Sunday, August 26, 2007

Let's Converse...

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...


Robyn said...

Thank you for this post, Craig. I was wondering if I was the only one who was sorely disappointed in what amounted to McLaren's political rhetoric yesterday. I, too, have enjoyed his writings, but I wonder if he is slowly becoming what he says he despises most.

Katy said...

Oy! Good post, Craig. I have often felt the exact same way with so much of the rhetoric about social justice and pacifism so prevalent in our country these days. I think it's weird to call someone "pro-war" - as if they believe all people should be warring all the time? I don't get it.

Once, I went to a book reading at Powells with two of my Portland friends. Somehow we got on the subject of abortion, and I mentioned having a pretty prochoice view of things. To which my friend's husband automatically said, "So, you're pro-abortion?" And, um, they are not the same thing, because no I don't think every woman should go get an abortion.

And I guess the thing with the poverty argument is that even though I do believe we neglect the poor in this country, I don't believe it's the government's job to care for them (a la Jim Wallis). I think the Bible is pretty clear that God wants the church to take care of the poor, the widow, the orphan. Not Barack Obama. Right?

(P.S. I'm already sick of Barack Obama and the 2008s. Meh.)

Jeanne Damoff said...

"In fact, it wasn't a 'new' question at all, but rather an accusation."

Exactly. I'm impressed, Craig. It's hard to think critically when we sit at the feet of people we hold in high regard. I hope McClaren is surrounded by wise, discerning folks who can speak honestly to his blind spots. Celebrity is such dangerous territory. I don't wish it on anyone I love.

I wrote something in my blog recently about judging others' motives. McClaren fell into that trap with his "question." I don't know any evangelical Christians who love war, hate the poor, and want to see the environment destroyed. Various camps of believers may have very different ideas about how to advance Christ's kingdom, but I like to think all of them ultimately desire to see God glorified, His anemic bride made well, the "least of these" served, and the nations blessed.

The conversation needs people like you, Craig. Thanks for speaking up.

jenA said...

I utter repeats for all the others. Well done on pointing out such a poor use of the pulpit. Alas, you are now where I landed when Gideon made his own political statement one Sunday. He gets two grains of salt.

Aaron said...

The more I read, the more I am becoming convinced of the following statement:

Christians of all types and persuasions are basically clueless about how the Christian faith should influence politics.

I don't say this condescendingly, as though everyone else is clueless and I'm not. I'm just as clueless. I'm not clueless about moral convictions (killing unborn babies is wrong, for example), but I am clueless about how the church should be involved in the public square. Whether it's Brian McLaren from the left or Russell Moore from the right (both of whom come to some similar theological conclusions), I think that good theological arguments can be made for Christian involvement or non-involvement in a wide range of political activities. Should Christians organize public protests? Some say that Christ's lordship demands it; others say Christ's lordship forbids it. Both can argue a good point. I think we're just all clueless on this issue.

J.T. said...

Excellent thoughts, Craig. It'd be a pretty boring conversation without people to articulate another point of view, wouldn't it?

And based on everything I've read and heard from him... I think that if there is anyone with the grace to take such a critique, even consider it valuable, it's Brian McLaren. Don't you think?

Adam said...

I think this is important critique. But I also think he was using strong language to make a point.

You assume his statement was meant to encompass all conservative, Republican Christians. I don't think so. I think he was mainly thinking of radio/tv preachers who probably do fit into those categories. He was speaking to an extreme. I think.

All that being said, I think there is something to be said about your critique. His words were probably not the best.

Lindsay said...


I think your counterpoint is a good one, and probably true. I assume that those McLaren had in mind were probably something like those you mentioned. Still I think there is an unspoken ethic about any pulpit that understands cultural taboos and is consequently smart about what is said.

Even though UBC is the progressive place we all hope it is, I think these rules still apply to some extent.


I think you articulate a position of quite a few. nice post

Carn-Dog said...


Lindsay has a gmail account now. Should have been me, not Linds. Sorry all