Brian McLaren spoke at church this morning. If you've read my blog since the beginning, you've no doubt sensed that this guy's writings have been pretty influential on my life. He's put my mind and beliefs on new playing fields and has given words to those deep feelings many of us have in our gut that things just aren't right, but that they can be.
The previous paragraph was one of those pleasant disclaimers I give before offering a critique. The next paragraph will be one of those critiques I give after the pleasant disclaimer. You know how the game works.
He basically, without actually using the "E" word, walked us through the history of the Emergent, (or emergent, depending on your fancy,) conversation. He made distinctions between Renewal, which is just repackaging the same old answers to the same old questions in new, more hip terminology, Reformation, which provides new answers to old questions, and Revolution, which asks a whole new set of questions altogether. Of course, if you've ever heard a preacher, you know the third one is always the best. In stating some of the "new questions" that many people began to ask in the mid-90's, he mentioned several good ones. But then he brought this question up-- "Why are so many Christians pro war, anti poor, and anti environment?"
The phrasing of that question disappoints me, in that it's tone is completely antithetical to McLaren's other writings. A New Kind of Christian suggested an alternative to the old way of describing things as left or right, conservative or liberal, and encouraged us to move away from the demonizing rhetoric often used to discredit those with differing beliefs. If I found myself in a circle of God's Politics totin', Social Justice screamin', Environment saving Christians, and the subject of abortion came up, how do you think I would be treated if I referred to those who believe abortion should be a legal option as "pro abortion," or "anti life?" Surely I would get the "I don't believe in abortion either" speech then the "But there is more to 'life' issues than abortion" speech, then somewhere along the way I would be encouraged to be a little more sensitive in how I refer to those that differ from me. Yet how is this any different than calling those who believe war is an option "pro war?" Of course I believe there is room for discussions on Just War and pacifism and how they relate to following Christ, and even how they relate to our position with the state, but I don't believe there is room in a so called "generous" movement for the name calling McLaren resorted to in that "question." In fact, it wasn't a "new" question at all, but rather an accusation.
And on the idea of the "anti poor" statement, McLaren is on shaky ground here. If he wants to accuse Republican political policies as being negligent of the marginalized, minorities, and poverty stricken, that is one thing. (And it's one thing I might could start believing very soon.) But his "question" was directed to Christians, and presumably conservative Christians, not to the Republican establishment that used Christians to get elected. Legion are the amount of evangelical churches that take care of the poor. Perhaps they do it purely out of soul-saving hopes, but a full belly on a previously hungry child is just as full with the food given by soul winners as by the government, (which could, at times, be adequately described as soul takers.)
My fear is that McLaren has cast his lot too much with Jim Wallis, who in my mind is nothing more than Pat Robertson or James Dobson, just with a different political agenda. It's hard to preach a distrust of the Religious Right's proximity to power when guys like Wallis are whispering in the ears of Hillary and Obama, the two people who will very likely be in the White House in a little over a year. None of this takes away from McLaren's influence on my life, and he has still written some damn good stuff. But my numb-minded, critique free infatuation with him is over.
Let's just see if there is still room in the conversation for people like me...