20 Problems with Progressive Christianity…

I’m a progressive Christian (or I think I am), though I’m not sure I’ve ever uttered that sentence aloud. That’s not because I’m ashamed of the label, but more or less because nobody seems to define “progressive Christian” the same way. (<-That’s problem number 1).

That’s partly because “progressive” is a vague term in today’s culture, nearly as vague as the word “Christian.” It’s no wonder the combo of the two make for a less than definitive idea. (<-Problem number 2?)

However, despite America’s progressive Christianity being undefined (Is it a movement? Is it organized? Is there any unity whatsoever?), a growing number of believers—many of whom are Christians who grew up in conservative churches/denominations—are still choosing to wear the  label. That said, nobody who comes from conservative backgrounds jumps into faith-based progressivism headfirst. While not all progressive churchgoers are former conservative Christians or disenfranchised evangelicals, many indeed are coming from those backgrounds with a myriad of expectations, disillusions, frustrations, hopes, etc. And chances are, for a majority of those onetime fundamentalists or evangelicals, their journeys toward progressive Christianity evolved over many years and often started out of a place of spiritual pain or spiritual doubt or spiritual disenchantment. For them, “Progressive Christian” is a label they approach cautiously and slowly, often wading into their new realities/understandings with far more uncertainty than faith. (<-Problem number 3? That depends.)

Personally, I began embracing the progressive term mostly because other people labeled me as such. Though I’m fairly outside the evangelical box with my theology, I don’t attend a progressive church and many of my best friends are self-identifying conservative or moderate evangelicals. It wasn’t until 2, maybe 3, years ago that I started owning the label to some degree, though I confess, sometimes I do so with much trepidation. Why? For several reasons: Labels frustrate me. Sure, I see their necessity and often use labels and/or stereotypes in my own writing, I also find them to be somewhat unhelpful, suffocating, and limiting in the real world. Moreover, as I mentioned, “progressive” is such an indistinct term with a multitude of variables that owning the label doesn’t “define” me as much as it puts me in a corner with a host of other wonderful and complicated believers/thinkers who (<-Here’s problem number 4->) often have many of their own issues with the label/concept.

However, in my owning of the label and becoming mostly comfortable in this skin, I’ve certainly become privy to many of Progressive Christianity’s shortcomings, especially as they relate to those of us who haven’t always been “progressive” in our spirituality. (I somehow missed problem number 5.)

For example, many of us have a cumbersome relationship with scripture. (<-Problem number 6) Am I allowed to say that? Yes, suggesting that many of us have complicated relationships with scripture might give some people a reason to pounce on us even more than they do (or perhaps discount us altogether), but let’s face it: many of us (not all of us) are a bit clumsy when it comes to scripture.

Now, it’s not that we don’t love scripture, we do love it. We just also hate it sometimes, at least parts of it. Often our odd relationships with the Bible are because we come from experiences where chapter and verse was/is the beginning and the end of God and many of us had that view of God memorized by the time we hit puberty. (<-Problem number 7.) Which isn’t our fault, of course; but for many of us, our history with God’s Word has caused us to become less-than-passionate about using scripture to prove our new, more progressive, points/ideas/theories. Why?
Well, for several reasons perhaps.

1) Because many of us likely know how to prove the opposing view with scripture as well or better than we can prove our current view.

2) Because some of us are uncertain (or fearfully certain) of where to begin or how to prove our current views using scripture.

3) Because a few of us are somewhat unconvinced that “progressive theology” can actually be found in the biblical narrative.

4) Because it’s much easier to just use scripture as a tool against conservative ideas (our old way of thinking) than it is to use it to build up and/or support our new understanding. (<-Problem number 8.)

And trust me (<-Here’s problem number 9->), I get it; going from thinking about the Bible in that literal spoken from the mouth of God and using it as a weapon sense to thinking about the Bible in that non-literal, biblical narrative—part history, part allegory, part inconclusive riddle but always inspired—sense is a difficult journey for most of us. Yes, we believe scripture is “inspired,” but we don’t know exactly what that means, at least, not like we once did. Now, though we often say it’s inspired, how “inspired” impacts our understanding of the Book of Judges and whether or not that story in the Book of Judges about a woman getting cut up into 12 pieces and sent as gifts to the 12 Tribes says anything true about God is another thing altogether.

A part of the bigger problem is that it’s easy for many of us onetime conservatives/now progressives to get caught up in our faith being defined by our past as opposed to it being inspired by what’s in front of us (<-Problem number 10). In other words, many of us know exactly what we believe to be true and untrue about the churches we grew up in, the theologies that we were taught, and the perceptions of God that we once worshiped. And there’s nothing wrong with knowing what we believe to be good and true about our pasts. But sometimes we fall onto the path of getting so lost in fighting the ills of our former spiritual lives that we go for long periods of time when that’s all our faith is, one big fight against what was. (Now, for some of us, I think that’s exactly where we need to be. Because the freedom to be angry is a part of the journey.)

But some of us linger there because we are so uncomfortable engaging God with questions and doubt (<-Problem number 11). In many ways, we don’t know how to engage God without belief squarely intact (<-Problem number 11.5), so we instead become consumed by our own certainty about other people’s certainty. And there’s a time and place for that! But for many, engaging in spiritual wars (usually online) become the most visible, worked-out part of our faiths. Our Christianities become seemingly void of belief or hope or even questions and doubt and instead, most known for a mostly clumsy presentation of angst (<-Problem number 12).

And again, I get it. I really do. Angst, in the right context, is a beautiful thing. But sometimes it seems that’s all our faith is—angst against what was. I’m constantly struggling with this. Because on one hand I do want to use my voice and influence to speak up for those who have been silenced by the sometimes harsh certainty of evangelical, reformed, and fundamentalist doctrines—and I will continue to do that because speaking up for somebody else is a whole other thing—but when the fight is only personal, bursting out from the unresolved issues we have with our former selves, it’s easy to begin mistaking those fights as elements of faith(<-Problem number 13). I’ve learned (and am still learning) that I can’t hand my fights down to my kids and expect them to want to engage God. I can’t inspire belief and hope and mystery with only personal angst toward my past. (Problem number 14->) If our progressive faiths are going to be more than simply labels or responses to our pasts then we must become comfortable engaging the story of God without the lens of our former spiritual ideas. We must accept that it’s far more difficult to pursue God’s story with doubt, questions, and little bit of hope than it is with certainty and doctrine. But we must, if we want to be happy and content and continue on something of a Christian path, take the difficult path, relearn how to believe without certainty, and allow grace to fill in a few of the cracks. Because if our past faith is the defining factor in our current faith, is that really faith? I think that’s a question we must answer ourselves, in our own time.

For many of us, the journey out of angst includes learning the art of critiquing/questioning the Church. Progressive Christians have always been fantastic critics (<-Problem number 16? Sometimes. But not always.). In fact, here in America, it was often because of progressive believers that change in America’s Church became possible, that abuses by churches and ministries were challenged, that hate and intolerance amid the culture was uncovered and remedied. They made mistakes and weren’t always friendly. But sometimes, the sins that the Church commits in God’s name demand to be confronted by unfriendly voices. So all of us should thank God for good critics. We need critics. But the one bigger difference about many progressive voices from our history and many of the progressive voices of today is that the best progressive thinkers of our country’s past learned the art of balancing the breaking of things down and the calling of wrongs out with the creation of ideas, theologies, new ways of thinking, and hopes, inspiration that helped in the pursuit of reframing faith, rebuilding churches, and reconnecting people to the stories of God. (Problem number 17->) Many of us (me included!) are terrible at that balance. Some of us aren’t even looking for the balance.

Again, this isn’t true for every progressive voice. Some people are indeed balancing their fight against the establishment with truths and ideas for reconstruction. But finding the footing or foundation to be both good critics as well as good inspirers is difficult for many of us. (Problem number 18->) Some of us are so busy sharpening our skills as critics that even if our voices do inspire change, we often miss the opportunities that come along to be a part of what happens—the rebuild—after the change (<-Problem number 18.5) Why?

Because we’ll be tempted to find something new that’s broken to critique.

Because at the end of the day, though many of us truly want to help to build something authentic, something new, something believable, something hopeful, something good, many of us still don’t know what that something is… which pays tribute to that earlier point that progressive Christianity is vague and undefined.

Because again, progressives are fantastic critics—needed critics! However, their talent for critiquing the ills of the Church or the sins of the “other side” are only outdone by their seemingly limitless ability to eat up their own kind without a second thought. It’s kind of shocking to behold actually. But progressive Christians jumping on other progressive Christians over the tiniest differences is disheartening. I’ve watched Christians who support equality lash out at other Christians who support equality. I’ve witnessed Christian feminists hating on other Christian feminists. And that’s just the beginning. Many of us are just spectators to these wars, and while we don’t get involved too often, the interactions silence us. Why? Because we’re afraid of our own kind (<-Problem number 19). Yes. It’s true. I think THIS is one of the biggest problems in the progressive Christian culture and why so few new ideas come out of this trend/movement: Because it seems there’s so little grace for mistakes or for being wrong or for being not completely right… And so many progressives become so intoxicated by their own “pet issues” (ideas that most inspire them or interest them) that speaking into that issue is to risk getting attacked socially online by that individual and their friends…. somebody who fights poverty but doesn’t fight poverty the way one person or group thinks it should be fought, they are ridiculed with rage online. Or somebody who speaks out against our country’s racial inequality but either doesn’t do it exactly the way a person/group thinks it should be done or isn’t the kind of person that a person/group thinks they should be, they get vehemently attacked. And I could go on and on. Which is why I think progressive Christianity remains so vague, so undefined. It’s not conservative theologians that limit us. We are far more limited by those with whom we agree with 99 percent of time (<-Problem number 20).

And I believe we can do better. But we need to pick up the mirror. And take a long look.

 

 

 

 

 

Do you believe in Hell? Has your doctrine regarding Hell changed?

As you might know, I started a podcast with Benjamin L. Corey a few weeks ago. It’s called THAT GOD SHOW and if you haven’t listened yet, I’d love for you to give it a chance.

I know very little about podcasting. But I’m pretty good at talking. And sometimes I’m pretty good at talking too much.

This week’s episode is a conversation about Hell and how many Christians’s perception(s) of eternal torment are changing. Or at the very least, believers seem more comfortable questioning evangelicalism’s popular understanding of Hell.

Give it a listen!

Other episodes:
Episode 4: A discussion about Mars Hill Church’s drama
Episode 3: How to leave fundamentalism

And please subscribe to it on iTunes.

A new documentary that aims to prove the Holy Spirit is real. (I watched it… twice.)

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A month ago I received an email from the publicist of a new documentary called Holy Ghost. Apparently, he’d read my Daily Beast piece about Jesus movies and wanted to talk to me about writing something about the film he was promoting, the Darren Wilson-directed “adventure” about the Spirit of God. After watching the trailer—a three-minute teaser that features Michael W. Smith, Lenny Kravitz, members of the band Korn, pastors, evangelists, worship leaders, and other Christian thinkers—I was interested in possibly writing something for The Daily Beast. After exchanging emails with my editor, I decided to see the movie, perhaps interview Wilson (which I did last Friday), and write something prior to the documentary’s release on Saturday, September 6.

As soon as the publicist sent me a link to the Holy Ghost screener, I started watching it.

For three minutes, I was hooked. Cautiously hooked. But hooked.

It was hard not to be hooked. At the very beginning of the documentary, Wilson, who narrates Holy Ghost, plainly states his lofty reason for making this film: I want to show you something. Something you’ve never seen before. Some say he’s dead. Some say he’s silent. Some say he’s a figment of my imagination. But the Holy Spirit is real, and I’m going to prove it.

That’s what he says. I listened to it 10 times to make sure I heard him correctly. Because even for a director who I suspect leans charismatic in his understanding of God’s spirit (the documentary is somehow connected with Bethel Church), beginning a movie with I’m going to prove the presence of God is real is a mouthful.

It might be a crazy mouthful. Or as Wilson calls it, a “risky” mouthful. But as a hook, it’s brilliant. But you better be able to back it up with content.

As if proving that the Spirit of God existing on Earth wasn’t enough, Wilson goes on to say, I wanna take the greatest risk possible as a filmmaker, to make a move that is completely led by the Holy Spirit… just show up wherever he leads me, find the adventure, and make God famous.

And then, as quickly as I was hooked, I became less hooked. “Led by the Holy Spirit” tends to be little more than jargon when it’s regarding popular culture (click here to read how Wilson defines being “led”).

Inside my head, I started to hear a voice, perhaps it was my own voice or maybe it was the Holy Spirit’s voice–whoever it was, the voice caused me to think, maybe I don’t want to write about this movie for The Daily Beast.

Ignoring the voice, I kept watching.

Now, Holy Ghost features four main story lines (story lines mostly built around locations that the Holy Spirit told Wilson to visit and the people at these locations that the Holy Spirit told Wilson to talk to). In between these featured locations/stories, Wilson inserts clips from celebrities, pastors, theologians, and other Christian leaders talking candidly and passionately about what the Holy Spirit means to them. Those short vignettes are the best part of this documentary. They showcase the diversity of how people think about the Holy Spirit. They feature slightly varied theologies and thoughts and experiences regarding the Holy Spirit. I didn’t agree with everything that people talked about, but I still enjoyed hearing people talk about their understandings about the Holy Spirit.

But the majority of Wilson’s documentary isn’t that kind of commentary. Most of Holy Ghost depicts Wilson seemingly trying really really hard to squeeze some sort of spiritual or miraculous or inspired narrative out of the experiences he and his friends encountered while visiting the locations that the Holy Spirit told them to visit.

And where did the Holy Spirit tell Wilson to go? To Salt Lake City. To Monaco. To a Korn concert.  And to Varanasi, India.

The first locale presented in the film is Salt Lake City. Here, Wilson followed Will Hart and Jamie Galloway around the streets of Salt Lake City. The two ministers walked up to random strangers and prayed for them. Which seems innocent enough, right? I thought so too. But it all became weird very fast.

During the first encounter with a man who is said to suffer from night terrors, Galloway tells the man that he can get rid of those nightmares—SNAP! (he literally snapped)—right now. Galloway told the man that Jesus had saved him from night terrors when he was a kid and then he told him, “[Jesus] gave me special powers to set other people free.”

Galloway grabs the man’s hand/arm (at times, his hand just hovers over the stranger’s hand) and prays: Holy Spirit, I want you to touch my friend, show him you’re really real and break him free from all the haunting spirits that have been assigned to his life. He looks at the stranger. You feel that? The man seems unconvinced. Galloway says, Watch! Still holding/hovering a hand over the man’s hand, Galloway waves his other hand over their joined hands and says, Double it. Double it. The man seems to feel something. Galloway then prays, Holy Ghost, I pray you send your power all the way up his arm as a sign of your love. Thanks Jesus. Feel that?

The stranger says, “My armpit’s cold all of a sudden.”

Galloway says, “Yeah, watch, double it. Double it. More.”

Eventually, after a few doses of Double It praying, the stranger shouts, “Woa! My nipples just got hard.”

Maybe the Holy Spirit does make people’s nipples hard. I had a friend in college who said he sometimes got horny in the presence of God. #TrueStory But hard nipples, like erections, don’t prove God’s presence.

The Holy Spirit did lots of tricks on the streets of Salt Lake City. Hart and Galloway prayed over one young man with a hurting arm. When the Holy Spirit didn’t make the boy’s arm better the first time, they prayed their Double It, Double It prayer over him again. And that didn’t work either. So they prayed Double It again. That third time was a keeper, though it was an awkward keeper.

And that’s why I ended up deciding that I wasn’t going to write about Holy Ghost for The Daily Beast. Because but for the interviews with people about the Holy Spirit and the sincerely told stories/testimonies of how Korn’s Brian and Fieldy found God, Holy Ghost is, in my opinion, filled up with some really awkward moments, moments that include evangelist Todd White praying over an atheist who had a bad back. How did Todd a la the Holy Spirit help the atheist? He/Holy Spirit made one of the man’s legs two inches longer. That’s one of the oldest “Holy Spirit” tricks in the book.

During the moments in Holy Ghost where praying over people or healing people was the intention, the tactics used were the same exact tactics (or nearly the same tactics) that mediums and spiritual healers use. They often made “cold readings”  or suggestions about what the Holy Spirit was saying about people’s ailments, trying to find a story line to jump on or a body part to heal. The only difference between the language and tactics that the pastors used and mediums use was their words were sprinkled with “Jesus.”

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In Varanasi, India—the grand finale location in the documentary—the Holy Spirit told Wilson he was to go and worship Jesus at a spot along the Ganges River where, according to Wilson, worshiping Jesus was “suicide.” Why? Because Wilson said this was where “the militants” were. In fact, one of the cast members says, “This is the most radical places on earth.”

But when singer/worship leader Jake Hamilton started singing about “freedom” (and Jake can sing—he has a powerful soulful voice), rather than killing the Anglo-Saxon man with the guitar, the alleged militants who hated Jesus gathered around and seemed to enjoy the music. How the narrative plays out and is depicted on film, the viewer is left with the impression that, because Wilson, Jake, and the rest of the Christians weren’t beaten to a pulp by militant Hindus and/or militant Buddhists (the “militants” are given little to no context), that it was obviously the Holy Spirit that protected them. Now, maybe what happens in the film is indeed a miracle, something that nobody else had ever attempted without getting killed, but that’s impossible to know. The scene is so filled with narrative flaws/gimmicks, convenient and choppy editing, and a seeming lack of appreciation and knowledge about the culture and the Indian people that this scene all felt like one big emotionally dishonest clip.

Then, amid the Jesus fest that was happening on the banks of the Ganges River, just after the Holy Spirit finished healing another leg, some of the local people who hated Christians more than anything became restless. Because all of a sudden, the narrator declares, “Jake was attacked.” The “attack” happened off camera, of course, and how Jake explains what happens—that amid all of the handshaking that was happening, one man walks up and grabs his arm, which he says seemed “not good”—it remained unclear whether or not the “attack” was an actual attack or just a cultural misunderstanding. But whatever it was, whether it was a real attack or nothing at all, it was used as a movie device, a moment of tension (shaking camera footage to boot) that forced the group to leave where they were—but again, without context or story or video of anything remotely violent. Again, maybe Jake was physically attacked. Maybe, as one of the team members suggested might happen, the natives were getting ready to cut the Christians up into pieces and throw them into the Ganges River. Maybe. But no proof of that is offered. It’s just editorialized. No footage of that is shown. It’s just talked about.

And that is not only emotionally and spiritually dishonest, it’s unfair to the people of Varanasi, India who were there that day.

I had a long list of problems with Holy Ghost. None of those problems involved how people talked about God’s Spirit but rather in how they used God’s spirit, how they attempted to put God’s spirit on display like a magic trick show.

Watch the movie yourself. See what you think. I’ll confess, I could be wrong. Maybe you’ll think the movie is glorious 2-hour display of God’s wonder and presence.

I asked Wilson if he believed that his documentary proved that the presence of God’s spirit was real. He said yes. I disagreed with him. And seemed okay with that.

But having watched Holy Ghost twice and parts of it 4, 5, and even 10 times, and I don’t believe the movie offered one story or event or idea or “proof” that the Holy Spirit was real. The most compelling parts of the movie were when people were talking, telling us what they believed, or how they engaged the spirit of God.

That said, I believe in God’s spirit. I’ve had moments when I believe that I sensed God’s spirit to do something or call somebody or reach out to a stranger. But these moments are personal. Put up on a screen or on display, they wouldn’t prove that God was real, except for me and the person who I called or reached out to or helped. On my Facebook pages (here and here), I asked people about their experiences with the Holy Spirit (the conversation that developed was another reason I decided to not put this up at The Daily Beast). While some people’s stories reflected similar happenings as those depicted in Holy Ghost, the majority of the responses were heartfelt experiences that were personal, sometimes miraculous, but personal, unexplainable, filled with humanity and doubt, and often sent to me via a private message because they wanted to honor their story/experience.

Sometimes I wonder if we Christians, in our attempts to “make God famous” using the Holy Spirit, blaspheme the spirit of God with our showy attempts to perform tricks or prove.

Because how we talk about God matters. How we “use” God’s story is affecting God’s story. As soon as we take our personal engagements with the Spirit of God and showcase them as performances or trickery or emotional rallying calls—regardless if our intentions are good or bad—we are gambling with the story of God. When we say that God directed us in the making of a documentary, that documentary better good. Should it rival Creation? Perhaps, since that’s what we are comparing it to by association. Because that’s how we believe God works, perfectly, beautifully, miraculously, etc. So when our God-inspired products are bad or filled with discrepancies or feel manipulative or don’t back up our big grandiose claims, then we’re doing a disservice to God’s story.

If Holy Ghost was indeed directed/led by the Holy Spirit, it would be a much better documentary. But as is, it feels like a documentary about Christians doing what some Christians do in hopes that Christians will sit for two hours and watch what happens. Which is fine, I suppose. But this documentary isn’t proof of God existing, just proof that Christians exist.

Again, this is just my opinion.

And I could be wrong.

This is my last blog post about Mark Driscoll…

Nine current Mars Hill pastors have signed a letter to Mark Driscoll, requesting their leader to resign from his job as pastor and all other ministry responsibilities. And then, former Mars Hill pastor, Bent Meyer, released this.

According to Seattle news, one of those pastors was terminated yesterday for being “rebellious.”

I cannot imagine what mental, spiritual, and emotional hoops those nine men had to jump/crawl over and/or through in order to muster up the courage to send that letter. I commend those brave souls for taking that risk and standing up for the health and well-being of the members of Mars Hill Church.

While the letter is worth reading in its entirety, the paragraph that stood out to me was this one:

Where there is nothing to hide, there is no fear of being exposed. But, rather than seeking clarity, we have cloaked ourselves in non-disclosure agreements. We have become masters of spin in how we communicate the transition of a high volume of people off staff. We have taken refuge behind official statements that might not technically be lies on the surface, but in truth are deeply misleading.

The pastors’s letter as well as a multitude of other recent stories, testimonies, and letters from countless former Mars Hill staff members offer such vivid and personal proof of what a handful of bloggers (me included) have been saying and writing for years: Mark Driscoll should not be a pastor. Mark Driscoll should not being doing ministry. Mark Driscoll should be fired immediately!

May God give the people who are making those decisions wisdom.

***

Yesterday, I received two emails regarding my blog coverage of Mark Driscoll. In one of those emails, the writer called me a “viper.” He went on to say that I “was only using Driscoll to sell books.” His email was rather tame compared to some of the other emails, comments, and messages I’ve received from Driscoll apologists. Recently, many of Mark’s supporters has started adding one phrase at the beginning of their defenses: I’m no Mark Driscoll fan but… Or I think Mark Driscoll is a terrible pastor but… Or I believe Mark Driscoll has made some awful mistakes but… After the “buts” they write long paragraphs about how I’m worse than Mark or just like him or how I’ll one day be judged for “shaming a man of God.”

While that kind of criticism never feels good, I’ve learned not take it to heart. I’ve learned from those harsh critiques. Sometimes I’ve prayed for them. And sometimes their letters have caused me to pray about my own heart, motives, etc. And in a way, I understand why they’re angry. It’s hard reading stories of ugly and abusive behavior about somebody you admire.

Several of the harshest critics have sent me second letters, messages of apology for lashing out at me.

But I get why people get angry and emotional. Because there’s nothing fun or pretty about what’s happened and still happening at Mars Hill.

The other message I received yesterday said this: MPT, as I read the letter from the 9 current pastors today I wept with a renewed belief in God’s sovereignty. You are a part of that and I am thankful to God for you. Had you not broke the story of Andrew last year, I doubt things could have reached the tipping point where we are today. Thank you.

While the notes of gratitude haven’t shown up nearly as often as the angry emails have, every “Thank You” spoke to me, encouraged me, and challenged me.

This is my last blog post about Mark Driscoll.

Why? Because I no longer need to blog about Mark. People far better fit to tell the story are now doing just that–they’re speaking up! And thank God they are. May they be heard.

Three years ago, only a small number of us were willing to tell the story. But that’s no longer the case.

I don’t know what will happen to Mars Hill. And I don’t know what Mark will decide to do. I hope he humbly resigns. I think that’s the best possible scenario for Mars Hill’s people/members.

But most of all, I hope we The Church learn from this experience. I hope that we learn to listen to the stories of those who cry out for help! I hope we stop ignoring the voices of victims in effort to cover up the sins of a pastor. I hope we learn to put truth before celebrity, power, and money. I hope what’s happening at Mars Hill will teach all of us what can happen when the story of God is misused, abused, and used for our own glory.

If we learn anything from this mess, may we learn that! God is not a manipulating device. God is not a platform for powerful men to use for their own good and others bad. God is not a shield for abusers to hide behind.

Let’s be wise in how we share God’s story. Let’s be humble. Let’s blanket our words and actions with love and mercy. But in our pursuit of grace, let’s not destroy the lives of victims and ignore their stories in order to protect the careers/stories of powerful men.

***

May God have mercy on Mark Driscoll. May God surround his wife, Grace, and their kids with love and mercy.

May God show grace and give wisdom to those who are making the decisions at Mars Hill.

May God elevate the stories of the victims, the broken, and heal their lives/souls with hope.

And may God help the rest of us learn from this narrative.

May God use this as a mirror for us to examine our own stories/actions.

 

5 Lingering Effects of Fundamentalism

People often talk about fundamentalism like it’s a geographical location, a place or environment where they experienced the dark ills of religiosity. “But thank God I walked away when I did,” they’ll often say. Or they’ll note, “that place was evil! Happy I’m not there.” How they talk about it seems to imply that walking away was all the remedy they needed.

Of course, talking about fundamentalism like it’s an experience one can easily separate themselves from is very normal, but it’s also naive. Nobody walks away from fundamentalism. We might walk away from a church or away from a cult or spiritual abusive situation. But upon leaving a toxic religious experience, we don’t leave unaffected or alone.

Surprising to many is that recovering from fundamentalism is not a simple journey. Healing is a far more complex path than what most of us anticipate. I think that’s because fundamentalism affects the deepest part of who we are, our souls. It infects our spiritual selves. It involves the core of our being, everything from what we believe to be true about the world and about God to who and how we pursue relationships with others. Fundamentalism is a lifestyle. I don’t think we realize that. But it is. Fundamentalism is not simply a creed that we memorized or a good thing gone wrong, it’s who we are. That sounds really dramatic, I know; but I think it’s true: We are the fundamentalism.

Certainly, how fundamentalism effects us after leaving varies according to the brand of fundamentalism we encountered, how long we encountered it, and whether or not our experience was first generation (meaning: we chose the path) or second or third generation (meaning: we were born into the lifestyle). Other factors that can alter the effects of spiritual abuse might include geography, church denomination, and whether or not, our experience included other abuses such as physical, verbal, or sexual abuses.

Today, I’m focusing on five lingering effects of fundamentalism. This isn’t an exhaustive list by no means. But these are five ways that fundamentalism has affected me as well as numerous others I’ve talked to over the years.

1) Approval Addiction: Fundamentalism breeds addiction to approval. Because most fundamentalist experiences involve high expectations, those of us who lasted for any length of time in a toxic church environment know that the joy of toxic belief involves the performance, the following of the rules/creed. When we get it right our treasures on earth is the approval and affirmation from people we admire, usually church leaders or respected peers. Over time, we unknowingly become controlled by how people perceive our behavior and whether or not they offer us praise. Upon leaving,  that approval we were receiving no longer exists. And we need it. The thing is, most of us don’t know why. At least, not at first. All we know is that when our bosses don’t praise us for a job well done the way we think they should we feel defeated. We get passive aggressive. We go to great lengths to get their approval. But therein is the catch. Since the approval of our bosses is rarely a “spiritual approval,” even when we receive the coveted “job well done” it doesn’t satisfy the void. Approval from family and friends doesn’t usually fill the need either. Spiritual approval is its own unique brand of affirmation, a kind that’s difficult to fulfill outside of a performance-oriented spiritual experience. To that end, a recovering fundamentalist will often jump into new church experiences quickly in hopes that they’ll find a fast fix for the approval their craving. Our addiction to people’s endorsements bleeds into other non-spiritual aspects of our lives, too. Our relationships, our marriages, our parenting, our personal health and wellness, much of our lives can turn into one big hunt for praise.

2) Disagree Impaired. Fundamentalism is built upon a foundation of agreement. The gathering moves forward, becomes bigger, gets popular because the group agrees with each other. That’s why fundamentalists almost always leave when there’s a disagreement with leadership. Heck, most of the time they run. Because a disagreement is not simply a differing of opinion among fundamentalists. Disagreements are a handicap for fundamentalist sects. They breed fear and distrust. But that’s because agreement is the source blood of a fundamentalist movement. Because of that, a dissenter of any kind quickly becomes an enemy of the movement’s assumed “greater good” or often an enemy of God. Which is why the dissenter usually runs or gets chased off because fundamentalists do not know how to disagree. Upon leaving, a recovering fundamentalist will be slow to discover his or her inability to disagree. “Agreement” becomes the goal in relationships, work environments, etc. They become masters of “proving their points,” and when agreement doesn’t seem possible, they run. Because to exist happily among a non unified gathering feels uncomfortable, wrong, otherworldly.

3) Paranoia. Fundamentalism breeds paranoia. Often an effect of the fear that a fundamentalist environment emotes, being paranoid is so common among faithful fundies, it’s like one of the gifts of the spirit. In some ways, perceiving the potential of evil in big and small situations is considered prophetic, a gift of discernment that’s very versatile, helpful foretelling what’s going to happen in the Middle East or imagining the true intentions of a president they didn’t vote for or becoming a useful commodity for understanding the “true” motives of church members, friends, spouses, kids, or pastors. Upon leaving, a recovering fundamentalist will often drive themselves crazy trying to predict, perceive, and control the world around them. While their obsession for world affairs and politics is still very much alive, the most crippling kind of paranoia involves how one interacts with people they see everyday. The “gift” that was considered so useful in a toxic church environment will become far less celebrated in the outside world. That’s because the “gift” begins to define how you interact with people. For instance, you’ll start to assume you know what people think about you. You’ll begin to assume what it means when you’re not included. You’ll assume that you know the true intentions of those whom you call your friends. Your assumptions will come with details, history, a narrative, and seem very convincing. Among fundamentalist cultures, paranoia is nearly invisible because it’s such an integral part of the experience. Everybody is paranoid to some degree! But once you’re in recovery, the habit will fill you up with anger, make it difficult for you to trust people, potentially cause you to make terrible choices, and overwhelm you with questions: What if so&so doesn’t like me? Why isn’t so&so returning my text messages? Where is so&so tonight and why didn’t they invite me? What often happens is that recovering fundamentalists will attempt to control, manipulate, and create environments that they feel safe inside. That might work for a while. But eventually the questions come back and the insecurity returns. Anxiety takes over because we’re not in control or we’re out of control, so we run. We find new friends. We start a clean slate. We start fresh with a good attitude! And that becomes a pattern that the paranoid former fundamentalist will repeat over and over and over again.

4) Passive Aggressive Behavior. Fundamentalists usually hate conflict. That hardly stops conflict from arising. But they will usually go to create lengths to put a stop to the conflict. Much like the inability to disagree, fundamentalists are terrible at arguing too. Whenever they do present their thoughts in a heated emotional fashion, they are silenced, put in their place, or shamed. Since the movement’s future depends on people getting along or “keeping the peace,” fundamentalists become very passive aggressive. In fact, in many ways, passive aggressiveness is almost a form of Christlike behavior because a passive aggressive person makes their point without rocking the boat. At least, in theory. But unless you’re an adult (usually a man) who is in a semi-leadership position of authority, the only way to handle your frustrations among fundamentalists is to do it passive aggressively. Upon leaving, that’s the only way you know how to interact with conflict, passively, only allowing your frustrations to come out in small portions, at the expense of others. To get mad feels ungodly. To be direct and express exactly what’s on your mind seems too hard, uncomfortable, or disrespectful. Passive aggressiveness is so common in society that those of us who are recovering fundamentalists rarely connect our tendencies to indirectly handle conflict with our fundamentalist roots. Healing comes only when we learn or relearn how to be angry, then learn how to not feel guilty becoming angry, then learn how to not run away after becoming angry, and then learn how to let go of that anger and move on. And that’s a long difficult journey that many of us do not want to endure.

5) Exhaustion. Fundamentalism affects people far more deeply than we realize. It seeps into areas of our lives that we didn’t expect or know about. The path toward recovery is long, difficult, cumbersome, often unforgiving, and absolutely exhausting. At some point, sometimes with and sometimes without faith intact, we quit. Because we become tired. We get tired of every choice we make to move away from our old way of thinking turning into a fight among friends and/or family. We get tired of having to explain and explain again why we feel broken. We get tired of fighting the pride we must overcome to be honest about our brokenness. We get tired of every step away being more difficult than we imagined, often creating more drama and more conflict than we thought possible. So we quit. Only to feel guilty about quitting and deciding to start again. But then we quit again. In many ways, that is what the path toward recovery from fundamentalism looks like. There’s no equation for the healing process, at least, not one that works for everybody. Churches don’t often offer a program for spiritual abuse recoverers. Most of the time they become a part of a new problem. Or you end up feeling like you’re the problem. Exhaustion hits you time and time again, often leading us to feel depressed, unmotivated, and alone. And I’m not gonna say “But you’re not alone” because that will just piss you off. Trust me, I get. The journey is indeed exhausting.

To be continued… (Next up, I’ll cover the five things recovering fundamentalists should never do.)

What other effects of fundamentalism have you experienced?

Dear Amazon, I’m a Hachette author and my book releases tomorrow

Dear Amazon,

My name is Matthew Paul Turner. If my name doesn’t ring a bell, chances are, you’d definitely recognize my credit card number. My wife and I—proud Amazon Prime members!—do a majority of our  shopping online at Amazon. Because it’s convenient. And because you’ve made buying almost everything—from diapers to wood carving knives to books and entertainment—easy.

Not only do I shop at Amazon, but as an author who’s written numerous books for a variety of publishers, I’ve also faithfully sent my audience to Amazon to buy both my books as well as the books of hundreds of other authors.

And my next book—my first in 4 years—releases tomorrow (Tuesday, August 19).

Turner_GreatBigAmericanGod_HC

As you might expect, I’m excited about the release of Our Great Big American God: A Short History of Our Ever-Growing Deity. I worked for more than 2 years on this book, researching, writing, and editing. I’m proud of this book and am eager for people to experience it.

But that said, I’m also anxious about its release, too. You know why. Because my new book is being published by Jericho Books, and as you might know, Jericho Books is one of the many Hachette Book Group imprints.

Yep, I’m a Hachette author. And you don’t like Hachette right now. For that reason, for the last three months, you have treated me and my new book like lepers. Basically, you’ve boycotted my book. That wouldn’t be a huge deal if you didn’t command 50 percent of the publishing industry, including 65 to 70 percent of all ebook sales. And yet, according to you, as of August 18, my book isn’t available as an ebook despite you knowing that it is.

But you’re the publishing industry god, which is why it’s been quite upsetting to see my book’s listing at your site appear dead, as though you have no idea that it releases tomorrow, as if you and I haven’t engaged in a professional relationship for the last ten years. So that’s why your refusal to list my book’s Kindle availability sort of hurts, because we’ve worked with each other for quite some time.

However, most hurtful to me and my new book up until now has been your decision to take away my ability to use your site to pre-sell my new book—hardcopy or ebook. Presales matter as you know. Preselling a book is a practice that helps spark buzz, interest, excitement, media, and of course, sales. And you took away my ability to do that on Amazon.

And at first I thought that was where your boycott stopped. But I was wrong. At least, according to how you’ve treated other Hachette authors with new book releases, I was wrong to think that.

Listen, I get it; you’re not happy with Hachette right now. For months the two of you have been at odds with each other, negotiating the cost and pricing of ebooks. According to you, it’s far bigger than that; you say you’re negotiating the future of publishing. And perhaps you are. While I thought the letter you wrote to readers was slightly melodramatic, I’m also quite sure that Hachette isn’t pure in this debate. Heck, maybe Hachette’s even being stubborn and/or old fashioned.

But that’s business, right? Negotiations between two large conglomerates is rarely pretty, and often it becomes ugly and unfriendly and extremely difficult. But of course, usually the negotiations stay inside boardrooms or on conference calls.

But not this time. You changed that.

Earlier this year you decided to make these negotiations personal, very personal. You made the choice to limit the potential of all Hachette authors. You turned a host of authors into your pawns.

And again, I get it; it’s business! And while I think your decision to use authors in this debate as negotiating tools is horrible, I get it. And so far, I’ve managed. I’ve improvised. It’s not been easy. But you knew that it wouldn’t be. You didn’t want it to be easy. That’s why you used me and my book in your negotiations. Because you can. You own the publishing industry and you can do whatever the hell you want. And because all is fair in love, war, and capitalism.

Which is why I’m writing. Because my book releases tomorrow, Amazon.

And because I want you to stop boycotting my book. I’ve been watching what happens to other Hachette authors when their new books finally release. Sure, you turn the link’s lights on. But you don’t treat them same way you treat other books who have different publishers. In fact, you treat them like Lady Tremaine treats Cinderella, like the stepchild you never really wanted in the first place.

Listen Amazon, I’m not trying to pick a fight with you. I might feel like David in a fight against Goliath, but I also love Goliath! I need Goliath. And because I’m not JK Rowlings. I can’t afford to make you angry. I’m not a New York Times best seller. Heck, I’ve only broken the top 1000 on Amazon twice. I’m small potatoes compared to many (most?) of the names on the Hachette author list.

Every single sale matters to authors like me. Every single media hit makes a difference. And every single limitation matters.

Which is why I’m asking you to be fair. For three months, I’ve been quiet as you’ve made my new book a part of your negotiating tactics. I’ve tried to stay out of the debate between you and my publisher. Because I love both of you. And I need both of you. But my book releases tomorrow. Which is why I’m writing, to ask that you show us Hachette authors a little mercy.

Limiting presales is one thing, but please, stop limiting the potential of our books on and after their release dates.

I’ve worked far too hard on Our Great Big American God for it to be reduced to a negotiating tool in your ebook pricing negotiations. I’ve poured too much into this book to simply just sit back and watch you treat it like it’s less than it is.

I need Amazon. Just like I need Barnes & Noble, BAM!, and all the other bookstores. Because you’re huge! And I am small. And because my book is good and it deserves better. So please, show us authors some mercy. Keep the negotiations in the conference room. And let us sell our books.

Sincerely,

Matthew Paul Turner, author.

UPDATE: Amazon.com has made my book available for preorder! And they’ve added the Kindle edition!! Thank you! Not sure if it’s a coincidence or not… but thank you!

UPDATE #2: The hardback edition of the book is “temporarily out of stock”…

My 38 Theses: Ideas for the Church

Last month a friend asked me to tell him my best advice for the Church. At the time, I just laughed and said, “That’s not my place… right?” He shrugged, “Why not?”

Later, as I thought about his question more, I started writing down a few things, just a few thoughts, ideas, and hopes I have for the Church.

I’m still not sure it’s my place to offer the Church ideas. But as a member of the God’s Church and somebody who spends my fair share of time thinking about where the Church might be or what it might look like 10, 20, 50 years from now, I do often wonder what actions we should be taking now to inspire the world’s future believers.

Here’s what I wrote down (in no particular order).

1) The Church needs to stand in front of a mirror on a regular basis. We need to start being honest about who we are, what we look like, our failures, our sins, and our habits.

2) The Church needs to sober of its addiction to cool and/or its addiction of trying to be cool. We weren’t called to be cool or to pursue cool. Our addiction to that end is sucking us dry of meaning, depth, and future relevance. Besides, the Church isn’t cool, especially when its trying to be.

3) The Church should stop morphing those big biblical/spiritual promises found in the stories of scripture into blanketed God-promises for all mankind.

4) The Church should be known by who it unites, who it brings together, who it loves… (Of course, ironically, the Church has always been known by who it unites, who it brings together, who it loves…)

5) The Church should stop being handled, managed, and its future strategized like a brand. We aren’t The Church™. We’re the Church. Which means we must stop managing the Church, selling the Church, and using the Church like its a brand with franchises and stock options.

6) The Church should stop promoting God and Jesus like brands, too. If we believe that God’s name is holy, why on earth would we use it in vain like we own the copyright on it?

7) The Church needs to stop worshiping guns, sports, the CEO/Leadership culture, cultural masculinity, and other American obsessions.

8) The Church should be known more for celebrating and experiencing the mysteries of God as opposed to learning and reciting humanity’s definitions of God.

9) The Church should stop being a large deep financial pit known more for its buildings, technology, and sound and light shows rather than who it helps, locally and around the world.

10) The Church should stop building churches and ministries that are defined and held together by personalities and/or celebrities.

11) The Church should stop fighting a war against religion and embrace the fact that we are a part of religion, that not all religion is bad, and that sometimes religion (in its myriad of forms) can actually be spiritually helpful for some believers.

12) The Church should stop creating enemies out of people with whom it disagrees.

13) The Church should be known for creating/engaging space, time, and practice for helping people connect to the God of the Universe.

14) The Church must start owning its past, not simply the good parts of our history but also the tragic, violent, and controlling parts. By owning our Christian and not-so Christian history, we can learn valuable lessons and ideas for how to move forward in peace, with hope and grace.

15) The Church should be defined by the teachings of Christ more so than the theologies of Paul, the Apostle.

16) The Church should be an institution/environment where gender equality is not only embraced, it is celebrated and passionately promoted.

17) The Church should pursue all things with a spirit of humility.

18) The Church should embrace a path that engages and celebrates community but never at the expense of silencing or ignoring the needs, ideas, and stories of an individual.

19) The Church should pursue being an environment where questions and doubt are as central to the journey of faith as answers and belief.

20) The Church should go to great lengths to ensure that its systems/environments do not favor one person’s story over another, the rich over the poor, the influential over the lay person, the man over the woman, the saint over the sinner.

21) The Church should always be an advocate for the “least of these,” never harboring those whose actions are harmful or abusive and never silencing the outcries and concerns of victims or those speaking on behalf of victims.

22) The Church should evaluate and/or rethink its role among its community, seeking to serve the greater good of all people regardless of their creed, origins, or orientation.

23) The Church should work alongside the mental health community in pursuit of providing an environment of faith and spiritual healing that does not contradict or work against the advice/direction of an individual’s doctor/health care provider.

24) The Church should be led by individuals who embrace their need for accountability, direction, and grace.

25) The Church should be a passionate advocate for life—all life—always seeking to use its platform/influence/resources to bring awareness, aid, education, healing, and sustainability to those whose livelihoods are endangered.

26) The Church should be a safe, welcoming, and affirming environment for all members of the LGBTQA communities. Our passions should also include being chief advocates of their stories, never excluding, preventing, or discouraging any LGBTQA persons from connecting with God and spiritual community.

27) The Church should seek to bring glory to God through worship, confession, prayer, and pursuit of the common good.

28) The Church should seek out ways to bring unity among communities of faith, both Christian and non-Christian alike, helping the culture at large to discover and embrace paths toward peace, tolerance, and goodwill.

29) The Church should seek out ways to engage God’s resurrection story here on Earth.

30) The Church should use/borrow popular culture sparingly, with wisdom.

31) The Church should stop perverting the “good news” with individualism, prosperity messaging, and grandiose promises of transformation.

32) The Church should stop using its overwhelming support of Israel as reasons/excuses to stereotype, fear, and hate followers of Islam.

33) The Church should inspire faith, not fear, arouse belief, not doctrine, awaken people’s curiosity about God, not manipulate God to fit people’s questions.

34) The Church should be known for creating, not mimicking. We should inspire humanity’s urges to imagine, dream, and invent. We should be known for new ideas, new art, and new creations as opposed to critiquing culture, copying culture, and protecting our culture.

35) The Church should always be seeking out opportunities to further reconciliation among races, never becoming comfortable with mediocre forms of racial equality.

36) The Church should be Good News. Not old news. Not bad news. Not fake news. Not fear-filled news. But Good News.

37) The Church should be about confession, about forgiveness, and about resisting the temptations to use confession and forgiveness as reasons for keeping secrets and not calling out the evil deeds of powerful and rich people.

38) The Church should embrace these words of Jesus: That they [the Church] all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

This list is hardly exhaustive. And hardly perfect. Just a list of things I think about when I think about the future of the Church.

What do you think about when you think about the future of the Church?

 

Dear God, Elias starts school tomorrow… (a prayer)

Dear God.

Elias starts school tomorrow.

And thankfully, he’s excited about it. Which is awesome.

Thank you for helping him to be a confident bright kid who’s actually looking forward to school.

And of course, I want him to love school. I want him to be passionate about learning, about experiencing new things, and about engaging new relationships. I really want that, God…

Which means you’re gonna have to protect him, God. Of course, I would love for you to protect him from all of the outside forces that tend happen in and around schools, you know, drugs, bullying, and school lunches. But right now, I mostly want you to protect him from me.

Because I love him so much, God. But sometimes I love him so much that I can be overprotective. Which is normal. But sometimes I can be far too preemptive in my protecting, God.

And as you know, I didn’t love school. It wasn’t all bad. But I have some baggage, mostly just a few fears and assumptions that seem show up the most in my parenting.

And God, the last thing I want to do is to negatively affect Elias’s school experience by projecting my own experiences onto his.

So help me, God. Help me to be the kind of daddy who guides without defining…

Who inspires without assuming…

Who engages without manipulating…

Who’s involved without being too involved…

Because Elias possesses a brilliant spirit, God, one so full of joy and imagination and wonder. And I’d like for him keep those things for as long as possible…

So protect him.

Don’t coddle him. But protect him…

From the bullies… the asshole teachers… and from me.

Amen

John Piper’s ‘Ebola,’ a poem…

As we know, Piper often puts his thoughts down in rhyme. Today, he released his latest poem to World Magazine, a Dr. Seussesque ode to the Ebola virus, inspired by tweets from Donald Trump…

Ebola
Summer 2014

Today a thousand dead. And more
To die. A common ache, like flu,
Then nausea, a fever-soar,
A hopeless clinic interview:
“There’s nothing we can do.”

The bleeding has no bias. These:
A child, a chief, a friend, a nurse,
Liberian, and Leonese,
From Guinea, Texas, taste the curse—
And kindness, from the Purse.

Samaritans, six thousand miles
From home and care, subdue their fears,
And wonder if a sneeze defiles,
Or if a healthy fluid clears
The curse. Perhaps their tears.

But now two treasured ones, struck down,
Contagious still with death—and love—
Fly back to us, our joy, our crown,
A touch of grace, a gentle dove,
Yet through a plastic glove.

While in our land we see today
Another virus spreading, dumped,
More deadly, in the soul. They say,
“Why bring them home?” Though you be stumped,
This grace will not be trumped.

John Piper
August 3, 2014 SOURCE