The New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision of the Common Good, Part 2
Thousands of pastors and other Evangelical leaders know exactly how Rich felt in that moment where he realized how he answered a question would change the course of his life. In Rich's case, it was about gay people, but it could have been about poor people, or climate change, or torture, or immigration, or taxation. Lots of Evangelical leaders do all they can to avoid those questions, and sometimes they tell people what they want to hear rather than what the leaders really feel. But Rich decided to reveal what was in his heart. He lost his job, but he kept his integrity, and he gained a new freedom. I know something about that from my own experience—times when I held back in fear, and times when I had courage to speak what was in my heart.
Brian, in place of the "three 'Ns'" of nostalgia, nativism, and negativity you suggest "hope, diversity, and creative collaboration." How does your new book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, Mohammed Cross the Road? relate to that alternative vision?
Since September 11, we've seen nativism growing nationwide, and especially among many religious folks. I think many of us are shocked when Christians burn Qurans, plant seeds of suspicion that the President is Muslim or that Muslims are infiltrating the U.S. Government, or claim that—I mean, this is really laughable—Tennessee or Kentucky or Missouri are in danger of being ruled by Sharia law. It's absurd and sad, and also, in a way, utterly predictable because of what we know about human sociology and psychology. Groups are always looking for someone to scapegoat—someone on whom to project their own anxieties and someone against whom they can unite and feel superior.
That's why I wanted to grapple with the issue of Christian identity in a multi-faith world. I realized that we already know how to do two things very well. First, those of us who are conservative know how to have a strong Christian identity that is hostile—meaning the opposite of hospitable—to other faiths and those who hold them. And those of us who are liberal know how to have a tolerant attitude toward other religions, but we often achieve that tolerance by weakening our own Christian identity. We need to learn how to have a strong Christian identity that is as benevolent to others, whatever their faith, as it is strong. And my conviction is that we can actually be better Christians if we seek that third alternative.
While the focus of your new book is on relations between different religions, you also have a focus in the chapter for The New Evangelical Manifesto on relations between Christians. You suggest that "new evangelicals" should build partnerships with "mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, members of the historic peace churches, and many ethnic churches" that share similar concerns about the reduction of Christianity to political conservatism. You say that these partnerships could "shift the term 'evangelical' away from its more popular sense—meaning a socially, theologically, and politically conservative demographic—and would reclaim its more historic sense—that is, rooted in the gospel or evangel of Jesus Christ." Who are the Catholics that you think new evangelicals should partner with to help reclaim a focus on the gospel of Jesus?
In the last few years, we've seen a tragic reality: male leaders in the Catholic world who circled around their colleagues and protected them after they had committed crimes against children. That same male-dominated hierarchy has, in recent months, been putting pressure on—and even making institutional threats against—the nuns who do so much to help children, the poor, the outcasts, and the excluded. My sense is that you have a growing number of Catholics who feel the nuns better represent what they think of as truly Catholic than the male officials who hold positions of power. You might say the choice for Catholics—as it is for Evangelicals and Mainliners and everyone, really—is between the love of power and the power of love. It's between a kind of institutional mindset that wants to conserve power and a missional mindset that wants to love and serve and give. That's the real choice that we're all making, I think. It's the choice presented by Jesus when he said nobody can serve two masters, and when he decided not to consider equality with God—religious status, religious power, religious advantage—as something to be grasped, but instead, opened his hand, let it go, and poured out himself in service.
There's institutional authority on the one hand. In Catholicism, it's conferred by all-male Apostolic Succession. In Mainline Protestantism, it's earned through institutional submission. In Evangelicalism, it's procured through numerical success—whether in big churches, big book sales, big TV and radio constituencies, or whatever.
On the other hand, there's moral authority. And that can't be conferred, earned, or procured. It can only be given as a gift when people see Christ-like character, Christ-like service, Christ-like love. Without that, as Paul said, we're all just a lot of noise.
That's what I hope both of these books will contribute to—a rethinking of power and authority and popularity, and a rediscovery of and refocus upon the precious few things that really matter.
Greg Metzger is an independent journalist and blogger with a Master's degree in International Relations from Boston University.