Tag Archives: Christianity

World Vision’s Decision Was Still a Watershed Moment

So I wrote a satirical response to the outcry from some Christians  in regards to World Vision’s decision to allow people in committed gay marriages to work there.

Today,  a World Vision employee wrote to me, in regards to that post, thanking me for the humour it added into, what I can only assume, has been an impossibly tough week. It broke my heart to imagine what those on the ground must be experiencing when 2000 people pull their sponsorships within a few hours.

Well, today the absurd got absurder.

World Vision reversed its decision today.

This is sad.

The letter from the board citied a mistake. They re-committed themselves to the “biblical understanding of marriage” (between one man and at least one woman, I guess).

But let’s not fool ourselves.

This is about bullying. This is about the same lobby that managed to get a secular cable network, A&E, to re-instate Phil Robertson, after he said some of the most vile and racist bigoted things you could say and still be published in GQ.

If A&E caved, World Vision didn’t stand a chance.

Evangelicals, especially conservative pastors, shame on you. Double shame on you, Gospel Coalition.

I know that change is hard, I know that you are reacting to the loss of your privilege in the world. And we all know that this reversal is temporary.

As much as I wonder how conservative, American, Republican, culture-war, nation-worship can can still be, in any meaningful sense, called Christianity, I am certainly not going to say farewell to Evangelicals, as they did to World Vision.

But I will offer this rebuke:  As your elder in faith, stop it. Stop acting like a bunch of teenagers and grow up. The I-am-taking-my-ball-and-going-home attitude is old and tired.

As one who has been ordained into a church and denomination that has had to get past many of our own demons, I know that growing up isn’t easy. But the world needs you to grow up, and soon.

In the meantime, for those who are completely lost, saddened and disheartened with what has gone with World Vision this week, let me say something:

World Vision is not the only Christian NGO out there. In fact, there are many who won’t succumb to the Evangelical Lobby anytime in the future. I am not saying stop supporting World Vision, not by any means. Keep signing up for sponsorships, don’t assume those 2000 are coming back. Keep sponsoring those kids you are already sponsoring!

But check out the Christian NGOs below as way of knowing that World Vision is not responsible as an NGO to hold within it the entire diversity of the church. Just as many pointed out, the work World Vision does with communities all over the world is the same, regardless of their employment policies.

Check them out knowing that, in fact, World Vision made the best decision for the communities they work with. World Vision was put into an impossible, no-win, situation and I think they did what was best. They asked, “How can we help as many people as possible?” And so they did what they could to stop the financial bleed.

In the meantime, also keep fighting for LBGT rights, fight for them in all areas of the Church. Fight for them knowing that World Vision’s reversal doesn’t change anything. The policy change on Monday was still a watershed moment for the church, today’s reversal just means the hill to climb is taller than we thought.

Just because the Gospel Coalition is afraid of Gay Terrorists, doesn’t mean we have to fear their conservative backlash. It only means we have them on the ropes.

ARDF_Logo-copy_noTMAnglican Relief and Development Fund

 

LWR-LOGO-HOME-RESIZEDLutheran World Relief

 

 

devp-logo-enCatholic Development and Peace

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 6.37.06 PMMennonite Central Committee

 

 

What do you think of the World Vision Announcement today? Will you change who you give your support to? Share in the comments, on Facebook: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

 

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The Gospel According to Downton Abbey

Around New Years, my wife and I jumped on the Downton Abbey bandwagon and binged-watched the whole series in about a week. For those who don’t know, Downton Abbey features an aristocratic household in the early 20th Century, following the lives of the Lords and Ladies who live “upstairs” and the servants who live “downstairs” at Downton Abbey.

Downton’s appeal is that it is like a view into a time that our world can almost remember. My grandfather born in 1919 would have been a baby just around the time the show takes place. It is almost memorable for us but still so very different.

Now, I promise no spoilers.

Downton-Abbey-CastOne of the main themes of the show is change. The early 20th Century was much like the early 21st Century is now. There was a technological revolution taking place, and it is funny to watch the characters of Downton deal with the newness of very old technology. Electricity, phones and automobiles were transforming the way people communicated, traveled and worked. There were new jobs which required new skills, while old skills and jobs were being made obsolete. Communication over long distances was now instant and ubiquitous, with phones being installed in houses. Cars allowed people to travel farther and faster. Medicine was being revolutionized with anti-biotics and surgical procedures. And of course, warfare became more deadly with inventions like machine-guns and tanks.

Alongside this great technological change was social change. The established social orders were unravelling, the servant class looked forward to new opportunities, while the upper class watched as their power and influence eroded. While the show hasn’t made it as far as the Great Depression, this event would become a seminal moment of this era, leading into a very different middle 20th Century. Communication and technology were creating a new democratization of opportunity. The social playing field was levelling.

The technological and societal changes were evolving a world for the young adult generation that was very different than the world of their parents and grandparents, causing generational tensions.

This all sounds somewhat familiar doesn’t it?

I don’t think Downton Abbey would have worked as a show 10 years ago. Yet, today we can equate the experience of a phone in every house with a smart phone in every pocket. We can understand the experience of new ubiquitous instant telephone communication like new social media connectivity. We experience clear class distinctions with our growing economic disparity and inequality. These mirrored experiences with our great-grandparent’s generation make the show appeal to our present.

However, as a pastor, there is one thing that makes my hair stand on end, episode after episode.

Throughout the show, characters often talk about how “everything is changing.” Even though it isn’t always clear what this new technology and these new social attitudes will mean for the world, everyone carries a deep sense of change. Some embrace the change and look forward to this new world. Others grieve it and lament what these changes will mean. In particular, the privileged upper class is generally fearful of what they will lose and often work to prevent or slow the change. The servant / working class generally embraces the change, looking for what they can gain and attempt to hasten the arrival of this new world.

The experience of “change” that the characters are having is uncannily like the experience of change that so many churches are going through today. In fact, there are moments in the show that feel so much like my day to day life in ministry, as those around me have the same deep sense of the “changing” world of our time. The image of our contemporary church that Downton presents is not lost on me for a second.

As these once great aristocratic families wander about this great house, this great mostly empty Abbey (or church), bemoaning the change going on about them; they have no idea how they got to where they are, they do not know how to react or what to prepare for. As it becomes clearer that their traditions and social standing are no longer relevant or guaranteed by society itself, the upper class holds on tighter and tighter to what they once had and long for a return to earlier times.

Just to make sure there is nothing missed, the completion of the mirror image comes in the grief the upper class carries for their loss of privilege.

No, the image that Downton presents of present day Christianity, especially mainline Christianity, is not lost on me at all.

Downton Abbey should become required watching for churches today.

It would serve us well to see just how blind we are to our entrenched societal privilege. It would serve us well to see how our traditions are viewed by those forced to attend to them rather than benefit from them. It would serve us well to see how our privilege is not going to last forever, in fact, it will probably not even last the decade.

As our privileged position of being the state and social religion, of being the dominant culture and moral system, of being able to discriminate for “religious reasons” is coming to an end, it can only be a good thing for us.

This is where the gospel part of Downton Abbey comes in. The privileged class sees only the loss of their position and power in the world, but the under class starts to see the beginning of something new. They see hope for a different world.

As a millennial, I only have the foggiest or vicarious memory of the glory days of Christian privilege. As a pastor, I don’t remember being a well respected authority figure in the larger community. I don’t remember churches having much, if any, influence over society around us. But like the young aristocrats of Downton Abbey who are far more comfortable with this new world, and who are far more comfortable interacting with the lower classes, I am ready to be – and to lead – the Church into this new world.

It is very tempting to lament our loss of privilege, we could just wander about our big empty churches wondering how we got to where we are, but the Good News of Downton Abbey is that our privilege is being stripped from us. It is Good News because the barriers that prevented the under-privileged from integrating with us are falling down. It is Good News because we can now begin to play on a level playing field, a democratized playing field where people can choose us, rather than be forced to adhere to us. It is Good News because, like the aristocrats of Downton Abbey, it is time for the world to stop serving us and for us to start serving the world.

Besides, I think serving the world was kind of big deal for that guy we like to follow… Jeeves was it? Or Juan?

Oh right… Jesus.

So are you a fan of Downton Abbey? Experienced the Church’s struggle with change? Share in the comments, on Twitter: @ParkerErik, or on Facebook

More posts about change:

Why Christians have lost the argument for faith before it started

Old and New: Thanks about the World Differently

Evangelical drama needs Mainline experience

high-schoolThese days, Evangelicalism makes me feel old. And tired.

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