Of course, I have never heard of evangelicals extending the same idea to recent converts to Christianity – most “New Christian training materials” and “beginner Christianity books” encourage people to go out and share their new faith with others from the start. Why wouldn’t that go both ways? According to Cooper:

“I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance… I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused?”

I wonder if he ever realized that they are sharing now exactly because they are embarrassed, ashamed, confused, etc. Maybe they feel like they need to undo the damage they have done in the past. Sure, they might be afraid that they are getting it wrong again. But – newsflash – they probably weren’t that sure about their Christian faith when they were believers as well.

You see, this whole “how can they be so quick to share their unbelief” attitude comes from this subtle idea in evangelical circles that everyone really deep down knows that Jesus is God, and those that say they are not following Christ are just lying to themselves and others. Therefore, when someone finally converts to Christianity, this is why they can go out boldly declaring the Good News from the very beginning: they have just acknowledged what they knew deep down all along. However, when someone decides to go back into this supposed self-denial of the reality we all know deep down… they should hold back, not say a word, and be ashamed that they got something wrong once and might get it wrong again. Quite the double standard.

It’s also weird that Cooper’s second point against “being real” is itself being real and very cavalier with the way he treats other people’s differences in beliefs. However, the real kicker is this statement:

“So the influencers become the voice for truth in whatever stage of life and whatever evolution takes place in their thinking.”

Cooper means this as an insult, but it is actually the most true statement in his entire letter. This thought is actually true of all of us no matter what we believe or how long we have believed it. If you are honest with yourself, you realize that your beliefs are always evolving, even if they still fit under the same category for years or decades. You can only be the voice of truth for whatever evolution you have in your life at that time. Whether that is within the same category of religious belief or if it changes from one to another, it is still all you can do: be a voice for your truth where you are at that time.

(Of course, many are in denial about their changing beliefs, or pretending changes are not happening – see Trump supporters and the changes they have made to their faith beliefs while denying they are happening – but that is another issue.)

But let’s say you disagree with the idea that beliefs can evolve. Let’s say you believe you make a big change in some belief system and then stay there for 20+ years. If it is true that this belief will not evolve, then you should be able to speak up about your belief on Day 1 or Year 20 – because it won’t change for a long time. Then, when it does finally change (and therefore you would be getting ready for another long period of little change), why not speak up again then? If our beliefs aren’t constantly changing, evolving, maturing, going to different systems, and so on – then why not speak up from day one of a big change?

Again, it comes back to the fact that no matter what you believe, you can only speak the truth about where you are at that moment of evolution (or non-evolution if you see it that way).

Then Cooper’s third point is the most cavalier one on the list – he completely misunderstands what people mean when they say “no one is talking about the real stuff.” Yes, we all know people have talked about it and written about the “real stuff” for centuries. This statement is usually a rhetorical device that is utilized to refer to how actual contextual/practical discussion of hard issues is often effectively shut down in many churches today. Not just “hard stuff” in general – there is always an acceptable list of “hard stuff” to talk about at every church (although not all of it really falls under the true banner of “hard”). Anything that contradicts main beliefs or tenets of various churches is quickly shut down or forcefully re-routed to pre-determined answers. Yes, people are handing out nice, neat answers in books about the “hard stuff,” but no one is talking about it with individuals in ways that helps them wrestle with and dig through the hardness of those hard things. Big difference.

Next there is the jaw-dropping statement that showcases Cooper completely misunderstanding how the world functions, when he has the audacity to say that Christian beliefs about generosity, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, and turning the other cheek are exclusive to Christianity. He is in a band that has toured the word and claims to have many friends of other faiths… but doesn’t understand that these ideals are common to many other belief and non-belief systems?

“And lastly, and most shocking imo, as these influencers disavow their faith, they always end their statements with their “new insight/new truth” that is basically a regurgitation of Jesus’s words?! It’s truly bizarre and ironic. They’ll say “I’m disavowing my faith but remember, love people, be generous, forgive others”. Ummm, why? That is actually not human nature. No child is ever born and says “I just want to love others before loving myself. I want to turn the other cheek. I want to give my money away to others in need”. Those are bible principles taught by a prophet/Priest/king of kings who wants us to live by a higher standard which is not an earthly standard, but rather the ‘Kingdom of God’ standard…. So why then would a disavowed christian leader promote that “generosity is good”? How would you know “what is good” without Jesus’s teachings?”

Every society has its own definitions of what counts as good. And while it is true that there is no proof of a universal morality, many of these systems do match up with Christianity…. often while pre-dating when Jesus walked the Earth. In fact, any student of Old or New testament studies knows that the Bible made explicit references to laws for good and evil that were copied from other – often earlier – religions.

Cooper is just a mouth piece of deeply self-centered form of Christianity (a very real form, even though it is self-centered) that thinks it is the moral epicenter of good in the universe. Cooper might be shocked to find out that many leaders and members that leave the faith end up leading great lives (despite his ascertain to the opposite). Many Christians that stay in the faith end up having their “lives fall apart” while they “sink in the sea.” Really its all over the place: those that leave Christianity and stay are both as likely to have a great life as they are to have it all fall apart.

Assuming that people who leave Christianity have horrible lives and no reason to tell their story is one of many forms of bias and hatred that the church extends to those that leave. Ironically, this hatred only encourages more to leave. I don’t think Cooper even realizes how he probably chased more people out of church than he convinced to stay with his open letter. Many have grown tired of how the church misunderstands its place in a pluralistic society.

The False Gospel of the Counter Culture Church

If you have been at an evangelical church for more than a few sermons, you have probably run into some variation of the “counter culture” church narrative. This is basically the idea that 10-20 years ago, the church was the center of American culture. However, either the media or the government or both have been plotting against the church to move America away from Christian values. That has resulted in a Church that is now counter-cultural, in the midst of a culture that has different values than those at the Church.

If you are lucky it ends there. If not, you also get to hear about how a great persecution is coming, how churches will be shut down, and how Christians are soon to be going to jail for simply having faith.

Witness, for example, these recent articles:

Christianity’s Five Most Counter-Cultural Virtues

Three Lies Culture Tells Us About Being Single

There are many others like them. The problem is, these articles and the narrative that inspired them gets our “culture” all wrong.

Take some of these “most counter-cultural” values from the first article: patience, humility, hope, etc. How exactly are these “radically counter-cultural,” as the author says? The problem is, they aren’t. Go to the various values pages of most schools or colleges or community groups, or look at the values objectives in most state educational standards, or look at what characteristics are most valued on most TV shows, and you will find humility, hope, patience, etc explicitly listed. I know these specific characteristics are written into many state level educational standards, because I have studied those standards and read them for myself. They are not counter-cultural at all. They are being ingrained in our culture.

The second article about “dating lies” is so weird I don’t even know where to start. Nothing on TV or in our culture teaches this. Not at least any I have seen.

Which leads to the main problem with the “counter-cultural” church. Which culture does that refer to? America is a diverse place, full of different cultures that have different cultural norms. We all belong to slightly different sociocultural groupings. You can’t throw all of that into one box and call it “American Culture.” Its not that simple.

Another problem is the historical roots of the “counter-cultural church” narrative. You might think I quoted the first two paragraphs from a recent church sermon. However, I didn’t. Those ideas are from a interview in 1971 with early Jesus Music pioneer Larry Norman. Yes, that narrative is at least 40 years old (except Norman himself actually got it from sources that had been using it for over 20 years). Yet my first paragraph exactly describes a sermon I heard two weeks ago.

So if this “counter cultural church” narrative is over 60 years old, how is it that “culture” has suddenly moved away 10-20 years ago? Where is this great persecution that – 60 years ago and even today – is right around the corner? If people in 2016 thinks our “culture” has moved away from the Church in the past 20 years, but people 40 years ago said the same thing, what’s the deal?

The deal is that this whole “counter cultural church” narrative is a false gospel. To some people, it is good news that the culture is rejecting them, because that means they get to be mean back to the culture.

However, the reality is that the moral decay of America is a church myth.

But if our culture is a diverse thing that is hard to put in a box, and many facets of it value the same things we value as a church, then what is the real problem in churches? Why does the church seem to be on the decline in so many people’s minds?

In general, when looking at Protestant churches (where you will usually find these ideas in sermons), attendance is only down among… white people. When you look at people of color, whether Black, Latino, Asian, etc., you see that attendance trends are increasing.

The truth is, the Protestant church is becoming less white.

metamodern-faith-avatarNot necessarily declining, or losing ground to our culture, just shifting in ways that those that have enjoyed the position of power are probably uncomfortable with. Instead of acknowledging this trend, they decided to create the false gospel of the counter culture church.

The Real War on Christmas

Every year it seems to start earlier and earlier. We didn’t even make it past Halloween this year before it started. But I guess you can’t blame people for being antsy to get the emotions flowing. After all, we only get one month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and that is not nearly enough time to wage a war.

Oh wait – you thought I was complaining about how Christmas decorations come out earlier every year? Sorry, I was referring to the pretty much guaranteed squawking about secular culture waging a war on Christmas. We have already been told how Starbucks is ruining Christmas for millions of Christians by removing snow flakes from coffee cups.

(even though, of course, as a Christian you should boycott Starbucks over their stance on gay marriage…. right?)

It just dawned on me that these heralds of the destruction of all things Sweet Baby Jesus are actually correct. There really is a war on Christmas going on every year. There is a group of people out there hell-bent on ripping the living, breathing meaning of Christmas right out of the chest of every cheap plastic nativity scene on every Church lawn out there. Problem is, its not the atheists, post-modernists, secularists, greedy corporate executives, sodomites, or evil liberal college professors (the ones requiring you to deny that St. Nick was actually a jolly servant of Jesus or else fail his course).

The people waging a war on Christmas are evangelical Christians.

The real meaning of Christmas is Emmanuel – God with us. Its a beautiful story of the Supreme Being of the whole universe humbling Himself to be born in a manager. To become a baby born in squalid circumstances. To grow up to heal the sick, to befriend the least of these, to be mocked and ridiculed by the culture around Him, to bring a message of hope and salvation, to preach repentance to the self-righteous, to dine with social outcasts, to buy products from unrighteous merchants, to forgive sins.

Does any of this sound anything like what we are getting from so many Christians or churches in the media?

Instead, we get complaints over coffee cup decorations. Complaints that Santa was moved to the wrong place in the mall. Complaints that people can’t turn their house into a tacky and annoying eye-burning Christmas spectacle. Complaints about not being able to have live nativities on public government property.  And those are just from October and the first few days of November.

None of these complaints have anything to do with anything we are called to do as Christians.

metamodern-faith-avatarSo, yes, those that are complaining about the War on Christmas are actually unintentional double agents, actively creating the war and not realizing it. How is that? Because they are complaining about things that have nothing to do with Emmanuel, God is with us. The are completely obscuring the meaning of God Incarnate a thousand times more than anyone that says “Happy Holidays” in place of “Merry Christmas,” or that removes a cheap wooden nativity scene off of public property. They are making a mockery of the real meaning of being present in messy world, or breaking down the barrier between the divine and the ordinary, or being a realistic Savior in a complex world. The real war on Christmas is not about removing man-made traditions from the public arena, but about removing God-breathed love from the discourse that occurs within that arena.

The Privilege of Fitting In: A Tale of Two Churches

Is it just me, or does it seem like there are articles about why people shouldn’t leave church coming out every week? Most of them boil down to pretty much the same argument: quit being so narcissistic, get over yourself, and stop being so selfish. Suck it up and take it or get off your lazy rear and start doing something to change your church rather than just complain about it.

This kind of remind me of a scene from The Big Bang Theory, in an episode that deals with adults confronting their past with bullying. Penny seems to be convinced that she wasn’t a bully. The girls she picked on where just in on the joke and were having just as much fun as everyone else.

When you are the one that fits in, that is part of the main group, that never has to try and connect, your view of the group is usually vastly different from the outsider, the weirdo, the one that doesn’t fit in so well. It may be really easy to call someone a narcissist when you rarely have to consider your own needs because they are already being met. But you have friends, you have connections, you have community. The whole idea of “not being fed” seems weird to you, because you have rarely ever gone without spiritual nourishment.

Would you tell a starving beggar not to be a glutton? Because that is what you do when you call someone a narcissist when they leave a church for “not being fed.” Narcissism is usually defined as “inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity,” or “pursuit of gratification from vanity, or egotistic admiration of one’s own physical or mental attributes, that derive from arrogant pride.” Do you see the extreme words there? Narcissism is an extreme issue that is about as far away from “wanting to be fed” as starving is from gluttony.

Look, Jesus just said to “think of others before you think of yourself.” How did we turn that into “think of others and never think of yourself“? because we put the cool kids in charge of everything and left the weirdos on the fringes, silently hoping they will go away and leave us alone. And then calling them narcissists when they leave so they will feel guilty about leaving… but not guilty enough to come back.

Because, let’s face it – it is a lot easier to lob guilt bombs at those on the outside than it is to actually leave our comfort zones to draw them in.

Whether someone fits in with a church is not just a matter of whiny teenage angst. It is an emotional health issue that can severely affect physical health if not resolved. So if you are going to tell them to stay and tough it out, you also might as well just buy them a lifetime supply of Twinkies and eat those for the rest of their lives.

And telling them to stick around and change the church? Really? Have you ever tried to change a church? I mean, really affect change and not just enhance the direction it was already going? Probably not. Usually, those that benefit from the privilege of fitting in think that it is easy to change a church because they think were able to affect changes. But what they were really doing was just furthering their church in the direction it was already going. Those hairline changes they made seemed huge to them because they were so close to home to begin with. To those on the outside, the changes that need to happen are massive tectonic shifts that are impossible to affect outside of an “act of God.” I know, I have tried in many churches. It is impossible to do so as someone that doesn’t fit in, no matter how much time, effort, and love you put into it.

This is one of many “tale of two churches” in America, albeit one that is just now starting to come into focus. Its usually the tale of the same church, from two sides with different views. The one side with those that fit in, who think everything is great and people just need to quit being so narcissistic, and the other side that doesn’t fit in because it sees issues that makes them want to bail.

Pick a sport you don’t like – like say, golf. If you love golf, pick another sport that you hate. What if the church you went to suddenly became all about golf. Golf was mentioned in every sermon, every Facebook post, every thing the church did. It even started being a part of the music that they sung. Soon, the church starts meeting at a golf course. They may even rename their church meetings to have golf themes. To someone that loves golf, this all seems great, and they can’t see why people who don’t like golf can’t just get over it and ignore these “minor” issues and worship God. But for those that despise golf, it is everywhere. They can’t get away from it. It is everywhere they look and a part of every conversation. How can it be healthy to tell someone to even be in a situation like that?

Look, I’m not talking golf here – the real issue may be speaking in tongues, or gay rights issues, or political leanings, or the nature of Genesis, or the safety of vaccines, or a hundred other topics that divide us in the Church. Every church has certain topics that everyone has differing opinions on. So this is not just about differences that naturally occur. This is when a church creates a major focus on certain issues, big or small, and thinks that everyone in the church should get on board or get over it. For those that fit in with that stance, those who are “on board”, its no big deal. And they have a hard time seeing why others find it a big deal. Kind of in the same way people who aren’t allergic to peanuts don’t often seem to care much about those who are; even when they find out they still eat peanut M&Ms right next to them. Certain things may be small to you, but they could be a huge deal to others because we are all individuals that are wired differently.

Maybe instead of always pointing fingers at people for the “bad reasons” they use for leaving church, we could actually use it as a time for self-reflection to consider what we may be doing wrong as church? Maybe even make some compelling arguments for coming back? Or even yet, try to reach out  with no strings attached to the people that left? I have tried that before, and I was shocked to find very few people actually leave churches for any of the reasons anyone is writing about. Their reasons are usually pretty compounded and complex.

metamodern-faith-avatarLet’s face it – compounded and complex is more than most people want to deal with. And it won’t make you a popular writer by writing about it. Just lump everyone into five categories and bask in the glow of all the yes-people that will agree with your column without even really reading it. It is past time to get real about the reasons people leave church and stop with the :Sunday School” answers to everything

The Beauty of Equality

I made a quip on Facebook a few months ago that was born out of our frustration in trying to find a church home in our new area. It seems like every church around here is pretty much a carbon copy of all of the others. You can look at the staff page and guess who is what position just by the pictures. The pastor is always a male with facial hair in his late 30s to late 40s. The worship pastor is always the youngest, hippest looking guy. The oldest looking guy is always the Pastor of Education (or some variation of that). And any women in the mix are always, always children’s “leaders” of some kind (and never children’s “pastors”).

I said something to the effect of wishing that I could find a church with a dude for a children’s pastor, a female head pastor, and a horribly un-hip old guy for the worship pastor.

We visited one church near us that looked promising, but the pastor quoted Mark Driscoll and then started making fun of people for their reasons for why they leave church. Yeah, real compassion there.

But not more than a block away from that church, we found a church with a female head pastor. And several other women on staff – even one as the pastor of education. That one alone will make the blood of most evangelical fundamentalists boil.

I can’t say we will or won’t join this church, because the most important factor for us in a church is connecting with the people in a way that forms solid friendships. That doesn’t always happen no matter how good the Church is. And this is not a bad thing, its just a part of life. Some people connect well and others don’t. Its best to find relationship over theology.

But this is the first time that I have ever heard a female head pastor speak. And her husband was in the row next to us. So its not like this was some weird deal where this denomination was low on leaders and so the wife led a “sister congregation” under her “husband’s authority.”

This was not a woman that was allowed to speak because she had a special message for women that men wouldn’t mind hearing. This wasn’t a church that releases women to speak as a long a male is the main person in charge (no matter what title he gives himself).

This was honest-to-goodness, true, real equality in a church. It was very moving. Very beautiful. Anyone that really honestly thinks that women are in some way not designed to lead, to teach, to preach a sermon (and not just on “women’s topics”) – I challenge you to visit this church. Or any other church that has ordained a women as head pastor.

You will walk into a situation where you truly know that everyone is valued equally. That there are no rules or flowcharts for half the people there to figure out their place. That anyone can really learn from anyone, that everyone is a minister, that everyone is equally loved and accepted.

To reinforce the point, I was going down the list of staff on the bulletin. Right in the middle it had this entry:

Every Church Member – minister

Yeah, its a little cheesy, but it still makes a point on what they value. How do you become a member? Fill out a small slip of paper and bring it to the front at the end of the service. Your profession of faith is enough.

metamodern-faith-avatarOh,and for the doubters, the service wasn’t frilly, or girlie, or sissy, or any other word you might hear coming from your typical Driscoll/Piper SuperManlyMan Jesus®©™ type person. It was a just…. human. And holy. Which was a nice respite from the flood of testosterone-inducted mega-services we had been to lately.

My Random New Year Reflections

I always want to wait until January 1st to write any kind of “best of the year list” because I am convinced that the last week of the year just might hold something awesome to make my list. Once again, I am proven wrong. Come on 2014 don’t fail me!

– If you want site traffic, forget Facebook or Twitter or commenting on other blogs or any of the advice the experts give you. Just get someone on Reddit to use your post as a rebuttal in heated debate and watch your stats go from a handful of hits per day to hundreds per hour. Of course, half of those hits will be people looking to burn down your blog for daring to say something intelligible against their point, but all stats are good stats, right?

Related to that, it is amazing how many people will prove they are not a hateful person by posting a long, ranting hateful blog comment. You should see the comments I didn’t approve for this post because I really just don’t want to paint the evangelical church as that maniacal.

Oh, and final thought on that post. Make sure to be careful taking on people’s sacred cows before those sacred cows become national news. I don’t know if many people have gotten the point of that blog post yet. But if Reddit is to be believed, I have had at least one visit from Sarah Palin. I still would never vote for her, but at least I can say my post was used as a counter argument for her weird logic. That’s a win in my book.

– Some people mistake “love” for “lack of conflict.” Its not very loving to make someone bite their tongue about something that offends them. Love is genuine and real, and if you have to put on a mask and pretend everything is okay between you and someone else, that is not real or genuine and therefore is not love. True love means sometimes bumping heads and arguing for a while to make sure everything is out on the table so that you can work through the issues. Telling someone to not say anything and just love each other is a contradiction.

– Intolerance seems to be a vicious cycle that those who bring attention to it never want to step off of. Every time one person screams intolerance at one group, that group screams intolerance back and a huge back and forth battle ensues. At some point, it would be nice if people would just stop and say “even if this person is being just as intolerant back at me, it’s not very mature for me to scream ‘well, you did it too!'”. You know, step off of the intolerance merry-go-round and be the bigger person even if you are sure they are more intolerant than you.

– Or maybe even take it one step further and care about their issue even if you think you have a bigger issue that they should care about more. I made a Facebook post about how the conservative side seems to want to care about rich businessmen losing a side job as a reality star than the hundreds of gay suicides occurring every week due to people making fun of them. A conservative blogger decided to come in and diminish teen suicide to a minor problem of mere teen angst when compared to a suicide bombing in the Middle East. I guess dead from a car bomb is worse than dead from suicide? I would love to see this person go tell the parents of the 30,000 yearly suicide victims that their kid’s death was just mere teen angst when compared to a politically motivated tragedy in the Middle East. Of course, this person doesn’t realize that I have been to Middle East and worked with Christians and Non-Christians. And I still have friends there. Never mind that they all hate Americans using their news events to further political positions here. Never mind that they will tell you how every single story in the Western media about the Middle East is ignoring half the facts and nothing is ever as cut and dried as our news makes it seem. What really got me is what a pastor in Middle East told me a decade ago: “Why would we look up to the Church in America? You can’t even love gay people when they fight for laws you don’t like or even make fun of you a bit. We have to learn how to love people that imprison, torture, and kill us. We have to learn to love people that kill family members just for looking at a Bible, even if they don’t believe it.” He didn’t have to continue. The ,message was clear. The American church thinks it can teach the whole world how to be a mature church, when the reality is we haven’t even learned the basic commands of Jesus.

But, related to that, I have found that there is always someone worse off. Don’t come into an argument expecting a cookie because you found someone worse off that gays, or women, or non-white ethnicities, or transgendered people here in America. I can do some digging and find people worse off than anyone you can find. And then you can dig more and find people worse off than I found. And then tomorrow comes around and the news will be filled with people even worse than any of that. There is always someone that has it worse somewhere. Tragedy is tragedy. Getting in a pissing contest over who cares about the worse tragedy is not only stupid, it makes you look uncaring and egotistical. Especially when are a privileged white guy.

Any time you have to start off with “I don’t mean to ____, but…” Just stop. ‘Buts’ like that are for buttheads.

– Being a guest blogger is pretty cool. I need to take more time to submit more ideas when people open up their blogs like that. It really makes you stretch your writing focus to other things when your own blog gets a little too myopic 🙂 Plus, after dealing with bloggers like the one I mentioned in the rant above, it’s a good reminder that there are some bloggers that are just as nice of people behind the scenes as they are on their blog.

– 2013 was a great year for music, with The Ocean Blue, Dime Store Zombies, Daniel Amos, Lifesavers, Stryper (yes, Stryper), Megadeth, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Pacifico, Aradhna, Soul-Junk, Bill Mallonee, Elephant Stone and the various Down The Line Collective artists all returning with great music. Radio and popular music still continues its downward slide as far my interests go.

– There are probably some good movies this year, but moving twice to different cities in one year and having to completely start over with babysitters each time makes date nights pretty scare. Of course, I did get to enjoy some kids classics like Cars 2, Ice Age 4, and Madagascar 3. We did manage to catch Iron Man 3, The Heat, Man of Steel, Star Trek Wrath of…. opppss… Into Darkness, and Thor 2. All of which were very good and I don’t get where people are griping about them.

– Television shows? Well, I am a bit of a geek. Um, yeah more than just a bit. So I was checking out shows like Defiance, H+, Arrow, Falling Skies, Sleepy Hollow, Glee, Revolution, Agents of SHIELD, The Big Bang Theory, Continuum, and Almost Human. Defiance, Arrow, Falling Skies, Big Bang, Glee, and Continuum will be definite keepers for me. H+ seems to have vanished, and I’m not sure if I really ever followed it that well. Too confusing. Sleepy Hollow is just a weirdly cool mix of horror, police drama, fantasy, and historical fiction that I usually don’t like but somehow have gotten hooked. Revolution went from “why am I still watching this junk” to “when did this get so good?” at some point. Almost Human and SHIELD both need to get better soon or I might drop out. I am also trying to see what people are liking about The Tomorrow People… but… despite a few good ideas, the really, really bad ideas just bug me. The next evolution of humans can’t kill because they get a buzzing headache. Really? That not only flies in the face of Science and Reality… its just stupid. And inconsistent. Apparently they can’t hit someone with a stick if it might cause death, but kick an unconscious person in the water while acknowledging they will drown? No problem!

– Parenting continues to be a blast, but I’m starting to wonder how older parents face all the judgement and know-it-allness of some segments of society with out punching someone in the face. Every kid is different. What you do with your kids (or would do if you had them – since so many people without kids kike to criticize) would not always work with mine, and what I do with mine won’t always work with yours. I think several people are just upset with my egalitarian views and get uncomfortable with me taking such an active role in my child’s life. That’s woman’s work after all.

– Living with someone that has had unexplained medical problems for most of the year has given me greater appreciation for those that live with chronic illness every day. Of course, with my back spasms, I already had a little knowledge of that (PS – if you can still stand up after hurting your back, you did not throw your back OUT – the key word there is OUT, as in no longer working at all – please stop cheapening the word for the rest of us that have a real medical condition). But when my wife went through some crazy unexplained stuff that forced us to move twice in the span of a few months, our understanding went to a whole new level. Especially seeing how many people just either don’t want to understand or care about what you are going through. But of course, extremely thankful for those that did care and even pitched in and helped. My wife is starting a blog to chronicle those days and what she has learned, so I will let her tell her own story there.

– Spiritually its been odd to dig into the Bible more than ever before, learn more about the intricacies of certain scriptures, realize more and more how unclear certain issues are in the scriptures, express those discoveries, and then be accused of everything from not taking the Bible seriously to losing my faith. Kind of odd how I feel closer to God than ever, yet father apart from those that I have attended Church with at some point in life. Its not that I don’t think they are close to God – it just seems that they are unwilling to accept that I am also still on the same path seeking God just because I don’t tow an extreme right wing political agenda.

The funny thing is, I never really did lean that far right (or left for that matter). I have always been a moderate/progressive in political terms as well as spiritual. I don’t hide it as much as I used to for fear of judgement, but anyone that really knew me they would have noticed. So its kind of odd to get defriended by people on Facebook just because I have no problem with gay marriage or women as pastors or the Earth being billions of years old, when I technically felt the same way about those issues since I first joined Facebook. It just goes to show how certain mindsets have a very narrow view of what a “real” Christian looks like, and if you don’t match it they want nothing to do with you.

– Of course, I don’t want to paint my faith as perfect. There are still nights where I lie awake knowing for certain that God is not real. Eventually the same logic that led me to follow God in college comes back to me, but I still feel that Steve Taylor’s song “Harder to Believe Than Not To” is so true on so many levels.

metamodern-faith-avatarI saw a New Year’s resolution that simply said “Read the Bible. Do What It Says.” I’ve been trying that every year since college. Every year it seems to get harder. Read and Do: if only it was that easy. That’s the most overwhelming resolution I could ever think of. But one to still strive for nonetheless.