This month the Impact Community is doing a series called “Conversations.” It is series designed to foster better relationships between the mainstream white evangelical church and four different marginalized people groups. Each week will include an apology letter from the church to that community.

This week we discussed the immigrant community. This is our apology.

Dear Immigrant Community,

I’m sorry.

I know it’s not every day you hear those words from me.

But I wanted to start there.

I’m sorry.

I have forgotten so much. I’ve forgotten that scripture is full of stories of immigrants.

I’ve forgotten the repeated commands to extend hospitality to the stranger, show mercy to the foreigner, and ensure justice for the alien.

I’ve forgotten the central principle of actively loving my neighbor, and that neighbor means you. I have forgotten that God has created and redeemed all people, not just people who look, talk, and act like me!

I’m sorry for forgetting.

I’m sorry that in forget these realities, I’ve neglected you.

I’m sorry for thinking ill of you and treating you as less than human.

I am sorry that I have not shown you hospitality. My lack of action reveals the truth of my selfish state. I revel in the courageous stories of how our ancestors came here, yet I ignore your courageous stories. I surround myself with pleasures and comforts, and ignore your plight.

I’m sorry for being a bad, non-loving neighbor.

I am sorry that I often think the worst of you. I make assumptions about you – why you’re here, how you got here, and what’s going to happen because you’re here.

My assumptions are often dark and jaded and down-right hateful. These thoughts have little or even nothing to do with the reality of who you are.

I’m sorry for the times I have made things more difficult for you. I’m sorry for the times I have joined in the slander against you. Sorry that I have allowed, and even advocated for, unreasonable obstacles to be placed in front of you.

I’m sorry for having permitted and even participated in, acts of discrimination against you.

For these things I am sorry. You deserve better! Jesus’ name deserves better.

Will you please forgive me?

Signed – The Church

(Letter by Jim Vining and Sarah DePriest)

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Our pastoral staff had lunch with N.T. Wright (Yes, I like my job!).

Scott Arbeiter asked the Bishop of Durham what blind spots he observes in the American Evangelical Church.

As a good historian, Bishop Wright responded to the question by naming two periods of American history: The 1770s and 1860s.

The 1770s

Americans not only revolted against the British government,  they also rejected the Anglican Bishop’s authority over the Church. This may seem natural to Americans, but Wright noted two unhealthy trends in American Evangelicalism which he traces back, at least in part, to those events.

1.   Isolation of Our Faith from the Global and Historic Church. Wright believes that church unity must transcend place and time. He sees much of American Evangelicalism indifferent to the church outside of itself.

2.   Isolation of Our Faith from Our Public Life. Wright notes the tremendous influence of the Enlightenment upon the founding of America. This philosophy drives the idea that we can separate religion from institutions.

The 1860s

The Civil War has left a profound divide in American culture, and the Evangelical Church is not immune. Wright sees the Mason-Dixon divide as one of the roots of the culture war in modern America. He identifies two ways that this has harmed the American Church.

1.   Limitation of Our Church Unity. Wright believes that Church unity is a centerpiece of the scriptures. However, the American church is almost as divided as the rest of the nation in our ongoing culture wars.

2.   Limitation of Our Practice, Proclamation, and Discernment of Truth. Many Americans are so entrenched in their side in the culture war that they are not able to identify reality. Christians on the Left and Right often place a higher value on their team’s position than the teachings of scripture.

I have spent some time prayerfully thinking about this friendly critique and it’s implications for me, our congregation and the movement. It seems profound and urgent to me.

What do you think?

Where is this an accurate description of American Evangelicalism, and the American Church in general?

What can we do to (W)right the ship?

Another Christmas Season has passed.

Once again, some Christians found it meaningful, others found it dreadful, still others found it stale.

Here are some suggestions to my fellow Christians on how they can have a better Christmas next year.

1. Stop complaining about how non-believers celebrate the holidays.

Many American Christians are furious about how “the culture” is treating Christmas.  They believe that there is a “war on Christmas.” And they are ready to fight!

That response is way off.  If people do not believe the incredible claims of Christmas, then they should not celebrate Christmas they way that believers celebrate Christmas.  Our anger will not lead anyone to believe in the incarnation.

We would do better to evaluate ourselves on how we respond to Christmas than to critique those outside the faith.

2. Dive into the wonder of the Incarnation.

Many churches act like it is not enough to talk about the birth of Jesus. They mention the birth, and then fast forward 33 years to the death of Jesus. Their assumption is that the cross is the real story and the manger is just background.

I certainly affirm importance of the death (and resurrection!) of Jesus. However, the incarnation is also a marvelous and crucial part of the story.The fact that we do not see it’s value reveals our shallow theological understanding.

We dare not gloss over the birth of Jesus, or we will miss the  riches of Christmas for life.

3. Live out the story of the Incarnation.

While remembering the pregnancy and birth narratives,  keep in mind that memorizing data is not the point. We are called into this story. We can live our lives in light of Christmas.

The story of the incarnation brings out some wonderful new realities for us to take part in: God with Us, Peace on Earth, Giving of Self, Giving to the Needy, Joy for All, Glory to God … (Do I need to continue!).

Our Christmas experience will be richer as we align our lives with these truths.

Resources

To learn more about joining the Christmas story check out the Advent Conspiracy.

Byron Borger lists several resources on faithful Christmas living at Hearts and Mind Books.

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Watching A Movie with Evangelicals

A number of years ago I watched the movie Schindlers List with a group of friends.
One friend got up in the middle of the movie to fast forwarded the scene of Schindler and his wife making love. I am not sure if he realized that scene was a moment of beauty, healing and intimacy in the story. He did identify it as sex, and he apparently did not think that any of us should watch that type of behavior.
Oh yeah, that same friend did not have any problem “allowing” the group watch the violence and killing in the film.

That story is telling of how many of my fellow evangelicals deal with sex and violence.

Why do we think that sex on the screen is bad, but violence on the screen is good?
Many of us are sex resistant.We think that sex is inherently “dirty.”
Many of us embrace violence. We think that it is good to kill the “bad guys.”

Where does that approach lead us? 

Studies show that evangelicals have the same sexual behavior as the rest of the country. Studies also show that we evangelicals are more supportive of violent force than the rest of the country.

Comparing Sex and Violence in the Scriptures

We evangelicals strive to hold God as the authority over our lives. We also believe that the scriptures accurately teach us God’s will for our lives. Therefore we should allow the scriptures guide our approach to sex and violence.

Sex is a powerful and good part of God’s creation. Once sin enters the world, there are times when sex is abused and tainted.  We are to avoid this type of sex. However, sex within the proper context continues to be celebrated.

Violence does not exist in the biblical story until after sin enters the world. The first few times that we read of violence, the point is that sin has broken the world. God gave people the guidline “No Killing.” Anytime that violence is seen in the story it is either described as an act of evil or a response to evil. It is not a good thing. Jesus and His followers seem to go even further, telling and showing us that violence is not the right response to evil. 

How shall we deal with sex and violence?

Do we evangelicals need to do a better job living out biblical sexuality? Yes!
We also need to be more consistent with how we address sin and morality.  Specifically, we need to drastically readjust our views on violence. Scriptures call us to reject the glorification of violence.

May we lead our culture in support of peace, not violence.

BillyG Preaching Crowd

Today the term “evangelical” has lost most of it’s meaning.

Reporters and Pollsters use the term interchangeably with fundamentalist.

Many fundamentalists lump true evangelicals with liberals.

However, historically those are three different positions.

In order to identify what an evangelical is (was), let’s take at a quick, admittedly simplistic, overview of 100 years in American Protestanitism:

Religious Liberalism: In the late 1800s many American church leaders began to adopt theological positions that were inconsistent with historic Christian beliefs. Among the theological positions which they abandoned were the authority of scripture and the divinity of Jesus. One liberal leader was very clear “we are changing, they (traditionalists) are not.” These church leaders were categorized as theological liberals. Many (certainly not all) “mainline” protestant congregations became theologically liberal by the early 20th century.

Christian Fundamentalism: In the 1920s and 1930s many of those who held to historic Christian beliefs found themselves increasingly at odds with mainline religions … and main stream culture. Fundamentalists reacted by removing themselves from culture in order to stay “pure.” In addition to isolationism, fundamentalists also reacted by rejecting areas of life not clearly connected with their religious framework. Areas that were rejected included the arts, science, academia, and social justice. Fundamentalist also narrowed the definition of “true believers” by placing additional beliefs as core to their faith.

Neo-Evangelicals: Out of this context emerged the neo-evangelicals in the 1940s and 1950s. These were people who held to the core historic beliefs of Christianity and believed that thoughtful cultural engagement was a clear application of those beliefs. Unlike Religious Liberals, the neo-evangelicals held the convictions of: 1. Authority of Scripture and 2. Lordship of Jesus. Unlike the Christian Fundamentalists, the neo-evangelicals: 1. Held to other beliefs but did not place them as essential for true faith. 2. Believed that their core beliefs drive believers to to engage in culture. 3. Believed that their core beliefs compel believers to explore truth, beauty, and justice in all areas of life.

I realize that this post might be like blowing into a strong gust of wind. There may be no use in trying to rescue the term evangelical.

The real shame is not that we have lost a term. The danger is that we would lose that type of movement.

We need Christians who believe and follow Jesus well enough to be thoughtfully and gracefully engage the world.