Posts Tagged ‘evangelical’

“When we die, I don’t think God is going to ask us how He created the earth, but He will ask us what we did with what He created.” – Richard Cizik

“Speaking of Faith” with Krista Tippett has become my new favorite podcast. It’s a weekly broadcast of American Public Media. I was listening to an older broadcast today on “The Evolution of American Evangelicalism” featuring an interview with Richard Cizik, former Vice President of the National Association of Evangelicals.

In 2006 Richard caused quite an uproar for expressing his concerns over climate change and torture, which many evangelicals believed drew attention away from issues like abortion and gay marriage. Last year Richard resigned from his position after 28 years with the organization following further controversy after voicing support for civil unions on NPR.

Had there been more evangelicals like Richard speaking up several years ago I probably would not have been so quick to distance myself from them. Surprisingly, the controversy over his comments drew out the support of many like-minded Christians. Several years later, a new breed of evangelicals, like Brian McLaren, are voicing similar concerns about broader social issues that don’t line up neatly with the GOP platform. It’s past time the church separate itself from one particular political party and examine closely for itself the teachings of Jesus, which remain radical even in today’s culture.

I was first exposed to Bishop Carlton Pearson on NBC’s Dateline “To Hell and Back”in the Fall of 2007, and did a little internet reading on his story. I saw him again as a panelist in March of this year on ABC’s Night Line Face Off “Does Satan Exist?”. A lot of what he had to say resonated with me and peaked my curiosity to learn more. I recently got his book The Gospel of Inclusion and finished reading it last night.

I enjoyed the book, but it left me unsatisfied. I have a lot of sympathy with what Carlton went through. Like him, my conclusions and de-converting did not begin with an epiphany but was rather the result of a process of wrestling with questions and answers and more questions. True to his disclaimer the book does represent the collective of his post-evangelical sermons and is heavy on Biblical references. I think I was hoping for a little more biographical narrative and less sermonizing, even though I appreciate the difference in tone and aim in the message. I think the book was written primarily as a message to evangelicals, starting where they are and taking them through his theological transition and reasoning making the case for the Gospel of Inclusion.

It’s funny to me that some of the things that many people consider “liberal” seem oddly conservative to me still. Perhaps that’s a measure of how far I’ve come or evidence that I don’t use a yard stick anymore.

I admittedly speed read through the first two-thirds of the book, because he was “preaching to the choir” where I’m concerned. I need no de-converting from evangelicalism. I appreciate the last portion of the book most, where he talked more about life on the otherside of his “coming out” of evangelicalism. I relate to that more. I’m still looking for a book that wrestles more with reading the Bible again for the first time or rethinking faith and practice on the other side of evangelicalism.

I really like Carlton Pearson as a person and have not seen or read anything that would lead me to doubt his motives. If he was out to make money, he surely wouldn’t have thrown away a profitable and high-profile ministry. I think this book is a good bridge for people who are questioning and wrestling with their evangelical background. This book and message won’t lead you away from Christian faith altogether. There’s no brain washing going on here. Just one man’s candid and very personal journal of his faith journey.

The promo for Thursday night’s Nightline on ABC caught my attention: “Does Satan Exist?” Face-Off. The debate line up featured Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Deepak Chopra, Bishop Carlton Pearson, and some girl who founded Hookers for Jesus (no, seriously). I’ve been an admirer of Carlton Pearson and have blogged about his departure from evangelicalismbefore. I’ve also made no secret my support of Deepak Chopra in many blog posts. It was sure to be a dust up, so I watched.

The problem is there were only teaser clips from the most heated parts of the debate and neither view was given any length of time to be properly explored. I thought Deepak came across as angry most of the time, but I guess that comes with the territory when you’re on defense in a church full of people who think you are the anti-Christ. The Hookers for Jesuschick really needs some therapy, in my opinion. I thought Carlton Pearson was graceful as always. Mark Driscoll came across as a guy trying to get PR for himself and his church, who happened to host the event and pass out fliers to the attendees as they were leaving.

I think the unedited full length debate is far more informative than the 30 minute commericial-filled show, but overall I think it was a desperate ratings ploy for the dying Late Night news variety show. Just put Jimmy Kimmel on at 11:30pm est already!!!

Oh, as to the question of whether “Does Satan Exist?”, my answer is emphatically, “No!” I gave up on that a few years ago, along with sin, hell, and neurotic religion-induced guilt. I’m free!  I suppose most people would want a little more substantive explanation, but I really don’t have the intellectual energy to spend on the subject at the moment. Here’s my short take on it:

  • “Satan” is a means of avoiding personal responsibility for your own issues
  • “Satan” is a strained attempt to come to grips with the problem of human suffering
  • “Satan” is another means of religion using fear to manipulate people

The oft used excuse was used in the show a couple times that “The best thing Satan could do is to convince people he doesn’t exist” or some equivalent thereof. That’s a fairly weak argument. Deepak said that a belief in Satan was “primitive,” which got a rouse out of Mark Driscoll who accused Chopra of belittling believers. The point is that believing in Satan is literally one of the most “primitive” beliefs in human history, and its equivalent can be found in the oldest of all religions in ancient history. It’s akin to animal sacrifice, superstitions, etc.

The other argument made in the show was that you cannot believe Satan does not exist and believe that God DOES exist, that you cannot have one without the other. Therein is a slippery slope upon which few will dare to tread. It is my belief that the fundamentalist dogmatic view of God is dead as well as Satan, but that’s a whole other blog post or two or three or a hundred.

The coming evangelical collapse

This article by Michael Spencer in The Christian Science Monitor is a must-read. It is insightful, honest, pragmatic, and prescriptive. It is a prophecy of the kind not seen since the warning of the destruction of Jerusalem in the Old Testament, which by the way was not a supernatural vision but a realistic prediction based on being grounded in reality. Wake up, people!

I just finished reading Frank Schaeffer‘s memoirs Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. I knew of Frank and his father Francis Schaeffer but arrived on the evangelical scene after the rise of the religious right was in full swing. I could not put this book down for a week. It details the childhood and adolescence of Frank in the Schaeffer home of L’Abri in Switzerland where he grew up and the rise of his family in the evangelical community. It is brutally honest, eye-opening, at times laugh out loud funny, and heart breaking.

I enjoyed the book most for being a personal story of someone else on a similar journey as my own, for the same reasons I enjoy de-conversion.com. It is incredibly helpful and psychologically healthy to know that I am not alone in my questions and struggles with faith, doubt, and reason. While all of us end up on different ends of the theological spectrum between devotion and atheism, we share a common journey, common experiences, and a common voice.

I appreciate most from Frank’s book his acknowledgement that this is his life’s story as he sees it now. He recognizes that all our perspectives are skewed knowingly or unknowingly and always written or told from the vantage point of the moment. He says asking the question “who are you?” is insufficient. The necessary question to follow that is “when?” He realizes that as individuals we are in a state of flux throughout our lives and likely to be very different from even ourselves at various times in our lives.

Near the end of the book Frank discloses that he is plugging away at faith, in part, through his conversion to the Greek Orthodox Church mostly because he says, “the Orthodox idea of a slow journey to God, wherein no one is altogether instantly ‘saved’ or ‘lost’ and nothing is completely resolved in this life (and perhaps not in the next), mirrors the reality of how life works, at least as I’ve experienced it.” That makes a lot of sense to me, and while I vascilate daily between belief and unbelief, mystery and reason, life is, if nothing else, a journey on which I am trying to grow and learn and become all that I can while I can. This book is a welcome stepping stone along the way.

Religion and culture behind Texas execution tally

DALLAS (Reuters) – Texas will almost certainly hit the grim total of 400 executions this month, far ahead of any other state, testament to the influence of the state’s conservative evangelical Christians and its cultural mix of Old South and Wild West.

“In Texas you have all the elements lined up. Public support, a governor that supports it and supportive courts,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

“If any of those things are hesitant then the process slows down,” said Dieter. “With all cylinders working as in Texas it produces a lot of executions.” 

Like his predecessor, Governor Perry is a devout Christian, highlighting one key factor in Texas’ enthusiasm for the death penalty that many outsiders find puzzling — the support it gets from conservative evangelical churches.

This is in line with their emphasis on individuals taking responsibility for their own salvation, and they also find justification in scripture.

“A lot of evangelical Protestants not only believe that capital punishment is permissible but that it is demanded by God. And they see sanction for that in the Old Testament especially,” said Matthew Wilson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Texas also stands at an unusual geographical and cultural crossroads: part Old South, with its legacy of racism, and part Old West, with a cowboy sense of rough justice.

There was a time in my life when I supported the death penalty. With education and life experience my feelings have definately shifted. I suppose 10 years of prison ministry had the most profound affect on me, coupled with intern work with hospice care. Mostly when I read this headline and article today I am saddened.

400 executions per month.

In no way should we diminish or dismiss the seriousness of the crimes of the offenders, but what is most appauling is that the presence and influence of evangelical Christians is cited as a reason for the high number of executions. If anything those who claim to have been touched by grace and declare themselves “pro-life” should stand up for the dignity of all life. Killing the worst among us does not make us just or moral. It strips us of our humanity.