Tag Archives: evangelicalism

Not a California Gurl

I admit it: I love to listen to CHR—Contemporary Hit Radio, i.e. the Top 40 station. One of the best things about living in California (after the weather) is the fact that rather than normal Top 40 stations, we have “Rhythmic Contemporary” stations. This means, basically, that you get all the great pop, R&B songs, and hip-hop songs of a normal CHR station, still skipping some of the hip-hop that would play on an “urban only” station (which generally tends to be the hip-hop I enjoy less), and skipping most of the rock and country songs that other CHR stations would play.

This last part is key. I do certain rock (e.g., U2), but I don’t do other rock (e.g., Nickelback). I appreciate a radio station that doesn’t make me listen to any more rock than I have to, since I tend to dislike more than I like. Unfortunately, however, even my beloved AMP radio is making me listen to other disgusting excuses for art. Indeed, Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” does not even perform well against other dumb and potentially offensive songs. Yes, even “Carry Out” by Timbaland and Justin Timberlake ranks far, far above “California Gurls” in my mind.

I dislike “California Gurls” for many reasons. First, its spelling. Secondly, it’s labeling women as girls. (Thanks, Jennifer Hagin, for ruining my ability to mindlessly accept colloquialisms.) Thirdly, Katy Perry’s barely cloud-obscured nudity in the video. Fourthly, Katy Perry’s costumes because they are just sexist and disgusting. Fifthly, the song’s insinuation that men should pick their women based on geographic location and that women are valuable as members of a group rather than as individuals. “Carolina Girls” may be a much more innocent song, but I’ve always hated it, too—along with the thousands of “Carolina Girls” t-shirts sold at UNC Student Stores every year.

One of the most frustrating things about “California Gurls,” however, is the aspect of it that is true. Of course most women here don’t walk around in bikinis, drive Jeeps, or have sex on the beach on a regular basis. However, there is something different about women (and many men) in California: an increased concern with appearance. In California it’s easy to walk around in what you think are normal-people clothes and feel like a total bum. As my friend Kate noticed on a visit here, people seem to dress up even just to visit the mall. After traffic, this is probably my least favorite part of living in Los Angeles county. There are plenty of kind-hearted and intelligent people out here, but the stereotype that L.A. residents are shallow, materialistic, and always sporting the latest styles sometimes feels very true.

Back in college, the dominant culture was that of the over-achiever. It was this culture that our InterVarsity staff encouraged us to struggle against—that we might find our value in God’s love for us rather than our achievements. Here, I wish we had a few more prophetic voices encouraging us to not buy into the SoCal mentality. I wish this partly for selfish reasons—so that I wouldn’t feel as out of place just because I don’t wear make-up and could stand to lose a few pounds—but I also want it because I hate seeing the damage that comes from misplaced priorities. Unfortunately, L.A. sometimes seems to specialize in cultural flaws (though, of course, it also has its share of cultural beauty), and it can be difficult to know how to adequately address a culture’s influence in our own lives, much less help anyone else with this task. Still, I think this is a task we are called to, as we try to better love God, ourselves, and our neighbors.

With no further brilliance to share, I will conclude by recommending two recent books that I have not yet read: Unsqueezed, an entertaining book about culture and body image by Margot Starbuck (author of The Girl in the Orange Dress, a fantastic memoir on adoption, divorce, and God as Father) and Under the Influence, a look at the culture of California and its influence on broader American culture.

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Those Sexy Protestants

The other day in class, I was reading Wikipedia articles to refresh my memory on Katharina and Martin Luther. I’m not entirely sure how I got on the topic, besides that I wanted to make certain that Katharina had indeed been a nun prior to marrying Martin, as some of the ex-monk reformers married nuns, while others didn’t. This information is very significant, because Jeremiah and I have discussed being a monk and nun for Halloween, and to make this seem less disrespectful, I wanted to be sure we had a real historical monk-nun couple we could refer to. “See, we’re not just promoting bad behavior among monks and nuns, we’re representing a real monk and nun that had a romance going on!” Who can argue with people trying to teach church history?

This raised, in my mind, for the first time, a deep irony within the Protestant tradition. How odd it is that we are just now beginning (and I mean beginning) to more openly discuss sexuality from a Christian perspective. While sex was certainly not the most important issue for the reformers, it seems the Reformation made a point of saying, “Catholics have got this wrong.” Because they believed sex was a good thing, priests should be allowed to marry. Hence, for the first time in a long while, the theological leaders of this time had wives. While I’ve heard some negative gender-related quotes from Martin, and I’m not trying to lift up his marriage as any sort of modern-day ideal, I do feel like for his time, he and Katharina were in some sense progressive. This seems to be a part of our heritage to celebrate.

We, as Protestants, at once point in time, intentionally embraced sex as something good, the source of differences in Protestant requirements for ministers (marriage is allowed), as well as our openness to birth control today. How ironic that we don’t proudly own that, and how sad that we have made so little progress in developing serious theological reflection on gender and sexuality over the past few centuries.

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Filed under Marriage, Theology & Ministry

Absolutely FREE!!!

The other day, Jeremiah’s (and my—though first Jeremiah’s ;o) friend Geoff shared with him some disappointing news: One of Corpus Christi’s local churches has a great plan to bring people to the Easter service next Sunday. Illustrating the reckless abandon with which our generous God loves us, they are giving things away. It sounds good enough at first—Christians should be generous, right? But rather than, say, hosting a community brunch and inviting the poor and homeless or giving away possessions to the local Salvation Army or giving away money to help rebuild Haiti, Bay Area Fellowship had a different idea.

The church is giving away almost $1 million…

…in laptops, flat screen TVs, cars, and of course, many smaller items, as well, since everyone is a winner.

The oh-so-clever pastor claims, “They’re coming for the loot and they’re going to leave with Jesus.” Well, God redeems some pretty poor efforts on our part, but we’ll still have to wait and see for this one…

Check out the news story, including thoughts from Michael Emerson—no, not the actor who plays Ben Linus but the sociologist from Rice University. (I happen to be a fan of both. :o)

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Filed under Churches, Theology & Ministry

Marrying Young

About six months ago I read a fabulous book, which helped to confirm for me my love of sociology of religion. The book, by Mark Regnerus, was called Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers and one of its themes included the discrepancies between adults’ teaching/teenagers’ belief/teenagers’ practice when it comes to evangelical sexual ethics. This, among other things, has led Regnerus himself–who is evangelical–to advocate for younger marriage.

The stereotype, of course, is already that conservative Christians tend to marry younger. Still, along with the many non-evangelicals, there are plenty of evangelicals who also would question Regnerus’s recommendation.

I used to be one of them.

It’s not so much that I thought everyone that got married young did so just for sex or that all young marriages were bound to fail. It was much more of a feminist thing for me–it seemed the younger the marriage the more traditional the gender role expectations tended to be. (I’m not certain that there is any social scientific evidence for this, but this was my probably unfair stereotype.) I’ve changed my mind, however, and I feel like sharing some of the reasons with the world. So here is my brief treatise on the benefits of marrying young:

Some Christians criticize others for their lack of a “consistent ethic of human life”–i.e. supporting the death penalty while opposing abortion. I think we Christians need to do some reflection on a consistent ethic of marriage. We have so emphasized not committing adultery and not divorcing that we neglect to discuss many other important things. These items range from how to best support those who have divorced for legitimate or illegitimate reasons to better supporting dual-earner families, from acknowledging female sexuality to recognizing the significance of emotional abuse. I also believe that among these issues is the need to thoughtfully consider and teach the beauty of the very countercultural aspects of marriage.

While marriage is something that has existed throughout history and in many different cultural contexts, it has undoubtedly been done differently depending on the particulars of those contexts. Our context today introduces many interesting elements into the equation, ultimately leading to later marriages. First, the high divorce rate of my generation’s parents has left many anxious about commitment and a few quite jaded. Secondly, casual sex is not always as common as portrayed in movies but is still a part of the cultural landscape (facilitated, of course, by modern methods of birth control). Thirdly, our current economic situation and the direction of our society more generally is encouraging more education, postponing careers. Fourthly, American culture is extremely individualistic. To me, these seem to be some of the most significant factors in delaying marriage today. Together they make marrying young look unnecessary at best, foolish at worst.

Taking even the most positive approach, younger marriage is just likely to cause problems. When you’re in your 20s, you really don’t know what you’re doing with your life. “Emerging Adults” have a lot of growing up to do and are still waist-deep in questions about their future educations and careers. What if you marry someone, only to find out that they work in New York, while you’ve accepted a great job in California? What if you can’t both get accepted into the same or nearby grad schools? What if in your continuing to grow up, one or both of you changes significantly? When you’re not planning on having kids yet anyway, why get married? You can still live together with some degree of commitment, and yet be able to get out if things don’t go as you hope. Additionally, weddings are expensive, and it makes more sense to wait until you have enough money to pay for the accoutrements you’ve always dreamed of, right? Anyway, it seems wiser to wait until you have stable careers with stable incomes.

In this culture with these attitudes, marrying young is weird. And clearly it’s not for everyone–some people haven’t met the right person or aren’t at the right place in their relationship or personal growth to make that kind of a step. And yet, I wonder what it’d look like for Christian communities to encourage a different attitude toward marriage–not so much marrying “young” vs. marrying older as much as Christian marriage as an intentionally countercultural act. You’re deciding you don’t want to leave your options open, you’re not going to try to guarantee the stability of every aspect of your life, you’re going to take some risk as far as your education and careers work out, and you’re willing to commit yourself to one person when you don’t necessarily have to yet and even though you’ve seen a lot of marriages die. To me, that sounds pretty radical in our society.

I’m not trying to say that non-Christians can’t have good and purposeful marriages, of course, just that as Christians we should especially be thinking about how the gospel applies to every aspect of life, including marriage. I know not everyone should actually marry young but going into marriage with a different set of attitudes toward partnership and commitment can be really significant, I think. For example, many Christians emphasize that commitments are important to keep, yet many also still promote some sort of hesitancy (whether in serious conversation or innocent jokes) about commitment. I would argue that an actually more Christian view of commitment maturely measures the risk, yet in the end embraces that uncertainty with excitement and hope.

To truly apply this to our ideas about commitment would go beyond our natural enthusiasm for those who are already planning to marry. I think it would change the way to consider things like, “What if we get stuck accepted to two different schools?” or “Shouldn’t we wait until we’re financially stable?” When you’re already acknowledging the risk inherent in commitment (no matter what the circumstances!) and daring to believe that good can come from it, these questions fade in importance. After all, marriage is about more than cleverly engineering your life circumstances to support a relationship. You can grow it in a greenhouse, if you prefer, but the unexpected is likely to make you feel like you’re in the wild, anyway. Why not just start there? Yes, some times might be harder–you can’t really know–but if the whole point of this is commitment, what does school or money or whatever else have to do with it? If you don’t think you want to be committed if some things don’t go as planned, why do you think you might ever want to get married at all?

Personally, I’m enjoying the fact that things don’t always go the way we thought, as it shows me just how good my decision to get married has been. While Jeremiah and I are both waitlisted for PhD programs, we have an uncommon advantage: each other. I’m surprisingly calm about the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing yet or what will happen if one of us gets in and the other doesn’t. I’m remarkably happy about it all and just excited to see how it turns out. Our life together in and of itself seems much more important than our particular plans. What good would it have been for us to wait to get married, apply to various programs, and end up at opposite ends of the country? If you don’t know you want to get married, that’s ok. But if you want to, don’t wait. It doesn’t accomplish anything. And actually going through with something that seems crazy can end up being a really wonderful thing.

And about gender roles: Despite my hang-ups, marrying young says nothing about gender roles. Though this was hard for me to get over (so few of my female friends are married that I was sure there must be something awful about feminists marrying young and that I must be crazy!), I’m learning that we can wait as long as we want to have kids. We can divide chores however we want. We can get as much education as we feel like. We can split time with kids more evenly than most parents. We can be flexible. People can think whatever they want about women and men who marry young–but for us, it’s an opportunity to enjoy each other’s company longer before we have more intense responsibilities, as well as even more time to figure out how we can best make two careers work. And I don’t know what isn’t feminist about that. ;o)

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Filed under Marriage, Sociology of Religion

Re-envisioning Engagement (Part 3)

Yes, I’m finally concluding this series, as promised long ago!

In my first post on engagement I argued that engagement should be seen (generally, but especially among Christians) as a state of being increasing almost married rather than firmly still not married. In my second post on engagement, I argued that engagement’s purpose should not be to plan an elaborate wedding. And now, finally, I will conclude by arguing that engagement’s purpose is also not to act as a marital insurance policy.

If one has decided engagement isn’t for wedding planning, it seems a common view is that engagement is a time to figure out that the relationship is definitely right. I’m not in any way trying to be critical of those who have gone through the painful process of breaking off an engagement, of course, so please don’t misunderstand me. For those that have had good reason to break of engagements, I applaud you for your thoughtfulness and courage.

More generally, however, if we go into engagement thinking this is still a tentative commitment, I think we’re approaching engagement and commitment in the wrong way. If you aren’t sure you want to be married, don’t get engaged. It makes life easier. While most aren’t going into engagement thinking it’s quite the trial-and-error process that cohabitation has become to many, I do think engagement is taken much less seriously than marriage itself and perhaps, without making it the equivalent of marriage already, the seriousness might need to go up a notch for many.

Due to the perception that engagement is somehow quite distinct from marriage, it seems many treat engagement, if not as a trial period beyond dating, some sort of time to guarantee the success of the marriage. The easiest example of this is premarital counseling. Time to do premarital counseling is often cited as a good reason for the length of engagement, as if the counseling will be vastly different before marriage versus after. Personally, I find that hard to believe. You will be the same people with the same issues before and after, so unless you are still thinking that something bad you discover in counseling might make you back out of the marriage, I don’t think creating time for counseling should be a major factor in delaying marriage, either. If you already know you want to marry someone and aren’t treating engagement as the trial period dating should be, I see no reason to not to start counseling ASAP, as well as get married ASAP–with the two possibly overlapping. In fact, it seems it might be more useful to have some sessions before and some sessions after, as you will probably have plenty of adjustment to do post-marriage.

I will admit my thoughts here aren’t as developed as they were for my first two posts… but I felt I should write the third as planned. In all of this, it seems the purpose of engagement is simply to get things together, to begin the transition. So you figure out your housing arrangements and your bank accounts and what, if any, ceremony you’re having, but it doesn’t need to drag out so you can make certain this is right or do something magic now to “prepare” for a good marriage (hopefully you were preparing the whole time you were dating by building a healthy relationship!) or to make the ceremony extravagant. The focus should always be on the fact that you’re becoming more and more married and wanting to make certain you are appropriately transitioning–which in my opinion would include increased emotional attachment and commitment, despite the fact that others won’t “recognize” your commitment until your wedding. One of the most frustrating things about engagement to me is this emphasis, even in jest, on hanging on to being single for a little while longer–and it just seems that’s not the point of the whole thing. I think the more you are able to transition now, the less potentially stressful adjusting you’ll have to do (to not being autonomous, etc.) later. And that, I think, is what the church should be helping engaged couples do: to help them understand and adjust to marriage as smoothly as possible.

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When a feminist dies…

When a feminist dies, I don’t advise calling on the president of a Southern Baptist seminary to write the report.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Crosswalk.com did this past week after the death of “post-Christian” lesbian feminist Mary Daly, who taught theology at Boston College (until we was ousted for barring men from her higher-level courses of feminist thought…).

Albert Mohler, who frequently writes on current events and culture for the conservative Christian website and is President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, was called upon to reflect on Daly’s death. Mohler makes certain to point out radical Daly’s ironic prejudice towards transsexuals and pokes fun at her belief that women were, in some sense, victims of “gynocide” at the hands of Christianity. While he called her story “tragic,” it is triumphalism, rather than lament that seems to characterize his piece.

After reading Mohler’s article, I had two wishes:

First, that Christians would be sensitive to the personal connections of various authors and in the future, and perhaps choose an author who might not have the same prominence in a very anti-feminist denomination for a piece on the death of a feminist. I’m not saying, necessarily, that the author couldn’t be a complementarian when it comes to women in ministry, but I’ve met a lot of very gracious complementarians that would be much better suited to write such a piece than a member of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s governing body. Mohler was also instrumental in the addition of a statement about women’s submission to the 2000 version of the “non-creedal” creed of the Southern Baptists, the Baptist Faith and Message. I mean, according to wikipedia and from what I’ve heard, this guy is critical of anyone who chooses not to have kids, critical of birth control, opposed to all alcohol use… I don’t know why a more moderate complementarian could not be found who wouldn’t carry the same baggage into the conversation by mere virtue of his name and fame.

Secondly, I wish that we would truly lament Daly’s death in a manner befitting Christians. It just seemed unnecessary to harp on Daly for her views toward transsexuals–perhaps I read it wrong, but it seemed to be a, “Ha, you hypocrite radicals, you!” I also found it insensitive to scoff at her death from “declining health” versus “gynocide.” Just because she had an extreme view, doesn’t make her an idiot, and even if she were an idiot, what does that matter? There is no response we should have to this but sorrow: sorrow that sexism has tainted the church since its birth, sorrow that sexism continues to be inadequately addressed by Christians, sorrow that individuals feel they must choose between Christianity and feminism, sorrow that anyone would feel the Christian God was “phallocentric” or otherwise unconcerned with the lives of women.

Besides our sorrow over the state of things and over the story of this one woman, we also must be sensitive in how we write about such matters, that we not take lightly the death of someone who was others’ daughter, sister, lover, and friend. Additionally, as Daly began as a Christian, she likely knew Christians that cared for her deeply and were hurt profoundly by her apostasy. Regardless of what we make of her views, we must recognize the frustration and pain she apparently felt as a woman and the frustration and pain others felt on her behalf when she went down this path. Let us not let another’s bitterness towards Christianity lead to our own callousness at her death.

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Re-envisioning Engagement (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

In addition to understanding engagement as a dynamic state of being increasingly “almost married” (notably, lodged between two other dynamic states), I think we would benefit from changing at least two other elements of our view of engagement.

First, I want to contest the common view that the purpose of engagement is to plan a wedding. I think a wedding at its best is a celebration of a good thing in community. However, it seems that both the time and money required to have a wedding–or at least one that that competes with the contents of bridal magazines or our childhood fantasies–delay most marriages.

I find it telling that in a different time and culture engagement and marriage were often done quite differently. My grandparents married in the early 50s, when they were in their 20s. Mimi and Granddad met in June and started a relationship nearly immediately. They soon started talking about marriage, declared their plans more officially in December, and were married in a pastor’s home in February, with only my granddad’s family attending. (Hers lived in Chicago at the time and couldn’t make a trip to Kentucky.

While many people at the time had weddings, they did not. And according to my grandmother, this was not at all uncommon. I suppose we don’t know when most people today would get married without so much hoopla, but I find it telling that a year-long engagement is “standard” primarily because of the time needed to plan a wedding (just Google “engagement length” and check out the forums where women are comparing timelines) and that some people even opt to wait multiple years to marry to gather sufficient funds for the ceremony of their dreams.

When I asked Mimi if she thinks the rising popularity of cohabitation has contributed significantly to the lengthening of engagement, she replies with a hearty yes. People had shorter engagements and simpler ceremonies in the past, she believes, because it was culturally unacceptable to move in together or have sex without a marriage license.

I think it’s legitimate to have opinions about what you want your wedding to be like, and I don’t think it’s bad to spend time and money on some of the elements that are more important to you. However, I find it unfortunate that we put such a focus on weddings that few people feel they can get married without one of sufficient granduer. This not only creates a culture of weddings which marginalizes the have-nots (something we as Christians should avoid), but also encourages people to wait longer to get married for questionable reasons. Is a fancier ceremony really worth delaying your marriage for several more months? For some, perhaps, it is–and it’s not my place to judge them–but I feel shorter engagements would be better for many couples.

Weddings are a cultural practice, so they will undoubtedly be influenced by our cultures. We feel societal pressure to do our weddings in certain ways, and it’s not an evil thing to take part in this part of culture by following many of these norms. But we don’t need to follow every cultural convention, especially as we, as Christians, seek to do life in a way that aligns with kingdom values. And since these values include things such as chastity, commitment, generosity, and giving up status, I see a lot of pros with creating a culture of simpler, sooner weddings.

In my opinion, if you’re committed to each other and want to be married, it makes sense to go ahead and be married–and I believe we as Christians should do a better job supporting that.

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Filed under Engagement, Relationships, Social Justice, Weddings

Re-envisioning Engagement (Part 1)

I will eventually get better at blogging again–I promise!

I’ve never been good at being normal, so it’s probably not a surprise that I’m not a typical bride. What feminist could be? What you may not have realized is that I’m so atypical, I actually hate being engaged. And I appear to be the first woman ever to feel this way. A few Google searches have found very few results with “engagement” and “frustrating,” “hate,” or “sucks” in the same sentence, save a few complaints about military engagement in various locales.

As a teenager I frequently picked out my own birthday presents, which I don’t think is a rarity in and of itself; however, I also frequently talked my mom into letting me receive certain gifts early for one reason or another. Given my history, I openly admit, part of my disdain for engagement is a simple lack of patience. However, I also, over the past several months, have been reflecting on the significance of marriage and how it “ought to be done,” and I think some genuine criticisms can be made of how engagement/marriage work in our society, especially when viewed from a Christian perspective.

First, I would like to point out that engagement is a fairly invisible state outside of the marketplace. While temporary, everyone that is married was once engaged, yet you’d hardly even know it. Engagement seems to be nothing but a special subset of dating, tacked on at the end of the courtship process, and certainly distinct from marriage itself. Perhaps this distinction is less sharp outside of religious circles that ban cohabitation, but within evangelical Christianity, there is a clear divide. For example, churches often feature various activities for married couples, but only a few churches make certain their language is inclusive toward other committed couples. While I could write an additional post or two about the consequences this has on our evangelistic efforts (if a non-Christian couple that lives together isn’t welcome in a couple’s small group, too, what does that say about your church’s hospitality?), I want to focus here on the fact that this excludes Christians who are seriously dating or engaged who may very well be “closer” to marriage than not. And would it be such a bad thing for these couples to also be included in couples’ activities? Biblically, older men and women are instructed to mentor the younger, and many churches still emphasize the value of relationships between older and younger married couples, specifically. I argue that it would be valuable to let those relationships begin developing between couples that are married (be it for a year or for forty) and those that are still on their way, rather than waiting until vows are officially said.

In fact, it seems that Christians that heavily emphasize waiting until marriage to have sex have a tendency to heavily dichotomize engagement and marriage. The online magazine Boundless, written for college students and singles in their 20s puts it as such: “OK, congratulations, you’re engaged. What do you do now? There is really only one concept to keep in mind when it comes to engagement, and it’s quite easy. It’s simple and it should guide you in every decision, thought and act until you are standing before God, the people and the pastor on the big day. Ready? You are not married yet. Now, depending on logistical or other circumstances, cultural backgrounds, length of relationship, things other Christians might have told you, there’s another way to put this: Ready? You are not married yet. Remember that if you get nothing else out of this column.”

I acknowledge this is true, and I’m not arguing to charge Christian sexual ethics. But I do think that this demonstrates the oddity of how we talk about engagement and marriage. We insist that marriage is a good thing and bad-mouth those who are unwilling to formally commit themselves; however, when two people are ready for that commitment, we expect a long waiting period, during which–rather than helping them make mental, emotional, and practical transitions towards marriage–we will emphasize, verbally and non-verbally, that they are not at all married, no matter how married they feel or how married they want to be. To me, rather than putting a not in italics it would be much more useful for us to consider engagement a time of being increasingly almost married.

In this way, I believe, engagement becomes a legitimate state between dating and marriage, rather than simply the end of dating. Engagement is seen as a true between state that begins on the dating end of the spectrum, but quickly moves closer to marriage. Besides these questionable ways of talking about engagement, I think it’s notable that there seem to be many more books about dating or deciding to become engaged or marriage itself than there are books about the engagement process. While relatively short, it is engagement is quite common, making it odd that there is such a silence. To me it sometimes feels the only people in-tune with the existence of engaged people are wedding vendors–and this seems unfortunate. Shouldn’t we as a society, and especially we who are Christians, “see” engaged people and address them at that many diverse places they are at?

… to be continued…

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Field trip to the local mosque!

One of the things I’m constantly thinking about as I’m at seminary is Sunday School/Church School/Christian Education/whatever one’s church calls it.  While obviously classes and discussion groups for people of all ages meet at most churches, I have a particular interest in youth and young adult programming.  This past week, I’ve been thinking in particular about the role our churches should play in introducing kids to other religions.

My dad called this weekend, and I was telling him about my world religions class, which includes visits to Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu places of worship.  What did it bring to mind for him?  Unitarian church youth groups.  For those of you that are unfamiliar, I’m not the world’s expert on Unitarianism, but essentially, it’s an all-paths sort of place where various religions are seen as legitimate ways to reach God–in my own ignorant generalization, I think of it as almost a sort of Western Ba’hai faith.

I think we evangelicals do ourselves a disservice by not copy-catting our Unitarian friends.  It seems we think that just because we don’t affirm every path as equally effective, we think we must focus solely on our own.  But where does that leave us?  At best, sweetly ignorant, at worst misinformed and even bigoted towards those we don’t understand.

The way I see it, the concepts I’m learning in my world religions class aren’t too difficult for a high schooler to understand.  Besides learning basic factual information about what others believe and how they practice their religion, we are learning about different theologies of religions–ways in which Christians throughout time and from different traditions understand people of other/no faiths.  There are about four basic categories we’re using to describe the various positions, and it’s clear that most people at my school fall in one or two of these camps.  One of my favorite aspects of the class is its nonjudgmentalism toward these various positions.  While people in the class have, on average, conservative to moderate views, we’re discussing each of these positions as views of potentially legitimate Christians.  We’re not automatically labeling anyone a heathen–we may disagree with them, but hey, there may be others right in the class that we disagree with as well.

I feel this would be a useful approach for evangelical churches when discussing the topic with high school and college students.  Besides learning about specific religions, talk about how Christians of various theological persuasions have made sense of our pluralistic society.  Don’t just tell them what your church thinks about Buddhists or Mormons; tell them about how all sorts of Christians do.  They’ll know you obviously disagree with some people’s views, and they should be encouraged to look critically at all of the views–even the one that your church espouses.  At the end of the day, knowing the breadth of Christian options they have and knowing more about the histories, beliefs, and practices of other religions seems more likely to encourage them to authentically develop their own faith (which may even end up theologically similar to your own!).

I think there are milllions of small things like this that we can do to encourage young people to be intelligent and honest when it comes to matters of faith–and that, I believe is one of the most powerful ways we can equip them for college and life beyond.  Instead of whining all the time about how many people lose their faith in college and are incredibly embittered towards the church we may have teens coming home and thanking us for how much intellectual freedom we gave them.  Some might still convert to another religion become agnostic, but even if that happens, I think they’ll appreciate our desire to help them make their own decision.  And that would do wonders for the church’s relationship with the outside world.

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Why Politics Aren’t Evil

Recently I’ve come across two interesting statements on friends’ blogs:

(1) “humans were created to rule the world on God’s behalf” (Daniel Kirk, in summarizing an article by Richard Middleton)

(2) “Cultural/creative power is the ability to successfully propose a new cultural good. But privilege is the accumulated benefits of past successful exercises of power… Jesus retains power but does not exploit privilege.” (Al Hsu, summarizing a talk by Andy Crouch, author of the fabulous 2008 book, Culture Making)

When I read Kirk’s blog today and saw that statement (which is nothing new/revolutionary to me), I was hit by the way it connected to what Hsu had posted, and the way both were connected with one of the big questions we debated in my Mission in American Culture class last quarter, which focused on politics in America.

Many students were afraid of politics, eager to separate themselves from the corruption, the bad decisions, even the power itself.  (See some of our blog entries on evangelicalism and politics.)  However, as a political science major in college, I didn’t feel able to turn by back on the political process.  I’m not saying it’s all good.  But I also don’t think the concepts of parties, PACs, organized interests, grassroots protests, executives, judiciaries, and legislatures are inherently bad.  I think they’re cool cultural innovations we’ve created to try to manage our societies.  And that can’t be completely awful, right?  Government is just sort of… necessary.

What these statements do, though, I think, is make an even more positive case for politics.  Politics is about the distribution of power.  We were created for power, for rulership.  And as such, we can’t ever get away from politics.  If these two statements are true, politics is woven into our very beings.  The question is not should we participate in politics but how can politics serve to rule the world for God–and by that I’m not meaning how can politics legislate morality or force devotion but rather how politics (and every other human endeavor) can be used to honor the human potential in all of us (including the ability to make our own decisions about things like religion).

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