The week that Phil Robertson was suspended, I was preparing for the funeral of a 16-month old girl killed in a car crash. The week he was re-instated, I was preparing for a funeral of man who took his own life, leaving 3 young children behind.
Throughout the last few months as a famous pastor was accused of plagiarism, as the Pope was called a marxist, as the issue of the role of women in Evangelicalism continued to rage, as the war on Christmas rolled into full force, it just made me tired.
I watched as progressive Evangelicals bemoaned the state of their tribe. As some called for schism, as others resolved to quit fighting about it, even others thought about leaving altogether, and still others spoke thoughtfully into the cacophony that is Christian twitter, blogs, and media.
All Christians in North America, if they are paying attention, are forced to watch the Evangelical tribe as it rumbles and quakes about whatever is the issue of the day is. And I cannot help but see it all as some grandiose high school drama.
There is the usual cast of characters:
The Football Team (Mark Driscoll, John Piper, John Eldredge). The crowds love them, but most cannot see that they are also the bullies. They are pretty sure the football is only for boys, and the only sport for girls is cheerleading.
The Rich Kids (Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer). They are generally oblivious to the fact that there are other students at the high school. No one really likes them, but many want to be like them.
The Valedictorian (Rachel Held Evans). She is bright and well-liked, but constantly at odds with the football team for pointing out girls can play sports and the football team is getting too much money.
The Hipster School Newspaper Reporter (Micah J. Murray). He is interested in the truth and real stories. The football team can’t stand that he keeps writing about girls and the glee club.
The Debate Team (Zach Hoag, Tony Jones, Fred Clark, Benjamin Corey and others). They are passionate and articulate, and even agree about almost everything. But they often sound like they are fighting.
The Misunderstood Artist (David Hayward/Naked Pastor). Everyone loves his work, even if they don’t quite get it.
The Foreign Exchange Student (Sarah Bessey). Many love her, but the football team is suspicious because she has introduced this thing called “Jesus Feminism.” This new idea is causing quite the stir.
The Activist Club (The Junia Project). They are a group of passionate students, working to get their message out, and the football team is ignoring it at all costs.
(There are certainly more characters and roles than I have named here).
And there are us non-students. Those of us who are part of the story, non-Evangelical Christians, but not central figures.
There is Grandma (Roman Catholicism) and she has long been loved by the football team. Grandma used to knit scarves as Christmas presents for the team, but this year she decided that instead she was going to give goats and wells to poor people in their name and they didn’t like that at all. But the valedictorian, newspaper, activist club and debate team loved it.
And there is the star Substitute Teacher (Nadia Bolz-Weber), and the students think she is cool and hip, even members of the football team think she is badass. The students hear what she has to say as if it is fresh and new, but the same stuff the rest of the teachers have been saying for years.
(Again there are more characters than I can name.)
So yes, I watch this drama and it is tiring, but there is no choice. As a young Lutheran pastor and a Mainline Christian, I know that many in my tribe feel the same, Evangelicals tire us out. They tire us out because we are the frazzled teachers and haggard parents to these high schoolers. We brought them into the world, and so we bear some responsibility for their drama. Yes, we can seem remarkably like their Grandma, but she and us had a big fight long before the high school students can remember, and we haven’t totally got past it yet. But as their parents and teachers, most of them find us uncool, irrelevant, wishy washy, out of fashion, and boring. There are a few who are starting to find us interesting and worth hearing out.
Still, Evangelicals need us. They need our experience, our wisdom, our calmness. They need our depth, our ability to see the grey areas of faith, our comfort with the tensions. They need us because we have been where they are going as they grow up. After our big fight with Grandma, we started fighting with each other, armies got involved, and people died. We have had our drama too.
And we need Evangelicals. We need their drama. We need their drama to remind us of how important this faith business, how important Jesus, is. Their drama reminds us of the passion we once had 500 years ago, of our own willingness to fight for every inch of the gospel. The high school might rumble and quake, and we will get tired of how loudly each mole hill gets argued over. But they keep us from getting apathetic, from getting too comfortable, and too familiar.
Hopefully, they will eventually come to see how they need us. Maybe they can stop looking for our flash when we offer rootedness. Maybe they will stop hoping for our strong declarations when we offer complex responses. Maybe they will stop seeking our innovation when we offer submission to the traditions of the faith community over time. Maybe they can stop wishing for big personalities from our pastors, when we offer professionalism and education.
Evangelicals, with their drama AND passion, need the Mainline.
Hopefully, we will accept that we need them. Maybe we can stop looking for their traditionalism, when they offer creativity. Maybe we can stop hoping for institutional cohesiveness for them, when they offer a grass roots touch. Maybe we can stop seeking them to honour what has “always been”, when they offer excitement for what is new. Maybe we can stop wishing their pastors will fit the mold, when they offer dynamic leadership. Mainliners, despite being tired AND experienced, need Evangelicalism.
In the meantime, despite myself, I will continue watching the high school, being exasperated by the drama and walking with my Evangelical brothers and sisters… because the Mainline needs them.
What do you think? Is Evangelicalism high school drama? Share in the comments or on twitter: @parkererik or on Facebook
Want more drama? Read: 12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better