We all know that Russia in general and Putin in particular is not exactly leading the way in LGBT rights at this time in the world.  In response, the Colbert Report did a fun set of pictures on Putin.  They noted that the president is totally straight based on his shirtless hunting, shirtless fishing, and of course, his shirtless horseback riding.

Nothing could be more heterosexual.

It is too hard to resist coming up with log lines based on his photos.  So as an exercise in creativity (and perhaps immaturity), let’s begin spoofing one of scariest, most powerful men on planet earth:

Image

After crash landing in the wilderness, a head-of-state and the leader of opposition party discover each other. –Rivals on the River

Image

A wealthy dom seduces male submissives in a game that involves the wilderness, a head start, and tranquilizer darts. –The Most Dangerous Love

Image

Vladimir Putin rides in the gay pride parade. –Vladimir Putin rides in the gay pride parade.

There you have it everyone.  Gay male erotica isn’t my genre, but it might be yours.  Feel free to run with any of these log lines in your own blog.

The fourth bomb on why young people leave the church we now discuss.  According to Barna headline it is summed up in this sentence: Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.  The article expands to the following.

One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church’s expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality.

Regular readers of this blog have seen the sexuality issue pop up several times.  For this post two things need to be parsed out: what is official view of the evangelical church, how is it simplistic (and harmful), and what ought we to do?

Simplistic testimonies: Out of Touch and Out of Date.

Evangelical theology is quite often folk theology.  This is not to say that it’s bad.  It is more a comment on how a message gets accepted and how it gets communicated.  You’ve seen it work if you have ever had someone “testify” to the goodness of God or their working in their life.  Evangelical theology is deeply rooted in the folk experiences of God’s winners.  That is, people who can tell us how great it is to live a holy life, all by the grace of God of course.

Exhibit A among “God’s Winners” is Mark Regnerus.  Several years ago, he argued for the case for young marriage.  In it he extolled the virtues of marrying young.  Naturally, he answered many of the objection such as economic insecurity, immaturity, and even a kind of romantic perfectionism.  He wisely admitted that it is unrealistic to expect people to wait.  Instead, he argues that our crisis with sexuality is really a misunderstanding of marriage.  Overall, he feels that inspiring young marriage (and helping people to get there) is the solution to our woes about sexuality.  Not surprisingly, Mark Regnerus married young.

Another issue, we can call it exhibit b for God’s winners, is he frequent testimonies and sharing on podcasts like boundless.org, such as this story about bachelor pastor who got married late in life.  In podcast 246, Steve DeWitt, talks about his lengthy time unmarried life up until age 44.  He shares his thoughts on loneliness, expectations on perhaps always being single, and a scatterings of relationships a long the way.  He remains one of God’s Winners because he remained pure.

Stories like this that help motivate the standard lines of the evangelical sexual ethic.  It can be summed in few sentences: virginity is how the unmarried stay holy.  Multiple partners will make used up.  Young men should not dishonor young women.  Young women should not dishonor themselves.  If you ‘burn with passion’ just get married young.  Marital sex is totally hot.  Look up these in any evangelical message board, any evangelical sermon, and you’ll see these memes repeated ad infintum.

Meanwhile, Tamar tempts Judah like its no big deal.

Meanwhile, Tamar tempts Judah like it’s no big deal.

Overly simplistic, harmful and marginalizing.

For the young Christians the party line creates familiar feeling.  It’s like a baby boomer telling you to “just get a job.” 

Why are these messages so completely out of touch?  Part of it is that the way church leaders dogmatically ignore bad consequences of the evangelical sexual ethic.  Feminist Jessica Valenti outlined some of the interesting lopsidedness of what she pejoratively calls “virginity fetishism.”  At purity balls, young women promise to keep their virginity intact.  Young men promise not to defile a young woman by ‘taking’  her virginity.  Does this not seem strange?  Is virginity only a quality that women have?  Why?  Such a strange emphasis on one gender is damaging.  I like to think that there is a bit more to being a ‘Godly woman’ than what doesn’t happen prior to marriage.  It is also seems to imply that women are not interested in or tempted by sex.  This is such an archaic, outdated notion that I face palm even typing it.

There are however more dramatic examples.  In one instance a kidnapped rape victim, Elizabeth Smart, endured sexual slavery at age fourteen.  She was rescued when her captors brought her out into public.  Why didn’t she just run away the first chance she got?  Elizabeth explained that rape victims struggle with a feeling of worthlessness and that this is made worse by conservative, abstinence only sex ed programs.

Some might say that this is an extreme example.  Indeed it is.  So consider the idea that virginity somehow helps single people prepare for a great marriage.  It is rare to find a Christian in their mid 20s who doesn’t know someone who wasn’t hurt by this myth.  It’s ugly result is a quick divorce to get out of a premature marriage.  One candid story, entitled “My Virignity Mistake” the author tells a story of an expensive marriage, a disappointing sex life, and a subsequent divorce.

She ends with a hopeful note:

Soon after our divorce, he got remarried to someone who suits him better than I ever could have. And years later, I can confirm that I am not that woman who has no interest in sex. I don’t quilt. I haven’t compiled a grocery list in bed in years, and I now know that sex can be amazing … with a bartender who only knows your first name, a pilot you meet on vacation in Costa Rica and yes, with the right guy – sex in a marriage can be beautiful. The key is to figure that out before you find yourself walking down an aisle in a dress that costs more than the family car (my mother has since reminded me). It isn’t the most important thing when it comes to love. But for me, I learned that sex is important enough not to wait. -Salon

As you can see by this quote, this description of sex doesn’t fit with the idea that multiple partners make a person feel used up like a piece of tape that looses its adhesive power.

Shut up and Listen

Many people will see the negative results here -a shamed rape victim, a young divorce, and a lopsided sexual dogma- and insist that these are the results of sin not the morality about sex.  Honestly, can such an attitude really reflect a thorough understanding of how “God’s losers” are experiencing sex?  Remember, part of the problem is that Evangelical sexual ethic is folk theology that’s not just proclaimed but created by the testimonies of folks like a 44 year old bachelor pastor.  I can see no justification to ignore or reinterpret stories of people who failed to get to meet the cut.  These problems are not the result of sin.  These problems are the result of an archaic, out-dated, lopsided, and completely out of touch sexual ideal.

The 80% of young Christians who are having sex anyway likely agree with this point.  If we keep beating the drum about virginity, abstinence, and the virtues of young marriage we expect more young people to leave out of sheer alienation.  If we trudge along with idealistic views of sexual purity, relationships, and dating we will lose the attention of young people who already know it isn’t working.  I can’t emphasize enough that we need to re-evaluate our sexual ethic in light of our contemporary context, rather than appealing to an imagined past or somewhat selective examination of scripture.

Let’s start by honoring young women.  You read that correctly.  The current sexual ethic is not not really helping any woman who feels used up after sex, or is feels guilty about wanting sex.  It bothers me that there are Christians out there who think that dating or marrying a non-virgin is either a taboo or a consolation prize.  We need to erase the virginal purity idea from our minds.  A women’s intrinsic worth as romantic partner no more depends on her not having had sex than a man’s not having viewed pornography.  By way of example, consider this.  Years ago, a friend once asked if she would be ‘used goods’ if she tried to date post-divorce.  I told her that any guy who would think that of her isn’t worth dating in the first place.  Why?  Most likely because he is not totally aware of his own failings when it comes to his sexuality.

More generally, we need to have a more candid two-sided dialogue, when it comes to sex.  You will notice that I did not talk about the famous passage in Corinthians.  Equally, I did not reference lesser known references to the unexpected sexuality of the old testament.  This because I find those conversations hard to start.  The impression I get from most Christian romance media and message-board discussions is that Evangelical zeitgeist is still mired in a very black and white, very dogmatic, way of thinking on this matter.  This is especially true for the organizations like boundless who speak just a bit too authoritatively about purity and romance.  We need to understand what the Bible actually says about sex, and I do mean all of the Bible, not just the verses that reinforce the folk theologies.

Fortunately, the attitude is changing.  Articles such as the ones of shared in this blog, this nice one at Internet Monk, and this wonderful documentary give me some confidence that other people’s stories will be heard.  I hope also that most of the young Christians in what Relevant calls the “secret sexual revolution” will have the confidence to be less secret about it.

Make no mistake: it’s not going to be enough to revise or re-articlate the old ethic about sex.  The current sexual ethic needs to be replaced.  If we expect to keep the coming generations, we need to get sexual ethic that makes sense.  We need to get one that works.  This will begin only when more and more young people become honest and candid with themselves.

God’s losers need to be heard.

There’s this great little app that a fellow writer friend of mine shared with me.  It is call “I write like” and it compares your writing style (but not content) to other famous writers.  Here’s what I got:

I write like
Stephen King

I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

Yes!

…..and now I suppose I should read one of his books…

This blog continues the perpetually prolonged discussion on why young people leave the church.  Now at last, we discuss the second hottest topic out of the original six at the Barna research.  Young people leave the church because it comes of as antagonistic towards science.  The Barna research expounds:

One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.

No one can hardly do this subject justice in one blog.  I hope then, to keep the comments brief and allow others to expand in comments.

Who is actually at fault here?

If Christianity is perceived as anti-science, than who is actually at fault here?  I mean this very seriously.  Is it entirely the dogmatic young earth creationists out there who give Christianity a bad name?  Or is the folks like Dawkins whose beliefs about science versus religion are equally dogmatic?

Consider the famous play Inherent the Wind.  The play dramatized the famous scopes monkey trial: a classic, early 20 century, courtroom case about evolution.  In the play, William Jennings Bryon is portrayed as religious fanatic who refused to read Darwin’s godless nonsense.  He ends the play in a kind of crazed mania.  However, during the actual trial, William Jennings Bryon is a bit more cool headed.  He did, in fact, read Darwin thoroughly.  The irony here is that the original court transcripts are available for anyone to read.

Another issue is the famous Galileo trial.  You will still find people on the internet who believe that the church thought the earth was flat, and that geocentric astronomy was written in the Bible.  This story is frequently told as if Galileo was the first person to look at the universe ‘rationally’ and his religious detractors were knuckle dragging barbarians.  This is not true.  The geocentric model was handed down to western civilization from Ptolemy -hardly a religious source- from the ancient world.  It was based largely on observation.  It tracked the motions of the sun, predicted eclipses, and it didn’t have to explain why “the earth moves even though it we don’t observe it.”  The Roman Catholic Church has long sense acknowledged that it was wrong to put Galileo on house arrest.  Furthermore, there were rational reasons to be skeptical of the heliocentric model.  The geocentric model has never been intrinsic to Christianity anyway.

I do think there are Christians who are anti-science.  However, I think that the perception that Church is anti-science isn’t not entirely the shoulders of Christians.  We can’t be held accountable for theatrical exaggerations or a simplified, anachronistic, text book telling of major scientific paradigm shifts.

Dropping it like it’s Hot

There is one point that Christians are at fault.  It’s one doctrine that needs to go away.  It’s called Young Earth Creationism.  I feel the need to be blunt on this one.  Young Earth Creationism -with its instance that the earth is less than ten thousand years old- has already been declared “embarrassing” by William Laine Craig.  That’s William Laine Craig, the conservative evangelical scholar at Biola University.  Some might say that we should “teach the controversy.”  It’s also true that Christians can disagree on this issue.  It this is true, now remember why young people leave.  They’re turned off by this entire debate.  Who is making the trouble then?   Consider that Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis, was dis-invited from a home schooling convention because of “unchristian” behavior and rhetoric.

It is not that I think that Young Earth Creationism is bad for that reason only though.  I feel the dogma is riddled with holes and is ad hoc in responding to them.  It is a superficial interpretation of scripture promoted by sophistry and cute cartoons.  It is not that I simply think that YEC is the wrong.  It is that I feel it is so wrong it doesn’t even deserved to be discussed.  Is the church antagonistic towards science?  Not it is not.  So let’s kick YEC to the curb already!

Other Alternatives

There is at least one promising alternative to the (perceived) antagonistic attitude towards science.  Before going further, it needs to be clarified that this is not really about science itselfbut rather issues about the philosophy of science.  The former most high school students have a surface level grasp on.  The latter is not usually covered except by upper level college courses.  I guess what I am saying is, you’d have to be have a pretty exception home school program to hear about this one.

Consider the approach of Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga.  The really simple version of is like this: given a fully, unguided, naturalistic evolution, why should we trust our senses and our minds to fully understand reality?  This is not a scientific question that can be answered in a scientific way.  Trustworthy senses and minds are an assumption of science.  However, we know that there are cave-dwelling creatures that never evolved eyes, thus they cannot perceive the reality of light.  What would make us so sure that we have the adequate senses to understand all of reality?

Plantinga’s lines of argument endorse something he calls Augustinian Science.  While this is a complicated subject in itself, the thrust of the argument is this: anytime you do science you assume certain things about reality.  For Christians, we should have no problem assuming that God exists.  This doesn’t mean that we should freely invoke God anytime a scientific problem comes up, but it does it mean that we can be more consistent when we trust our senses and our minds.

Is this a perfect solution?  Honestly, this isn’t even a complete presentation.  Nonetheless, it is a step in the right direction.  If we want to keep the younger generation, than we can drop the whole “creation versus evolution” framework that young earth creationistism has set up.  Equally, we can avoid the “science versus religion” framework that atheists seem to pigeon hole us in.

Plantinga’s approach, in my opinion, satisfies both requirements.  It isn’t dogmatically tied to a particular interpretation of Genesis 1-11.  Furthermore, it reminds full-blown atheists that they have deep seated assumptions about science, reality, and what philosophers call metaphysics.  It deals with the whole faith versus science issue where the problem where the actual problem lies: philosophical assumptions about knowledge and reality.

Maybe we can give young people a bit more intellectual credit and assume that they can sort it out.

This short blog continues a series on the reasons why young people leave the church.  The emphasis for this series is to not to rehash out problems, but to find a solutions.

In the previous blog, we talked about a shallow experience of Christianity.  We talked about how the responses aren’t helping.  The evangelical church knows boredom is a problem.  They know that many people feel that Christianity is not relevant.  The response, over the last 30 years, has to been to create what Catholic libertarian Ann Bernhardt* calls “Super Fun Rock Band Church” as well as baptize sagely life coaching so that young Christians can have better careers/lives.

Rock bands and life coaching can be found outside the church.  Why do we need to stay in church to get it?

What any Church needs to do to retain young people is two things.  First, offer them something that cannot be found outside of the Christian faith.  Secondly, respond to the objection that the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough.  Coincidentally, these are the same thing.

Those of you from reformed traditions probably already have an idea of what the answer might be.  Chances are, you feel it looks like this:

Reformation Begins with the PulpitOkay, I am sure you weren’t thinking of Elvis, but you get the idea.  The perscription is this: if the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough, than we need more “Biblical preaching” or whatnot.  The sermon is the centerpiece of the service, and the minister is the man delivering the word of God to the congregation.  Let’s sing to the Lord for twenty minutes and then listen to a forty minute “conversation” since calling it a sermon isn’t hip anymore.  Does this work?

Maybe.

Looking at the pulpit is a good start.  But it is only a start.  There are at least two problems why concentrating on a minister and sermon aren’t enough.  The first is this: like it or not, the minister is a position of power and authority.

By power and authority I do not mean that he is specially anointed by God.  I mean that he speaks, persuades, and motivates a crowd (power), and is given his position through whatever process his church recognizes (authority).  It is very easy to find examples of individuals who persuade hundreds, even thousands, to believe that what they teach is divine and Biblical.  Yet their teachings are the result of proof-texting at best and outright lying at worst.  Their influence comes from the power of rhetoric, motivational speaking, and use of psychological forces.  Yet the lay-person in church is not truly equipped to understand the difference between the work of a clever speaker and the work of Holy Spirit through preaching.  I blame public eduction.

The bigger the smile, the sharper the knife.

The bigger the smile, the sharper the knife.

It’s natural to think “not my church” or “not my pastor.”  It is my sincere hope that this is the case.  However, even if a minister is perfectly benign, he still wields a fair amount of rhetorical power of a congregation.  Have you ever heard a pastor talk about how many people are going to a special event?  Or how many people were baptized on an Easter Sunday?  These are both examples of social proof, and it’s a damn powerful psychological (but not spiritual) force.  If the sermon is central, than the pastor is bit elevated above his congregation (often literally).  At best, he is a great lecturer of correct teaching.  Sadly, most the ability and power to decide what is correct teaching resides in himself unless the congregation understands how to interpret the Bible as well as he does.  I can’t be the only one that sees a problem here.

This leads to the second issue: “Biblical preaching” is always top down.  It often aims the lowest common denominator.  In other words, the speaker speaks the truth.  The lay people are silent.  There’s a strong performance/audience dynamic here.  The speaker, especially in large churches, must make his message as accessible as possible.  This will help reach new Christians and non Christians.  But what about the members of church who have heard the most accessible messages?  Are they ready to move on to something deeper?

I may sound like I am a bit distrustful of ministers.  Frankly, that’s because many times I am.  My context is probably not the same as many readers.  In southern California, mega churches are often the only game in town.  So it is entirely possible that cult-of-personality leadership leaves me chagrined.  However, I’ve also been an educator.  This leads to what the solution could be.

Don’t teach the Bible: Teach people to understand the Bible.

Years ago, my friend and recounted his experience as a 19 year student at a now defunct Bible college.**  He recalled how he had never heard of concepts like cultural context, the nuances of Greek language, idioms, and in general plain old principles of hermeutics, until he was at college.  My own journey began when I borrowed a book on Biblical interpretation from my then youth pastor’s library.  Like many others, both us began to scratch our heads and wonder why we didn’t get a sense that these concepts seemed to make their way into the sermons we listened to.

These days, I notice that a lot of preaching some to come in several gradients.  We have ministers who are conscious of the principles of hermeneutics.  They successfully apply them to even the most accessible messages.  This means they use the heavy duty work of Christian intellectuals, but still communicate a message people understand.  Others preach questionable folk interpretations (I’m looking at you John Eldredge!), and show contempt for Christian intellectuals (Beth Moore).  Among the laity, I notice that many people would like to know more about how to understand the Bible.  It seems wrong that they’d all have to go to a Christian college to figure these things out.

The solution for a shallow Christian experience is a wiser laity.  The laity could never be expected to know and learn as much as a “professional” minister.  However, they should understand enough to be able to know a good, thorough, interpretation from a purely rhetorical, pop-psychological, folk-wisdom message.  This type of spiritual growth cannot be achieved with sermons alone, because it questions the aforementioned performer/audience dynamic that sermonizing uses.

Rather, churches -espeically large and diverse ones- ought to find ways to facilitate an interactive and more egalitarian way to train its laity.  There’s a big difference between sitting silently before a spotlighted, jumbotroned, holy-man and joining in a lively discussion among peers.  In many education circles, the role of the teacher is not to be some kind of faucet that passively fills buckets, but rather a kind of facilitator, and coach who helps guide learning and discussion.

We have to stop worrying about accessibility of a message.  You can’t expect maturing Christian to stick around if you keep ignoring their needs.  These needs aren’t going to be the same as new Christians.  Not everything needs to be about evangelism either.  Someone who has been a Christian for a few years is ready to talk about things that aren’t going to be accessible to someone completely unchurched.  This is okay.

We need to have serious discussion about how we understand the Bible rather than repeating what we think the Bible means.  Many Bible studies are too quick to jump from Bible verse to applicability to everyday life.  This is why we get tragically flawed folk interpretations of verses like Jeremiah 29:11.  We have to invite the opinions and viewpoints of Christian intellectuals rather than sidelining them.  All of this would make an experience of Christianity deeper.

While many people may dismiss this blog, I hope that I have at least hit a chord some people.  One blogger once commented that if younger Christians can get through an AP class, then they can handle a bit more.  My hope is that churches will pay attention to people like this.  After all, if younger folks are able to work that hard to get into college, than surely they are willing and able to into the grit of serious hermeneutics.

==============

*This woman seriously is nuts.  Barbie Pink AK-47 nuts.  That’s a special kind of crazy.  Here references to “superfun rockband pastors” can be found on her blog.

**At least it still has a website.  Ahh Bethany, how I miss my misbegotten summer camps in your dorms…

This is a continuation, of the series on why young people leave the church.   The idea of this series  to suggest possible right turns and solutions.  This next section has proven increasingly difficult to write.  Primarily because it deals with Christianity becoming “deep.”  This faces problems of its own because depth in spiritual experience is a notoriously subjective thing.  Ultimately, this issue will be dealt with in two parts.

Here then is the problem according Barna.

  • One third say ‘Church is Boring’
  • One quarter say ‘Church is not Relevant to my Career Interests.’
  • One quarter say ‘The Bible is not taught clearly or often enough.’
  • One fifth say ‘God is missing from my experience of Church.’

This blog addresses the first two.

Church is Boring

If the church is boring, than it seems the obvious solution is to make church exciting for young people.  While this might be intuitive, what if if it makes things worse?  Let’s be honest here: we’ve been doing the Christian rock thing, we’ve had all kinds of contemporary worship, we’ve gotten all the young dynamic pastors youth group games, hell we’ve even had Christian videogames and collective card games.  This has been going on for at least thirty yearsand it still isn’t working.

Entertaining, exciting, Christianity actually backfires.  One Redditor put it nicely:

At least in Protestant churches, it seems that a lot of youth ministries try to be “hip” by portraying Jesus as their buddy, like a dude who hangs out with them but also happens to be God (see “Jesus is my homeboy” paraphernalia for example). By extension, a lot of youth pastors will try to be a friend, like they’re “just one of the guys” instead of an adult mentor. Instead of attracting young people to the church, I find this approach very alienating and annoying. Young people don’t need another friend, they have plenty of those already. What they’re looking for is answers to the bigger questions, and if you fail to deliver on that because you’re just trying to look cool, pretty soon they’ll stop taking you seriously. –Reddit

As further evidence consider this.  High church liturgy is, by many people’s account, rather boring.  If young people are leaving the church for lack of hip pizzazz, than any church that centers on the smells and bells, cannot hold a youth’s attention.  Consider though, that a Catholic colleges can still pack a mass.  Also consider that there has been a resurgence of interest in high church liturgy among the emergent (or whatever we may call this group) over the last decade.

044-Youre-making-rock-n-roll-worse

If young Christians are bored in church, entertainment is not the solution.  If they need to be entertained, they can find plenty of ways outside church.

Relevant to Career Interests

What about the next issue?  That is, Christianity is not relevant to career interests.  Here the intuition might be to find ways to make Christianity relevant to anyone’s career path.  In many cases, I believe this is needed and laudable. Right now, I enjoy working under the guidance of a faithful Christian.  Patience, as a Christian virtue, is something that certainly applies in a businesses context.  More generally, if we consider the financial collapse of the last few years.  We all understand why some businesses could have benefited from Christian ethics (or really, ethics of any kind).

The risk though, is same as entertainment: an individual can get everything they need outside the church.  What then is the need to Christianize them?  Wouldn’t this annoy people who have spiritual needs, but get only baptized businesses advice from the pulpit?  Too much “relevance to your career interests” can produce a sermons that are a re-wash of cultural values.

Maybe the question itself is wrong.  Perhaps answering the question “How is Christianity relevant to Career interests” but rather, “how are your career interests relevant to Christianity?”  This question does two things.  First, it forces a serious reconsideration of what we actually value.  Maybe the church isn’t wrong, maybe we’re doing something wrong with our lives.  Maybe we need to look again at the parable of the builders and concentrate on those last verse, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”  A second, and less radical, application of this question flip is this: no matter who you are, no matter what you do, God calls you.  God called both humble fisherman (our usual heroes), but he also called doctors (Luke), scholars (Paul), soldiers (Cornelius), and priests (Joseph of Armathea).

Rather than looking for Christianity to help our careers, perhaps we should consider what place our careers have in God’s kingdom.

A Right Step

What then is the solution?  We cannot simply keep offering young people something they can get elsewhere.  Careers and entertainment can be had elsewhere.  It seems the better thing to do is to offer something that cannot be found in the world.

While this feels very simple, I think maybe a little simplicity is needed.  That of course, is a the subject for another blog.

I am super excited to announce a new project.  Our super awesome municipal liaisons from NaNoWriMo have started a project.  This project is the cleverly named Novel Travelist.

This blog helps writers understand details about foreign countries without having to endure humiliation by the TSA to fly there themselves.  The Los Angeles ML’s have gathered several travel experts.  It looks like I am the writer for details on Korea.

The first Korea contribution can be found here.  It offers a small detail about how food is fresher than sushi in Korea.

Future Korea contributions will include.

  • Why Noraebang is completely awesome.
  • Starcraft!
  • How US Army Dudes chivalrously pursue feminists with liberal arts degrees.
  • How people feel about “the Kims.”
  • Why it’s important to get your lattes delivered.
  • Marketing, Begging, and Evangelizing on subway tubes: is there really a difference?
  • The Hagwon Heart-attack.
  • Starcraft!
  • Why E-mart is bigger than Walmart.
  • Soju hangovers in the classroom.
  • Chillin’ with Hip Hop Artists, rock stars, and theater troupes.
  • Why Korea is safe for single white females.
  • and of course, Starcraft!

This blog continues the discussion on why the young are leaving the Church.

Have ever heard this only partly ironic joke: Don’t smoke, drink, or chew or go with girls/boys who do?  While the phrasing is archaic, the spirit of the statement continues in evangelical culture.  It might be better said today as “Watch out for those video games, movies, music, internet chat rooms and Pokemon.”

demon_with_child

How stupid can you look?

Reason number one why young people leave is that the church seems overprotective.  As the Barna research reports expands:

A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).

I can still remember fear-based tactics to encourage a kind of ghetto, tribal, thinking under the guise of spiritual purity or holiness.  Most of the readers can probably know this too.  See if any of these statements sound familiar:

  • Colleges encourage hedonism and secularism.
  • It’s not acceptable to watch movies with nudity, foul-language, violence etc in it.
  • Harry Potter encourages witchcraft.
  • Martial Arts and Yoga worship demons.
  • Halloween is a pagan holiday.
  • Good Christians only listen to Christian music.
  • Is that a “Christian” video game, movie, book, school, person etc?

Most of these look rather reactionary, strange, and often just plain stupid.  It seems very odd to me that a movie or videogame ought to be denounced for sex and violence, but yet we are still expected to read passages like this in the Bible:

 Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give us your counsel; what shall we do?” Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, the ones he has left to look after the house; and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened.” So they pitched a tent for Absalom upon the roof; and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel. -2 Samuel 16:20-22 NRSV

I want to be clear with the irony here.  An overprotective church says that sexual content or violence is something Christians shouldn’t watch or see.   However, it’s okay to read a story were a prince usurps his father’s kingdom through sexual exhibitionism.  This is only one example of how the overprotective impulse would have us stop reading the Bible.

Little needs to be said here about Harry Potter, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, or a host of other forms of entertainment that children and teens have enjoyed.  Harry Potter was actually infused with Christian symbolism.  Pokemon and Magic the Gathering never turned children into little satanists.

But what about movies and television?  Don’t these influence teenagers and young adults?  Shouldn’t we be worried about our Christian witness when watching a film that has a premarital sex, gay people, occult activity, and curse words?  A good Christian could never watch Dexter or Game of the Thrones for sake of these sins in those shows, or so it is said.

I actually do think that movies, television, and video-games influence behavior and even personality.  Yet this kind of mentality concentrates on incidental superficialities, rather than evaluating a work of fiction as a work of fiction.  In other words, an overprotective church complains about some presence of “sin” in a story, but fails to evaluate its role  in the story.

Let’s use Game of Thrones as an example.  Throughout season one, when see Daenerys Targaryen develop as a person.  At the first, she is little more than a pawn (and property) in her brother’s ambitious schemes.  At the end, we see her grow into a self-made monarch-to-be, the mother of dragons, and is also naked.  “Also naked” is the superficiality that an overprotective church fixates on.  There is no discussion about character arcs, themes, or anything else that a work of fiction should be evaluated by.  Someone is naked, and it is therefore “not Christian.”

Doing entertainment differently

Let’s be clear: young people are going to encounter the world outside of the Christian ghetto.  Attempting to censor what they read, watch, play or listen to out of fear will server only to make them resentful.  An overprotective church does the Gospel no service.  It only makes people appear awkward.

The solution to this is two fold.

For the first part, I am indebted to Glenn Peoples over at Beretta Online.  I recommend everyone simply listen to this podcast.  In it, he argues that we should not filter our entertainment between “Christian” and “everything else that is evil.”  If we are to evaluate a song, a film or a video game we ought stop asking “is it Christian?” and instead ask “is it good?”  Plenty of good things came outside of Christian ghetto.  Plenty of things inside the Christian ghetto represent a lousy form of Christianity.  What do I mean by this?  Listen to the podcast.  His accent is really cool.

The second part is this.  When we do evaluate a work of art we should not be counting how many sins it represents.  Rather, we should dig into its substance and evaluate the work of art as a work of art.  In the case of works of fiction, we need to be discussing characters arcs, genres, three acts just to start.  If we’re listening to music, we should be talking about musical arrangements, lyrical quality, vocal talent and so forth.  If we’re playing a video game, we’ll talk about game mechanics, plot development, and other things that make a game fun.

For all of these things, I count myself lucky to be in Southern California.  For all my gripes about “touchy feely west coast Evangelicalism,” it is wonderful to be surrounded by artists, musicians, actors and other Christian creatives who understand their faith well enough to interact well with the creative world.

So go out and watch something sinful tonight.  Read a book where someone does witchcraft.  Get yourself some funny shaped dice and slay a few dragons.  Listen to a rap lyrics was bad language.  Play a videogame where you shoot nazis.

When you’re done, ask yourself “was it good”?

I don’t think God is going to condemn you for your entertainment.

Young people leave the Christianity they were raised with.

Now that is hardly a headline.  Every young person who was raised a Christian has either seen this happen or gone through it themselves.  It is a shared cultural experience.  It happens despite the efforts of many youth and college pastors.

This means that despite the grandiose so-cal mega churches, the inspiring baptisms, and the stories of conversions you hear on Sundays, faith is not passed from one generation to the next.  If there is any church that lasts, it is probably perpetually a church “first generation” Christians.  In sum, Evangelicalism is great at marketing, but terrible at retention.  Somehow, I do not think this is what Jesus had in mind.

Why is the younger generation leaving?  Barna research group noted six reasons why young people leave:

1. Churches are over protective.

2. Teens and Twenty somethings experience of Christianity is shallow.

3. Churches come across as antagonistic towards science.

4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.

5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.

6. The Church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

One of the most important points of the article is this one:

David Kinnaman, who is the coauthor of the book unChristian, explained that “the problem of young adults dropping out of church life is particularly urgent because most churches work best for ‘traditional’ young adults – those whose life journeys and life questions are normal and conventional. But most young adults no longer follow the typical path of leaving home, getting an education, finding a job, getting married and having kids—all before the age of 30. These life events are being delayed, reordered, and sometimes pushed completely off the radar among today’s young adults.

I am sure that many people reading this blog can relate to these six points.  I also know that many (myself included) can relate to the “non-traditional” lifestyle.

Many of these problems stem from, in my opinion, the mistakes and oversights of Christianity in the United States going back at least fifty years.  So these six points need to be put in a bit historical context.

But we’ve all beaten the problems to death by now haven’t we?

The real turn that we need to make is not discussing problems, but discussing solutions.  That is what the next few blogs will be about.  We need to talk about what Christianity would look like if it had some depth in it.  We need to really get down to the issue on this science thing.  We need to discard some excessive protectiveness for the young.  We need an entirely new sexual ethic.

We need to do some things different.

Over the next few weeks, every Monday, I will post short blogs on each of these issues.  My hope is to generate discussion on solutions.  I hope that everyone will contribute in comments.

As final caveat, I realize that many of the things that people suggest will be dismissed or not taken seriously.  Some things suggested will even look like “compromising with the world” or “being soft on sin” or a myriad of other complaints.  This perspective remains important.  Nonetheless, if we want different results we will have to reconsider what we are doing.

I  hold my political views close to my chest.  I disdain the talking heads who make careers out of riling people up -even if many of friends are their followers.  I have had to censor myself, suspend judgment, and privately admit ignorance as the gun control memes rolled across my facebook feed.  Furthermore, I preferred respectful silence towards the school shooting rather than anything else.

Nonetheless the thoughts for this blog have been spurred by others  One great one came from the Economist blog Lexington’s Notebook.  The author argued, among other things, that the best and most effective gun control is simply no guns at all.  It is not this broad brushing point that I want to discuss (and even the author admits it is an impractical solution), but rather a minor point that the article argues.  Here it is:

As for the National Rifle Association bumper stickers arguing that only an armed citizenry can prevent tyranny, I wonder if that isn’t a form of narcissism, involving the belief that lone, heroic individuals will have the ability to identify tyranny as it descends, recognise it for what it is, and fight back. There is also the small matter that I don’t think America is remotely close to becoming a tyranny, and to suggest that it is is both irrational and a bit offensive to people who actually do live under tyrannical rule.

The author offers up Great Britain as an example of a free, gunless, society.  Whatever we can say about the details about his hunches here, it reflects a pretty deep seated assumption in arguments for very strong gun control.  That assumption might be stated like this: The United States government is not perfect, but it is not tyrannical.  There is no real reason to believe that our government would turn on its own people.

It is that assumption that I am concerned about.  I do not believe the government is wholesale tyrannical, but there are cases in which the government has turned on its citizens.

Spies for the German Empire

When it comes to languages in the United States, Spanish is the new German.  What I mean is this:  prior to World War One, German-speaking immigrants were one of the largest in the country.  Many of these people were religious minorities, who held religious instruction and services in their native language.  Additionally, there were many German language newspapers in print.  While folks on the west coast (like myself) will find this hard to believe, there are still tiny places in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin where German is spoken.

Stop the Mennonite Menace!

Stop the Mennonite Menace!

All this changed during world war one.  The state of Nebraska, for instance, actually passed a law that forbade the teaching of German in schools.  This may seem trivial, but there were schools that were taught entirely in German.  Furthermore, popular sentiment caused the shutdown of German newspapers, church services, and even the anglicizing of German names.  One could argue that this was due to the people not their government.  However, an entire government department had been created to distribute war propaganda.  It is not hard to see how this could incite further ire against the language.  Besides, the government can’t be innocent of internment.

Through a combination of propaganda, vigilantism, and local laws, German disappeared as a public language in the United States.  All that remains are those dirty Amish who are probably still spying for the Kaiser.

Execute Order 9066

Very few people know much of Korematsu v United States.  We think of it a strange footnote to history, normally.  Unless you’re either a Californian or Japanese.

Korematsu v United States (a terrible way to frame a legal challenge during wartime!) challenged the infamous constitutionality of executive order 9066.  This was the infamous interment of the Japanese during world war two.  Unlike German internment during world war one, the Japanese were interned regardless of citizenship.  The rub of the argument was that the need to fight espionage in war time outweighed an individual’s rights.  Did you know that this supreme court ruling has still not been over turned?

Brought to you by the land of the free and home of the brave.

Brought to you by the land of the free and home of the brave.

This is probably one of sadder points of California history in particular and United States history in general.  For those who are unfamiliar with the Japanese interment here’s what happened.  People were moved from their homes to camps in places like race tracks.  At first the moves were “voluntary” but as such things go eventually the Military took over.  After the Japanese citizens were moved to interment camps in the less developed parts of California’s central valley.  If you’re wondering if any of these people were able to get their homes back or maintain their possessions, the answer is no.  In fact, many Japanese citizens –American citizens, I can’t emphasize that enough- had already dumped their centuries old heirlooms into the ocean.

The United States has long since made recompense against those interned.  Sadly, this still does not erase the stain on “the greatest generation.”

Tin Soldiers and Nixon’s coming…

Sometimes folk songs cross generations.  A great example is “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.  This simple song commemorates one of the worst domestic incidents of the Vietnam war era.

On my 4th, 1970 a rally of students were protesting against the Vietnam war.  The national guard came in to to disperse the crowd with tear gas.  But the crowd did not disperse at all.  In fact, many of the students came prepared with gas masks and threw the casters back at the guards.  When the crowd did not disperse, the national guard fired 67 rounds over 13 seconds.  They killed for students, two of whom were not even involved in the protest.

Government did school shootings before it was cool.

Government did school shootings before it was cool.

I can’t think of a more vivid example of the government breaking its trust than this incident.  It cannot be emphasized enough here that the guards fired shots on an unarmed crowd.  How can this be justified?  Let’s even concede that some members of this group had been unruly.  It’s true that only days prior protestors had set fire to the ROTC building.   Furthermore, many of them attempted to “bring the war home” through vandalism.

Yet if we call this group an anti-war revolutionary mob, it was still an unarmed anti-war revolutionary mob.  The Vietnam war era was crazy abroad as it was crazy at home, but soldiers should never fire rounds at unarmed citizenry.

Closing thoughts

Every issue I have cited here is a complex.  Each deserves a blog in itself.  Endless amount of ink has been spilled over each listed here.  But to the point of Lexington’s notebook, each phenomena is an example of the Untied States Govenment turning on its own people.  So why write-off the NRA when the declare guns a defense against tyranny?

Now please understand, I am not someone who would actually call for violent resistance.  Additionally in these three examples, gun violence could have made the situation worse.  I have not lived under tyranny and if you’re reading this blog, you may not have either.

But what if something like any of the above scenarios happened again?

What if the government declared the language your family and your community spoke as evil and suspicious?  No immigrant would feel comfortable or welcome, especially if the white house endorsed this mentality.  What if the government forced your neighbors out of their homes and into tent shanties in the middle of nowhere?  The government might do it make you feel safe, but personally I’d feel threatened.  God forbid, can you imagine if the government sent soldiers to fire on your alma mater?  Violence like that deserves a stronger response than strikes from university students.

Lexington Notebook alleged that NRA is narcissistic to believe that it can identify and resist tyranny.  He may be correct about the latter.  Maybe the NRA could do little to resist tyranny, but identifying it shouldn’t be too hard.