I’ve commented on my blog before on Kirk Cameron’s anti-science position and things like that, and so I am obviously not sympathetic to the distorted brand of Christianity that he represents and promotes. I say this up front so that no one thinks that I am pretending to offer an “unbiased” view of his publicity stunt that today impacted the Indianapolis Public Library here in the city in which I live. Cameron had been seeking to host events in public libraries promoting his religious book for children As You Grow. Published by Brave Books, the book and the publisher state that they are seeking to counter indoctrination of children by “progressive influences.” Definitely take a look at the other books, as they will give you a sense of the kind of indoctrination that this publisher considers “anti-indoctrination.” Trent Talbot, founder of Brave Books, said on LinkedIn, “I started BRAVE Books because after my daughter was born I realized there was a war going on for the hearts and minds of our children and the wrong side was winning. It’s time that conservative parents who want to teach their children conservative and American values had an arsenal of tools in their toolbox.”
Given the number of people who attended this event, it is clear that the right wing that opposes historic mainstream Christianity, inclusivity, and other liberal/progressive values is present in significant numbers within driving distance of downtown Indianapolis. It would be interesting to know how far people came to this event. At least one was from San Antonio, and many were from beyond the city limits of Indianapolis. On rural Indiana, let me say that I was shocked the first time I was invited to an event about an hour south of Indianapolis by a lake in rural Indiana, and saw countless homes flying Confederate flags. The audience at his event was largely monochrome. The sad part of not just this event but the culture war movement that it represents is that it is seeking to conserve values that certainly are historically American, although by no means universal, but which are at odds with the teaching of Jesus and the historic emphases of Evangelicalism. The whole notion of a culture war reflects an effort not to get individuals and communities to have a life-transforming encounter with God and a personal faith, but an effort to maintain a culture that is inextricably intertwined with white supremicism, nationalism, ethnocentrism, and other things that Jesus challenged.
There certainly is a culture war going on between different camps each of which wants their own values to be the dominant ones in their society. Christians who engage in the culture war have by definition already lost. A culture war casts aside love of enemy, willingness to learn from those who disagree with us, and countless other essentials of the teaching of Jesus and the history of Christianity, all in the interest of “winning.” Sometimes (to quote the movie War Games) the only way to win is not to play. But that doesn’t mean that Christians, and in particular progressive Christians and Baptist like myself, should not be engaged. Unless one is going to follow the path of fascism and try to enforce the dominance of one religion and/or ethnic group by law and force of arms, then the alternative is pluralism and guarantees of freedom for all. Baptists have historically stood for freedom of religion and separation of church and state, having experienced how forces that promote the dominance of Christianity inevitably end up promoting the dominance of their brand of Christianity, to the detriment not just of other religions but other denominations of the same religion. Baptists have also historically emphasized that making Christianity politically and culturally attractive does harm to the effort to promote genuine personal faith.
Kirk Cameron’s event at the Central Library branch of IndyPL today in downtown Indianapolis certainly constitutes a “win” in his effort to promote himself and what he stands for. He apparently could have had a larger auditorium for his crowds but he preferred to have them standing outside since it looks better on Twitter and in the news. I am worried that so many people seem to genuinely believe that what Kirk Cameron stands for is anything worthy of the label Christianity. Neither he nor his publisher won or even shows signs of trying to love those they (rightly or wrongly) consider enemies, to bridge divides and be peacemakers, or anything else that one finds Jesus emphasizing in the Gospels. If you consider today’s event a “win,” my questions for you are what was won, what was accomplished, and what you think that Jesus or his earliest followers might have done differently in the same circumstances.
Below are some photos from the event, one of Cameron in the library (shared by Brave Books on Twitter) the other of the front steps of Central Library, where someone showed up holding a giant cross. I would love to hear from people who attended and were close enough to hear what Cameron said, as well as people who have read his book. Even though it seems pretty certain I’ll disagree, I’m genuinely interested in knowing accurately what those I disagree with have to say. If I disagree, I want it to be on the basis of truth and not falsehood or misrepresentation. Engaging in those things, as a follower of Jesus, is another tactic that may help win a culture war but at the cost of affinity to Jesus and his teachings.