Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Why are Christians So...


I just returned from a yearly theological conference put on by the three ELCA synods in Texas and Louisiana.  This year's topic was preaching, and we were blessed with a dynamic presenter Len Sweet.  Of course, I didn't agree with him on everything.  In fact, we are quite divergent in our methodologies.  Yet, I do know he wants very much for our churches to thrive.  I know he wants us to follow Jesus as Jesus' disciples.  I commend him for that.

But I disagree with some of his methodologies--most particular, I disagree with what he considers the Gospel. 

Perhaps early on in his first presentation, I became jaded, and here is why:

Early on in his presentation, Sweet used a Yahoo! search bar clip to present his case that we as Christians are viewed negatively by the surrounding culture. 

You can see the comments are not so flattering--to say the least.

"This is what the culture thinks of you..." Sweet elaborated.  Most of us simply sat and stared at this without challenging it.  And, of course, it is true that there are Christians who are judgemental, hateful, mean, stupid, self-righteous, intolerant, easily offended, annoying, ignorant, and arrogant.  There are more than a few adjectives we could add to this list.  Many pastors deal with congregation members who fit these adjectives, and sometimes we tend to be a bit too agreeable when someone shoves something like this in our face.  (Full disclosure: there are a few congregation members out there who believe their pastors can indeed fit these adjectives as well!!!)

But being the type of person I am, I did not readily swallow Sweet's assertion.  In fact, the presentation bothered me, so later that evening, I decided to have a bit of fun on Yahoo!  I didn't do what I did because I don't believe Christians can't be this way--they can and are!!--but I wondered just how accurate such a thing could be?  I wondered if there wasn't something else to be discerned from Yahoo! searches.  Here is what I discovered by simply changing one word in the search query:

Why are atheists so...
Why are Muslims so
Why are Jews so
Hmm.  Are we discerning a pattern yet?  So, being who I am, I started doing a little more:

Why are whites so
Why are blacks so
Why are Mexicans so
Why are women so
Why are men so
Take a look at each and every one of these screenshots and look them over carefully once more.  Look them over and tell me what you see.  Do you see honesty?  Or do you see a caricature?  Do you see reality, or do you see someone emphasizing the less than savory "blemishes" of all these folks?  Do you see reality, or do you think someone is trying to warp reality?

Timothy Keller says this in his book Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (emphasis mine):

Religion, generally speaking, tends to create a slippery slope in the heart.  Each religion informs its followers that they have "the truth," and this naturally leads them to feel superior to those with differing beliefs.  Also, a religion tells its followers they are saved and connected to God by devotedly performing that truth.  This moves them to separate from those who are less than devoted and pure in life.  Therefore it is easy for one group to stereotype and caricature other ones.  Once this situation exists, it can easily spiral down into the marginalization of others and or even to active oppression, abuse, or violence against them.  (Kindle Location 331)

See any stereotyping and caricature in the screenshots above?   But I would argue, it's not just religion that causes this.  It's any person who believes he or she is above reproach and morally superior to another.  And if these screenshots are an indicator of culture--or an indicator of those who put together the algorithms at Yahoo!--then, there are some folks whose hearts are traveling down that slippery slope of the heart.

The cure for such a slippery slope is the Gospel; however, I think it is enough to stop here and let it simmer for a while.  I think it is enough to stop here and reflect upon that which has been seen for unlike Sweet, I will not see what Yahoo! is doing as a reflection on Christianity because if Yahoo! is doing what I see it doing, it tells us more about Yahoo! than it does about reality.


Unknown said...

Oh Dear, Are you dismissing the evidence and blaming the messenger? Or why are you so sour on SWEET? :-)
So what would you call Bill Clinton's VPs Cadence? Would it Not in Fact be an AL Gore Rhythm?

Please forgive the pun...
But back to the point. I am unfamiliar with The presenter, and personally see many ways in which I think modernist Christendom in particular the ELCA has strayed from it's core and fundamental truths, and I lament that fact each time it rears its head.... At The same time I am lead to ponder, "Well, if Christendom has survived and thrived lo these last 2000, years, is this further digression likely to be THE straw that breaks toe proverbial Camels back?
I would contend that an essential Kernel of truth must Remain in the message being passed down. Further, I tend to trust that when the Church strays off into error, which I suspect it has done a time or two over the millennia, what with its reliance on frail Sinful, flawed and broken human beings, I personally tend to trust The Holy Spirit to correct God's Church when it strays too far afield.

I am Sorry, What was your main point of objection? Were you hurt or feeling offended by his message? I am eager to hear the rest of your reflections on this conference.


Kevin Haug said...


I apologize for any lack of clarity. I thought I was showing how such searches only reveal stereotypes and caricatures of groups. Such things, IMO should not be the basis of any sort of deep, personal reflection. The presenter is an author, speaker, and professor who I believe should know better, but I was not able to visit with him personally regarding this since he didn't take questions in later presentations and I could not find him to meet with him despite my efforts.

I mean, would you dare confront any of the other groups listed with such searches and suggest they have a problem based upon what said searches have to say about them?

Unknown said...

Oh I suspect that other groups may have done similar yahoo searches, and may or may not have used it for similar purposes. Was his citing of such data used to bolster another point? As I recall from reading your initial post it sounded as though you were Not arguing with certain of the points he used the yahoo search to bolster.

L'chaim and happy shepherding!

Kevin Haug said...

No. His use of the search was used to say, "This is what people think of us. We have a problem." I am suggesting that not only do we have a problem, but so does culture--if the search represents culture. Or, at the very least, Yahoo!'s algorithms are messed up. :-)

Kathy Suarez said...

Leonard Sweet is saying: "This is what the secular culture thinks of Orthodox/Conservative Christians. This is a problem because the godless culture is now very powerful. I have the solution. We must become more like the culture, i.e. accept gay marriage, abortion, etc. -- all of the things the ELCA and Methodists now accept. We need to better proclaim this sell-out, using technology, and we will save our asses."

Pastor Andrew said...

Thinking about this for a few days, I think the point of the stunt or prop or whatever was that we have to differentiate from the negative stereoptypes and that's not something a lot of Christians assume, even pastors. Particularly of denominations like ours who are so used to being well regarded compared to the extremes.

Also Kathy, Dr. Sweet wasn't suggesting anything you suggested. No political talking points were mentioned. We were discussing how to rebuild communities of Christ and bring more people to be disciples in Jesus Christ, which is the point of the Church in the end.

Unknown said...

Well it does occur to me, now when I think of it, that it is most efficacious to have a general understanding of, and recognition of the thoughts, habits beliefs and motivations of THE OTHER" Relationship, and identification with THE OTHER, the lost, the lonely, the hungry and thirsty... you know, the inferior pond scum, deviant, derelicts, which now for economic reasons, Church leaders so desperately try to attract like Midway carnie barkers, so desperate to entice them to step right up.... darken the threshold of our sanctuaries, warm our pews, and fill the church coffers.

Here is a hint, from my life experience anyway, if you want to relate to people, some people find it is helpful rather than to presume a smug attitude of superiority AS IF we have all the answers for ourselves, much less anyone else.

If Human institutions (RELIGIONS) are capable of clearly and Effectively communication the "GOSPEL TRUTH" why was it necessary for God to send His only Begotten Son" as Kevin is so fond of reminding us. I mean hey, God Gave His "Chosen" People true religion in the form of laws to live by on Saini, did God change His mind 2000 years ago and say hey I changed my mind, they don't get it... or is it IMPOSSIBLE for any Human institution, group or Church to clearly and effectively elaborate the entirety of God's own Omniscience. I wonder why 2000 years ago, God chose to reveal him ONLY Begotten SON through a poor peasant girl.

While I have NO personal knowledge of Mr. Sweet I think that it can also be helpful to clearly and honestly examine our own personal and corporal motivation for "hawking" such a "product" (membership and participation in a group calling itself "The Body of Christ"?

My intent in this post is to stimulate honest and forthright, discussion, and Not to be critical, snarky or derogatory.


Kevin Haug said...


I appreciate your comment because there is some deep truth in what you are getting at. If I said it once, I said it 100 times in private conversation with others at this conference, "We spend all this time and energy trying to get people to fall in love with our church or with us when we need to help people fall in love with Jesus!"

I believe pretty strongly that the main focus of our sermons these days focus on the Law. "This is what we should do. Jesus says we need to do this. Etc." The final sermon delivered by the presenter, Mr. Sweet himself dealt with the rich man and Lazarus. (Luke 16:19-31) The point of the sermon? The rich man ended up in he'll because he didn't do enough, and you need to succeed where he failed. Not a word of grace!! Not a word of the Gospel!!

Which brings me right to the point of why the Father sent the Son: despite giving us the Law and teaching us to live in right relationship wit Him and with one another, we were not able to accomplish it. And though God punished and cajoled and threatened, our hard, self-centered hearts never would change (see my sermon on loving enemies and Jonah). And in the words of the popular Disney movie "Frozen", Only an act of true love.can melt a frozen heart." Jesus act of dying for us when we deserved punishment is that act! His atoning work on our behalf changes us so that we seek to introduce Him to all He died for. --To the poor and downtrodden, to the wealthy, to the in between, to the one feeling worthless and depressed, and to the haughty and selfish, to the atheist and the self-absorbed preacher (I am not above reproach, you see?). All of us need Jesus. And when we fall in love with Jesus and what He has done, we seek out a community to strengthen our faith, we work for reconciliation and justice and peace, we invite others to come to the table...not because we are such good people--we are not!!!-- but because Jesus does what we could never do.

Kathy Suarez said...

It is a wonder to me that you cannot see what is right in front of your faces. This really is the Emperor's New Clothes. Everyone can see what is going on except you. Every church -- from Lakewood to the Mormons -- preaches Jesus. Everyone knows the 316 Formula -- it's at every football game. Please stop harping on this!

As everyone knows, the reason people are filing out of your churches is your liberal doctrine -- a doctrine joined at the hip with Democratic Politics. The ELCA has become a wing of the Democratic Party. For example, Bishop Rinehart is always harping about Amnesty and Civil Disobedience -- he just wrote another post on it. But where is the ELCA at the Pro-Life March in Washington? Not a peep about Abortion. And lots of pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel talk.

The most recent shockeroozie, of course, is the ELCA support of gay marriage. Needless to say, this is the destruction of the family as God created it. This is why people are leaving your churches. Just check your yellow Mission Support financial chart if you think I'm whistling Dixie.

Pastor Andrew said...

With millions of members and 10's of thousands of members, the ELCA is hardly a monolith. It contains many people from across the political spectrum, especially here in Texas. A lot of churches are struggling and it does have a lot to do with getting caught up in the politics of today rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No one is hungry for more political debates, but plenty of people are hungry for Jesus and that's what my church and I'll safely assume Kevin's church are trying to feed people. Peace to you. I hope you have church centered in the Gospel.

Pastor Andrew said...

Sorry that should have been 10's of thousands of Pastors, can't edit it apparently.

Kathy Suarez said...

Pastor Andrew,
The ELCA has only 3.8 million members, down from 5 million a few years ago. And yes, I have a church centered in the Gospel, which is why I am so concerned when I see a church stray so far from the Gospel. Leonard Sweet is a proponent of the Emerging Church, and whatever your politics, this is far, far from the Tradition of the Church (or whatever you want to call it). Peace to you.

Kevin Haug said...

Andrew, just a piece of advice here. Take it for what it is worth. Kathy is a Roman Catholic convert from Lutheranism. As such, she tries very hard to be an apologist for her church, and she quickly points the finger at our more liberal positions as our downfall without seeing that many conservative churches are also in decline. She also refuses to acknowledge that the only reason the Church of Rome has grown in the U.S. is because of Latin American immigration. We're it not for this, they would be in the same boat as us. Perhaps that is too much information, but I believe it pertinent. Point being, you will get absolutely nowhere with her no matter how hard you try. If you choose to continue to dialogue, I wish you luck. 😀

Unknown said...

Let me See, with all due deference and respect due to our Roman friends, if Martin Luther led the REFORMATION, might it not be said, that those who then are called by either God or their own intolerance, to rejoin the Roman Church, that this movement is the DEFORMATION?

While not wishing to threaten or disturb the sacred beliefs of anyone, I know personally of an openly GAY RC Priest, who when he was transferred between parishes, a very prominent Bishop (this Was in Western PA)
sanctioned and provided assistance for the Priests lover to relocate.
But this story while true might confuse and confound those who choose to believe that The Roman Church is the Only True Church.

Kathy, in whom do you put your Faith? Do you worship Jesus, or The Church. Why even this morning when I was Sitting in an ELCA church, I looked around, and dog gone it, all I saw was sinners all around me, who for some darned reason, through the Eucharist, God for some darned reason has mysteriously and mercifully claimed as HIS SAINTS.