RE: Is Trump the One?

Last week, my mom posted an article that I didn’t read at the time. Then, in an email exchange, she sent it directly to me. I don’t typically agree with very many of the things my parents send to me, but I thought I would give this article a shot. I’ve read a lot of things from evangelicals criticizing Trump for various reasons, but I honestly haven’t read much from a pro-Trump evangelical perspective.

Before I started writing this post, I thought I would Google the author of the article. It would be a fallacy to reject the content of the article simply based on the author, but I do find it interesting that one of the websites I frequent has multiple listings for this author:

http://www.rightwingwatch.org/category/people/rick-joyner

Full disclosure: Right Wing Watch is a project of People for the American Way, which was started in the early 80s in response to the rise of the Religious Right.

I also find it interesting that this article is on the Charisma News website, which is a publication of Charisma Media. I have yet to come across a single article on this website that I have found to be informative or helpful, but I see a lot of conservatives posting things from it all the time.

I want to write more about this soon, but I think admitting our own biases up front just makes most conversations go a lot better.

Here is the article, if you want to go ahead and read it before you read my comments:

http://www.charismanews.com/politics/opinion/55998-rick-joyner-is-trump-the-one

The title alone suggests where this article is heading. Of course, for evangelicals, Trump is not “The One.” No one is The One but Jesus. In the second paragraph, he hints at this, anecdotally pointing out that “most [Christians] seem to think that Trump is either a messenger from the Messiah or from the antichrist, and few are in between.”

I have to stop right here and go on a tangent. In that same paragraph, there is a subtle suggestion that evangelical Christians are the only Christians. Most evangelicals don’t usually specifically point this out, but it is implied in many ways. I spent a lot of time a few years ago researching and writing about what does or does not make someone a “Christian.” It was very frustrating to discover that all kinds of people who claim to be Christians have very different understandings of what that means, and that their own definition is usually the only correct definition. Hmm…

In the third paragraph, the author continues with another not-as-subtle implication:

The following seem to be the main reasons Christians have given for supporting Donald Trump rather than the other more vocal or devoted believers.

Not only has the author already suggested that non-evangelicals are not Christian, but he has also clearly stated that, if Trump is a Christian, he is not a very vocal or devoted one.

Already we have three different tiers of people mentioned in a few short paragraphs:

  1. Non-evangelicals who claim to be Christian but actually aren’t.
  2. Less vocal or devoted Christians (like Donald Trump).
  3. The author and his tribe (i.e. evangelicals, the real Christians).

This is where the source of this article is also relevant. Charisma is a “spirit filled” or “charismatic” organization. I grew up in the charismatic movement, and from what I remember, there were very clearly yet another two tiers within evangelical Christianity – the charismatics and everyone else. From my perspective, if you weren’t “spirit filled” (an evidence of which was “speaking in tongues”) then you weren’t a “full” Christian; you were second class. So, this adds yet another category.

I’m assuming this picking things apart might be a bit annoying. But, as an outsider to all of the categories mentioned above, reading or hearing all of these ridiculous and hateful implications from many conservative Christians is annoying. And, sadly, it’s so prevalent that most don’t even realize that they’re doing it.

Moving on from my tangent… He then lists the reasons he has heard from Christians for why they are supporting Trump:

FACTOR #1: Many no longer trust politicians who claim to be Christians or conservatives. These seem to inevitably change when they get to Washington and fail to keep their promises.

I’m not exactly sure who he could be referring to, but maybe this is something about being a spirit filled evangelical Christian that I’m unaware of. From my perspective, there are a lot of overtly Christian politicians who are actively doing many things to move the country in the wrong direction. I guess there are always more extreme beliefs and ways of doing things, but I really hope I (and my kids) don’t live to see any of that.

I guess this could also be a reference to Obama, who very clearly is a Christian, but who definitely doesn’t fit into the author’s narrow definition of a real Christian.

FACTOR #2: There has been such a vacuum of courage in leadership that it is now esteemed above other virtues.

I guess this could be related to the first point, but I’m not sure exactly what it means. Does “courage in leadership” mean proposing even worse ideas than our current batch of fundamentalist Republicans?

FACTOR #3: Fewer Christians are choosing a candidate based on the candidate’s faith. Rather, they decide based on who they think will do the best job confronting the important issues of the time.

This seems to be true. The fact that Mitt Romney got so far with evangelicals would have been unheard of even ten years ago. Some evangelicals would actually call that a lack of courage, by those who refuse to call Mormonism what it has been called by evangelicals for decades – not Christian, or a cult.

FACTOR #4: The two main issues in this election are security and the economy. Trump is seen as the strongest in both issues.

I’m not sure who decided what “the two main issues” are in this election. The earth seems to be pretty important. Access to healthcare matters a bit. But, I guess others have different priorities.

An irony here is that the translation of the word “security” is actually “irrational fear,” and Trump’s economic plan is almost unanimously seen as detrimental to the country by reputable financial experts and economists. But, I guess that’s “strength”…?

FACTOR #5: Trump’s lack of political correctness (PC) and willingness to say what he thinks have many believing he will resist political pressure and do what is right for the country, instead of for special interests.

(I’m glad he clarified for his readers what the abbreviation for political correctness is.)

I actually can’t think of a single person who doesn’t, at least sometimes, “say what they think.” This is ironically a PC choice of words. Most Trump supporters that I’ve heard from say they support Trump not simply because he says what he thinks, but rather he’s willing to say The Truth (even though most of what Trump has said publicly in the past several months is actually not true). The correlation here is that Trump supporters believe a lot of things that are not true.

One more point here: I’m really confused by the assumption that a billionaire will “do what is right for the country.” Aren’t evangelicals also the people who believe in “total depravity,” that, because of Adam and Eve’s “Fall” into sin, we all naturally do what’s in our own best interest, rather than what’s in the interest of others? Don’t evangelicals identify themselves with a dude who said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”?

So, it may be true that Trump would be more likely to do his own thing rather than “for special interests.” But, why should we assume this his own thing is everyone’s own thing? I am a hardcore supporter of getting money’s influence out of politics. But, I fail to see how ones own wealth isn’t also a negative influence.

FACTOR #6: Christians are increasingly disgusted with the Republican establishment

I honestly have no idea what this means. Maybe I’ve been a registered Democrat for too long? The “establishment” in general definitely seems to be a problem that few politicians are willing to confront. But, here is yet another implication, that to be a Christian necessarily has some direct correlation with being a Republican.

FACTOR #7: They think that they have heard from God about Trump.

I really hope there aren’t a lot of these people.

FACTOR #8: The extreme opposition to Trump from all of the bad guys proves he’s God’s choice.

I’m glad he so clearly laid out the persecution complex that seems to be normal among fundamentalists.

I’m not sure who “all of the bad guys” are, though. Like I said earlier, aren’t we all “bad guys”? Isn’t Jesus the only “good guy”?

And I have no idea what “God’s choice” means. Was Hitler God’s choice? Mussolini? Saddam Hussein? Osama bin Laden? Is God’s choice sometimes wrong? I’m confused.

The next paragraph doesn’t even make sense:

When we dig down on these, it is an even more stunning revelation of where the country is and potential changes in direction if these continue to grow.

Sorry, I forgot: editors are part of the religious persecution conspiracy too.

After his reasons that Christians do support Trump, he lays out eight more reasons other Christians don’t:

FACTOR #1: He is obviously not the kind of devout Christian they want to see as a leader, especially after Obama’s relentless assault on Christianity.

I honestly did not know there was an expectation that a “leader” should be a “devout Christian.” It’s almost as if some Christians haven’t actually read the divine U.S. Constitution, and would like there to be a religious test for office. Or, maybe they’ve changed their minds about that.

The second part of this sentence definitely rubbed me the wrong way. I would definitely like to know exactly what “Obama’s relentless assault on Christianity” consists of. I’ve heard this from a lot of conservatives, but I have no idea what it means to them.

What it actually means, from my perspective, is that our country has (thankfully) moved in the right direction on many issues (many of which are supported by a lot of religious people, Christians included), but fundamentalist Christianity is having less and less of an influence over everything. Losing your privilege is definitely scary. But, when that privilege is based on ignorance, fear and hatred, it’s actually a good thing when its power is fading.

Did I mention that Obama is actually a Christian?

FACTOR #2: His behavior, demeanor and language.

Yeah, why should any of those things matter to Christians?

FACTOR #3: His seemingly immature overreaction to criticism and his tendency to try to bully opposition.

I love the addition of the words “seemingly” and “try to” here. Nice.

FACTOR #4: His ambiguous and tepid support for pro-life issues.

Umm, like claiming today that women who have abortions should be “punished”? I guess that’s ambiguous and tepid. Oh, this must mean that he used to be pro choice, but now claims to be super pro life. What was that whole thing earlier about not being easily influenced? Or, maybe, like pretty much every other politician, he’s just using his supporters to get elected? Nah, why would he do that? He’s rich.

FACTOR #5: His lack of understanding of and support for Israel.

Maybe I’m too simple of a person (rather than a Zionist) to really not understand why this would be so important to anyone. But, it does point out a bigger issue, that for some strange reason is not included as a Christian reason to not support Trump: his “lack of understanding of” basically anything necessary to holding one of the most powerful offices in the world.

FACTOR #6: His ambiguous devotion to restoring the authority of the Constitution.

FACTOR #7: His seeming lack of understanding that a true conservative justice devoted to the Constitution, like Scalia, needs to be appointed to the Supreme Court—not someone like his liberal sister that he once implied he would appoint.

You lost me on both of these.

FACTOR #8: Questionable business practices, including several bankruptcies.

Honestly, this seems to be one of the main reasons people claim to support Trump – that he is a good businessman. Sadly, though, he isn’t. To use his one of own favorite words, he’s a loser when it comes to simple business knowledge and multiple failed businesses.

Like the reasons why so many Christians support Trump, there are legitimate reasons why others do not support him. What is not legitimate is for any Christian to question the faith of those who do not see this the same way that they do. Those who do this are still immature. This is why the apostle Paul called the Corinthians “still carnal” (1 Cor. 3)—they were dividing over people for which they had a preference. We should obey the command to “mark those who cause divisions” (see Jude 1)—those who try to create riffs in the body over things like that—and not follow them.

But, it is legitimate to create multiple layers of types of Christians, and maybe Christians, and definitely not Christians? I haven’t read that passage in 1 Corinthians in a long time, and I really don’t want to right now. But, I have a feeling that it has pretty much nothing to do with what this article is discussing. And, according to “spirit filled” Christians like this author, my feelings are divinely inspired.

So, I’ve probably wasted way too many words picking the first part of this article apart. But, it just gets worse. Like, really weird.

Just breathe and then read the next few paragraphs:

How many of us would have chosen the ones Jesus picked to be His leaders? Why didn’t He go to the religious conservatives to find the future leaders of His church? Like it or not, the ones He chose were more like Trump than those we tend to esteem. Even the apostle John, who is now known as the great messenger of love, was so reactionary that he wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume those who disagreed with them. On the night before Jesus was crucified, the disciples argued over who was the greatest. Sounds like Trump to me.

How many of us would continue to support a leader who, after many years of serving and walking with God as a righteous and just leader, had an affair, and even worse, had the husband killed to cover it up? Yet it is said that Israel went astray by following Absalom, who sought to displace David because of his sin.

In contrast, God commended Zadok the priest and gave an eternal blessing over his family for being faithful to David in this situation. The Lord knew when He called David that he would fall like this, but He called him anyway. And how could God love Jacob like He did? Jacob’s name means “usurper” and he was a devious liar and cheat, but “God loved Jacob.”

I find it weird that the author tries to make a direct connection between those Jesus “picked to be his leaders” and a candidate running for an American political office. What am I missing here?

Let’s use just a little bit of logic here: based on the idea that Jesus chose losers to be leaders, should Christians actually have supported Hitler? Or Stalin? I mean, if Christians should support THE WORST POSSIBLE PERSON, then why not try to find murderers and rapists to run for President?

Then, here’s the final statement that I will quote in this response:

This should not excuse character flaws in leaders, but there will only be One perfect leader.

Umm, I think you actually did just excuse a lot of character flaws in leaders. Like, just a few words before this statement.

I did actually read the rest of this article, but I’m tired. I have no idea what this guy is talking about. All I hear is sadness, fear, anger, frustration, blah blah blah. I just can’t keep analyzing nonsense. Feel free to read the rest of the article and tell me if I’m missing something.

Sorry, conservatives who support Trump (and/or Cruz), America is already pretty great. I feel bad for you that you can’t see that. And I feel bad for you that you have such terrible candidates that most of you seem to see Trump as “the best of the worst.”

Can things get better? Yes. Because of Trump? We have no good reason to think so. And we have a lot of good reasons to think he would make things worse.

I need a beer.

 

Call Me “Christian”…Maybe?

I think I’m okay with people calling me a Christian, but I don’t really know what that means.

I don’t know if the Bible is inerrant or infallible.

I don’t even read the Bible.

I don’t pray.

I don’t go to church.

I don’t take Communion.

I don’t know if I need to be saved.

I don’t know if I am saved.

I don’t know what the gospel is.

I don’t know if Jesus died and then came back from the dead.

If there is a God, I don’t know if he/she/it exists as three persons.

I don’t know if I believe in God.

I don’t know if Jesus was born of a virgin.

I don’t know if Jesus is divine.

I don’t know if Jesus even ever existed.

I don’t know if Jesus is going to return to earth.

I don’t know if there is a heaven or a hell, or if I’m going to spend eternity in either.

If I’m honest, on most days I don’t actually think any of these things are true. But, if you’re honest, even if you claim to be a Christian, you probably don’t either.

If you do, you probably don’t think all of these things are true. Maybe a few. Maybe even most.

Who gets to decide which of these things are necessary and which are optional? 

It’d be cool if more people were just honest. That would make me feel better, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

What do I think I know about Jesus or Christianity? Not much.

I do know that a lot of people claim to be Christians. A lot of people want to be associated with Christianity. A lot of different kinds of people. Not just different Americans. Different people all over the world.

I don’t think that’s anything to be afraid of.

A few years ago, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what is actually required of someone who chooses to be associated with a homeless, radical Jew in the first century. I found a lot of different answers, but got no clarity.

No one could give me The Answer.

This either means that I never found The Answer, or The Answer actually doesn’t exist.

This, of course, doesn’t negate that there might actually be boundaries to what can or cannot, or should or should not, be considered “Christian.” It just suggests to me that no one person or group actually knows exactly where those boundaries are.

If you do call yourself a Christian, what do you mean by that? 

When I stopped going to church, I stopped calling myself a Christian. That was over six years ago. But, I’m not sure how much the core of who I’ve tried to be for most of my life has changed.

If someone were to ask me who my favorite philosopher is, I think I would still say, “Jesus” (like George W. Bush).

I hope that the people who I spend time with (family, friends, coworkers) know that I care about them. And I hope that I am kind. And gracious. And honest. And funny.

Honestly, I’d rather be known not for calling myself a Christian, but for treating people like I think Jesus would.

Does that make me a Christian? I don’t know.

Maybe.

 

I Almost Died This Week

The only way I can describe the scene is straight out of a Tarantino film. If you don’t want all of the gory details, you might want to skip to the end.

I started brewing beer a couple of years ago with friends. Then, Cyn gifted me my own equipment, and I fell in love. But, she’s been confused how I could find the process so fascinating and still refuse to even try to cook anything. Last week, I told her that maybe if the end result isn’t amazing, I fear it won’t be worth the effort. So, I asked her to find me a recipe that would be good no matter what. Sunday night, we worked together on my first creation. And I think it was a success.

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Earlier that day I drove to the beer store to pick up a special release Imperial Stout. Cyn thought it would go well with the meal.

We got everything ready, turned on Mythbusters, and sat down to eat. I took one drink, then one bite, then…

Chaos.

Sometimes I think about how others might perceive me. Maybe more than sometimes. Based on what people have told me recently, I am a pretty low key dude. I don’t have a lot of highs or lows. My stress level currently is almost nonexistent. But, I used to be a very different person.

I think Old Rob came out on Sunday night.

I couldn’t breathe for probably about 30 seconds. I’ve never had that experience, and I hope you don’t either. But, it was the most confusing and terrifying feeling I can remember. My mind was simultaneously in shock and in survival mode. I just wanted to live. I just wanted it to stop.

Hayden ended up doing the Heimlich on me multiple times (which I’m guessing was slightly traumatizing). After all of the movement, I could breathe. Thinking back, my sixteen year old son literally saved my life.

But, it wasn’t over. Even though I could breathe, I couldn’t swallow. Another thing that you really never think about until you can’t do it, and then it’s existential misery. I had to force myself to spit every time my body wanted to swallow.  This went on for a couple of hours. When I would stop focusing on spitting, I would choke and gag again. For hours.

We tried a few different things, including me punching myself in the chest and throat, but nothing was helping me swallow. I have a pretty good gag reflex, but I couldn’t throw up either.

I finally caved. We had to go to the emergency room.

We could tell that whatever was happening was a big deal. We got moved from the ER to the ICU to surgery pretty quickly. I think we were at the hospital for less than 3 hours. Working in the medical field, all I could do was count the number of people helping me, which I’m assuming will nicely translate into a lovely medical bill.

I guess I’m a pretty vain person. I’m probably too concerned with how I look. If I have anything in my nose, or on my clothes, I tend to overreact. Holding a vomit bag over my face while I almost filled it with spit was definitely not the highlight of my life. The looks from pretty much everyone at that hospital ranged from disgust to sympathy. I guess I looked pretty sad.

The meal I made was a vegetable stew. I assumed that what I choked on was a potato. No one at the hospital believed me. I didn’t tell any of them that I was a vegetarian, but they all jumped immediately to “steak.” One person even said if it was steak it would’ve been worth it. Obviously they’ve never personally had a similar experience.

They had to do an emergency endoscopic surgery to remove the blockage. What they found is a bit ironic: a chickpea.

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Seriously.

I’m still learning about exactly what I have. Basically, it’s an allergic buildup in my esophagus that caused (and will continue to cause) it to swell up seemingly randomly. And I could choke again.

Thankfully, I’m not actually allergic to chickpeas.

The next morning, I woke up in a lot of pain. I took a lot of Tylenol, a lot of Advil, and slept for most of the day. But, Tuesday was a lot worse. I could barely get out of bed. Everything from the stomach up hurt. Like I was beaten with a bat. I could barely move. It hurt to laugh, to cough, to sneeze, to bend over, to sit up, to stand up, to walk. Using the bathroom was a nightmare.

Over the years, I’ve spent some time researching near death experiences. This is definitely not a post to go down that rabbit hole. But, it seems that a lot of people have some very similar things happen when they almost die. They see a light. They see their lives flash before their eyes. And so on.

None of that happened.

Another thing I’ve heard a lot of people say is that “there are no atheists in foxholes.” The idea being that when you’re near death, you will instinctively reach out to some higher power.

Honestly, I didn’t think about “God” from the second I began choking until a few days later. My mind was firmly fixed on the one thing that actually matters the most to any of us who are still breathing: survival. I just wanted to keep living.

Life can be pretty scary. Tragic. But, at least in my experience, the good always outweighs the bad. Life is worth it. It can be and often is beautiful. I doubt most of us are actually going to focus on anything else when similar things happen.

Honestly, I don’t understand how thinking about God, or talking to God, or anything else would have benefitted me in any way. Obviously, people die every day. And, if there is a God, he/she/it in the least allows that to happen. Why should I assume that God would arbitrarily choose to allow me to live, but not someone else?

Each millisecond was about solving the problem. Figuring out what I needed to do. Anything that would’ve hijacked my focus could’ve actually been the end of me.

There is still a ridiculous stigma in our culture around those of us who simply lack a belief in a deity. But, honestly, when shit gets real, I sincerely doubt that many other people would react much differently than I did. Practically, when it really matters, we’re all atheists.

This post is not meant to be an argument against anyone’s belief in God. It’s merely a confession that I just don’t think about God all that much anymore. And I think there are very few “true believers” out there.

Thank God.

A Legacy of…?

The sad passing of Scott Weiland has got me thinking about music.

My kids are now 16 and 15. They are each into their own “thing,” but they also like some pop music. I guess that’s inevitable to a degree. We’ve always tried to expose them to diverse music, but there is this whole thing I’m not sure everyone’s heard of called “peer pressure” that haunted us all as teenagers.

Neither of my kids are into heavy music. No matter what I let them hear, they just don’t get it. If you know me very well, you know that I spent years only listening to the heavy stuff. So, it’s always an interesting debate when I try to sneak in some Deftones or Snapcase on a long road trip. “DAD!” Headphones immediately on.

I don’t know what that says. Maybe it’s a case of overexposure at a very early age eliciting visceral disgust…you’re welcome?

But, there are some bands from “my era” (mid 90s to early 00s) that they do like. Bands like the Foo Fighters, The Get Up Kids, Saves the Day, Jimmy Eat World, Alkaline Trio, etc. Like…they really like those bands. Somehow, they didn’t get turned off by us playing them on repeat.

Which brings me to a band like Stone Temple Pilots. I would guess that my boys do not like them, though I haven’t asked them recently. I would group STP with bands like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam. And, honestly, I doubt they like any of those bands.

But, thinking about this brought to mind bands that seemed to follow in the path laid by the “grunge” bands. Bands that I don’t like. Like Korn, Staind, Godsmack, Kid Rock, and especially Nickelback. I guess those bands would be considered “nu metal.”

Is it simply a case of timing?

Why do I love Rage Against the Machine, but hate Linkin Park? Why did I spend years listening to and going to see P.O.D., but I can’t stand Papa Roach?

I came across something awhile back that directly compared the Foo Fighters to Creed (and similar bands), and I got so annoyed. How could anyone see the connection between what I perceive to be very different kinds of music? Very different things altogether?

I also wonder how much of this is just my own exposure to certain things, and preferring certain opinions above others.

Maybe there is a more direct line that can be drawn from Nirvana to Puddle of Mudd or Seether than any of us want to admit.

I still like what I like. And I probably won’t ever give those bands a chance. But, maybe as I get older I’m seeing that bands like Stone Temple Pilots had a huge influence on what could still be considered “rock” today. And maybe that’s not a terrible thing.

When my kids hear bands like STP or Deftones, they just don’t like it. I’m assuming they would group most of this music together and say it all sucks. Maybe one of these days they’ll come around and see the differences that I do. But, maybe they won’t. And, maybe that’s okay.

It still matters to me.

R.I.P. Scott. Your music has made me better.

How Christian Authors Stigmatize Artists Like Sufjan Stevens

Most of the people that I’ve known for more than a few years grew up in “the church” in some form. Most of us were born and bred in fundamentalist Christianity. To this day it’s hard for me to understand where people are coming from who don’t share that background. But, as time goes on, more and more of those people seem to be rejecting most or all of what they grew up with. And, at least in the U.S., that trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

Of course, not all of us have become militant atheists or are completely done with church. We’re mostly in the middle somewhere. We still think about God and theology; we just don’t really know what to do with those thoughts. Our friends who don’t share our history don’t understand why we just can’t just let the whole thing go. Andy Hull (of Manchester Orchestra), David Bazan (formerly of Pedro the Lion) and my friend John Moreland are a few artists who seem to share this struggle. They seem to have a hard time believing or participating in the whole evangelical thing any more, but they can’t seem to quit thinking (or singing) about it either.

I could be totally off base and misinterpreting what is really going on. But, over the past several years, I’ve tried to keep up with what Sufjan Stevens has been creating, and his thoughts about it through interviews. And it seems that he has been on a very similar trajectory to most of my friends.

I don’t remember where I first heard his music, but I’m guessing it was when I was caught up in the New Reformed movement. I do remember a lot of my fellow hipster Calvinists hailing him as one of their own. I loved his music but I also wanted to know more. Honestly, it could have been the case even back then that all of these people were trying to take ownership of him without his consent. I don’t know.

A couple of months ago, I heard about his new album coming out, and a few friends posted an interview about it in Pitchfork. Based on some other things he has been involved in, and the tone of what I had read or heard recently, it seemed he was in a very different place than when I first heard about him years ago. I wondered if he even called himself a Christian anymore.

You may be reading up to this point and thinking to yourself: “Who cares?” That’s totally understandable. And it’s probably better to just enjoy an artist’s work and not ask these kinds of questions. I don’t usually go beyond the music itself and try to understand it. But, there are a few musicians who had an impact on me at certain points in my life who I follow a little more closely than many others. And, I do find it interesting when an artist lets us in on his or own spiritual path (wherever they’re coming from). I’m guessing that’s part of the reason why podcasts like WTF are becoming so popular; it’s rare to get through an episode without God or faith – or at least meaning – coming up (BTW, Marc Maron should totally interview Sufjan).

In the Pitchfork interview, Sufjan says he’s still a Christian. But, the way I read it is that he has moved into a much more open, flexible form of his faith:

I still describe myself as a Christian, and my love of God and my relationship with God is fundamental, but its manifestations in my life and the practices of it are constantly changing. I find incredible freedom in my faith… The unique thing about Christianity is that it is so amorphous and not reductive to culture or place or anything. It’s extremely malleable.

That does not read like a fundamentalist, an evangelical – or even an orthodox Christian – to me at all. The next response clarifies this (in relation to other religions):

…some of them are cultural and require an allegiance to…a code.

That seems to me to be the definition of orthodoxy: “allegiance to a code.” There is a certain type of Christian who sees the religion as fundamentally – primarily – about a very specific set of beliefs, outlined in the Creeds. And, of course, there are a lot of other people who “describe themselves as Christians” who don’t see their religion in that way.

When I was writing a lot more, I spent a lot of time trying to push back on the first type of Christian mindset. I was trying to say, “Christianity is malleable. Christianity is amorphous.  And it isn’t fundamentally about beliefs (or allegiance to a code) at all.” This perspective seemed to fly in the face of what it means to be an evangelical, and, from the evangelical’s point of view, what is required to even call oneself a Christian.

So, with all of this said, I had a very strange reaction when I read an article that was published in The Atlantic, which a few friends had posted on Facebook: “How Sufjan Stevens Subverts the Stigma of Christian Music.”

For the most part, I really don’t disagree with the article. He’s right about the ridiculousness of the idea of “Christian music” in contrast to “secular music,” and so on. He makes some very helpful points, especially for conservative evangelicals who are still, sadly, caught up in this game. But, my shock came from how the author framed the article, and his choice in using Sufjan Stevens as an exemplar of his perspective.

My first confusion was with the quotes he had pulled from articles and interviews about Sufjan from 2006. I don’t know about you, but I was a very different person 9 years ago. As an example, here is an article I was interviewed for in 2008. Reading it now, it’s really hard for me to identify with the person I used to be. An irresponsible journalist could pull quotes from me from that article and try to say that’s how I still think or feel today.

The next thing that really bothered me was his use of quotes from Francis Schaeffer and NT Wright, two theologians who I honestly doubt Sufjan himself would quote to explain his art. In that interview in 2008, I probably would’ve quoted both of those theologians to support my own views, but that has very little to do with how I think about my life and the world today.

This gets to another issue underlying this approach. Whatever our “team” is, why do we try so hard to find famous people to represent us? We all do it. When I was going through my hardcore atheist phase, finding out that Quiet Company’s lead singer had rejected his faith, I felt the urge to spread that gospel to others through their music. Or when I learned that Jose Gonzalez’s album “In Our Nature” was written in response to him reading Richard Dawkins, I felt somehow validated. In some weird way, I thought to myself, “If more people knew this, maybe my team would be seen as more legitimate!” I still think I enjoy David Bazan primarily because I agree with his perspective on so many things, rather than just because of his music.

Then, here is my final problem with the evangelical co-opting of certain musicians: to be an evangelical requires one to very clearly define what Christianity is and to very clearly decide who is in and who is out. If you actually pinned down Sufjan Stevens, or Bono – or even Martin Luther King, Jr. – and asked them what they actually believed, you would be forced to declare them heretics or “unbelievers.”

The Atlantic article seems irresponsible and dishonest.

I do appreciate that I sent the author an email and he responded. In his response, he said the following:

Until I hear something where Sufjan claims that he is no longer a Christian or refutes the fundamentals of Christianity (like, say, in the Apostles’ Creed), I’m going to continue viewing him this way.

Of course, I can’t exactly speak for Sufjan, but I’m guessing if he was asked he would not fit into the author’s very narrow definition of what a Christian is. And the author would be forced to reject Sufjan as not only outside of his team (evangelicalism), but also outside of the faith (Christianity).

Or, maybe, just maybe, this revelation would cause the author (and others like him) to reject his own narrow definition of Christianity, and find ways to embrace the beautiful diversity of people who find Jesus attractive enough to identify their lives with his.

And maybe the world would be a much better, more inclusive place because of it.

The Aftermath

It’s been a week since I wrote my open letter. As I expected, no one within Acts 29 has responded. I’ve had more hits on that post than any other I’ve ever written: thousands. Hundreds of reposts on Facebook. And so on.

But, from A29? Silence.

I’ve had some pretty interesting feedback about my letter, though. Mostly, it’s been positive, supportive. But, a lot of people have been bothered by my use of the word “shit.” I’m honestly not sure how else to say, “own your shit.” I guess that’s what happens after removing oneself from a certain cult(ure) for over four years; some things just aren’t a big deal any more.

But, something that confuses me more and more as time goes on… A lot of people really want to know “where I’m at with Jesus.” Because of my experiences, have I “rejected God”? Do I still “follow Jesus”? And so on.

I’ve almost come to the point where this could be the dividing line between one type of religious person and another. The first type is someone who is self-confident. Someone who knows who they are, what they want in life. Someone who has goals and is working toward them. Someone who loves life, NOT for what may or may not come after, but for the now. The other type of religious person, though, is someone who seems fearful – about him or herself, about the future, about their own fate. Fearful about “the world.” Worried about who is in or out of their club. Or who might end up in heaven or hell. Or who might not be walking the same path that they (think they) are.

At this point in my life, these kinds of questions (which usually feel like an interrogation – an inquisition – no matter how sincere) confuse me. I just don’t know how to answer them, because it always makes me wonder why someone is asking. What if I said, “Jesus is awesome”? Would that be good enough? Would I be “in”? What if I said, “Jesus probably never existed”? Would this interrogator have a legitimate comeback? How about, “I don’t really like Jesus” (which would seem to be a more honest self-appraisal than most Christians)?

Usually I fumble through something vague about thinking Jesus was somehow unique and that I can’t deny my own experiences and the influence certain interpretations of Jesus have had on me. But, maybe I should stop doing this. Instead, maybe I should follow Jesus’ example, and pivot toward a different set of questions altogether.

I might enjoy hearing stories about people who have moved beyond a fundamentalist form of religion toward something more egalitarian, something more humanistic. But, in the big scheme of things, I really don’t care if someone is “in” or “out” anymore.

Here are the questions that matter to me: “How are YOU doing?” “Are you doing things YOU love?” “Are you spending time with the people YOU love?”

I don’t know what that makes me. I don’t know what category that puts me in. And I don’t really care.

An Open Letter to the Acts 29 Network

If you’re reading this, and you have no idea who Mark Driscoll is, you should probably stop reading. And you should thank me for sparing you. For those of who choose to keep reading, you may not have any idea of my connection to Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill, Acts 29, etc. Many of you I know from a long time ago, or I have met since I walked away from that world. To make a long story short, I was a Driscoll-ite for several years, until I became a staff member at an Acts 29 church. Then, I saw behind the curtain, and walked away.

 

 

Dear Acts 29 church planters, pastors, deacons, church members, etc.:

I read today that you have decided to dissociate yourselves from Mark Driscoll.

I’m not sure if “courage” is the right word, but I do want to congratulate all of you for simply doing the right thing. For making the right decision. Maybe “bold” is fitting, considering Driscoll co-founded the network. Whatever the best language is, it was a good decision.

But, I have to say that this turn of events is eerily similar, for me, to something that happened here in Raleigh a few years ago. I worked for an Acts 29 church called Vintage21 from September 2007 until January 2010. Over time, our Executive Pastor became more and more out of line. He was doing and saying things that were simply inappropriate. I was personally fielding almost daily complaints about him. Dozens of individuals and families left the church because of him. It was obvious to anyone who was paying attention that this person was not qualified to be a pastor. But, he was allowed to stay. For years beyond what should have been.

Eventually, this pastor left the church. A few months later, he confessed to some things that he was doing, while working for the church, that were beyond his disqualifying arrogance. This seemed to come as a shock to certain members of church leadership. But, to those of us who had already left the church, it wasn’t shocking at all. It was expected. To Vintage21 leaders, for some reason, those more recently revealed actions were seen as much more “sinful” than the other things, and mysteriously worthy of announcing to the entire church. Arbitrary.

Along with the public airing of dirty laundry, how did the church leadership react? From what I could tell, there was no collective ownership of a broken system. No apologies for allowing this person to stay in leadership even before this turn of events. No personal responsibility. All I heard was blame. This person had caused all of the problems in the church up to that point. The church was in a bad place solely because of him. And now that he was gone, they could finally be whole again.

Scapegoat.

Since leaving your world in early 2010, I’ve read about, or spoken with, several people who have left Mars Hill. Most of them have left and revealed things that many of us already knew were true. But, I’ve also seen a lot of personal ownership from these people. Admitting they were wrong, and that they shouldn’t have stayed as long as they did. Confessing that they, too, were part of the problem. That they had contributed to it simply by participating. Guilt by association? When there is abuse involved, yes.

But, your PR move today doesn’t sound like an apology. It reads like yet another scapegoating, shifting all of the blame for all of the problems associated with not only Mars Hill specifically, but Acts 29 as a whole, onto one person. It’s hard for anyone outside of your bubble to take seriously.

While I genuinely want to believe this is what people in your world call “repentance,” I was always under the impression that repentance required confession of wrongdoing. If you haven’t done anything wrong, what is there to repent of? No, I – and everyone else watching from the outside – clearly see that this is something else entirely.

The third line of your public letter to Driscoll reads:

Over the past three years, our board and network have been the recipients of countless shots and dozens of fires directly linked to you…

It sounds like Mark has finally made you look bad enough for it to hurt. It sounds like your collective ego has been broken. So, now it’s time to flex your muscles. Because that’s what real men do, right?

It’s strange though, that this arbitrary line has been drawn now. After everything else that has happened over the past ten plus years. I don’t have to list it all here. If you’ve been “in the world” and not existing solely in your own cult(ure), you’ve seen the articles. If you’ve been shepherding actual people – which, from what I understand, should be your primary responsibility – you’ve heard a lot of stories. Stories of abuse.

But, the problem isn’t Mark Driscoll. He’s part of the problem. A large part? Yes. But, there is culpability to go around. A lot of it. It’s been over four years since I left, but I even still bear some responsibility for participating as long as I did. I get it. We make decisions and then have a hard time dealing with the consequences. We have bills. And reputations. And relationships.

Honestly, this is all we want to hear: we just want you to own your shit. If you want to repair your network, if you want to do it primarily for “the cause of Christ,” then just do this one thing: confess your sins – publicly – and repent. All of you.

I could stop here. I’ve said a lot already. But, from what I’ve also seen and heard from almost everyone who has left your world, these problems run deep. People don’t exhibit similar systems to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after leaving a safe, healthy environment. I’ve unapologetically said this for a long time now: Acts 29 – as a whole – operates like a cult. The only people who don’t realize this have already drank the Kool-Aid. And, again, this isn’t just Mark Driscoll. It’s not just Mars Hill. The entire network is committed to a broken “theology” (if what you idealize is worthy of the name). Until that changes, these problems will persist.

The cult(ure) Driscoll has created has made it pretty difficult for any Acts 29 leader to take seriously the words of a “blogger.” I’m sure you don’t genuinely care what I think. But, that kind of attitude is part of the problem, too.

Sincerely,

Rob Davis
Raleigh, NC
August 8th, 2014