A couple of weeks ago, I attended the first of four “Civil Conversations” that Krista Tippett is hosting in advance of the election. The Civil Conversations Project is attempt to bring some nuance and sophistication to the too often shrill soundbytes that overwhelm us these days.
The first conversation was meant to bring some complexity to the way that we think of evangelicals, so Krista sat down with Gabe Lyons, the founder of Q Ideas, and Jim Daly, the successor to James Dobson at Focus on the Family. Basically, both of these guys play for the same team.
Here are some of my observations of their conversation:
They really were civil to one another, and to Krista. I imagine that just about any evangelical (other than Fred Phelps) would be in this setting, but these two guys did not disagree on a single thing in two hours.
It’s amazing how often they conflated the terms “evangelical” and “Christian.” I think their language betrays the fact that they either A) Don’t know any progressive Christians, or B) Don’t think progressive Christians are really Christian.
Jim used tons of Christian idioms, Gabe did not. That is, Jim talked repeatedly of God “laying things on his heart,” and how he “felt moved” to do things. Gabe, on the other hand, talked more like normal people talk. (Am I saying that evangelicals don’t talk like normal people? You be the judge.)
I think it’s creepy how Jim and the other people at Focus always refer to Dobson as “Dr. Dobson.” I mean, always. Weird.
Finally, this: To Krista’s initial question of Gabe, he responded, “I don’t define myself as an evangelical.” This is a guy who grew up going to Thomas Road Baptist Church under the pastorate of Jerry Falwell, attended Liberty University, started a conference and learning lab that is at the vanguard of young evangelical leadership. He proclaimed a defense of “traditional marriage” during the interview. Yet, when asked, he says that he does not define himself as an evangelical.
If Gabe Lyons is not an evangelical, then there are no evangelicals.
Or, to put it another way, if Gabe Lyons won’t cop to being an evangelical, then evangelicalism continues to have a PR problem.