A Faith of Our Own
A few months ago, I downloaded the Kindle version of this 2012 book by Jonathan Merritt titled: A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Through the Culture Wars. A few weeks ago, I finally got down in my pile of unread books and started reading it. May was a busy month, and I kept getting interrupted by other priorities.
The author comes from a background very different from mine. He was raised in the Southern Baptist Church and is a graduate of Liberty University and personally knew Jerry Falwell. But he is of a younger generation of evangelicals who are revising their agenda to focus more on social issues rather than political ideology. To summarize his thesis: we are in danger when we politicize our religion. It is one thing for an individual to be active politically and engage in advocacy for certain issues in which he or she fervently believes in. It is another quantum leap when an entire denomination of a church endorses a specific candidate or political party as the Southern Baptists did for 30 years.
Critics of the book claim that he hems and haws on hot button issues such as LGBT rights, same-sex marriage, and abortion. I don't think that he is dodging those issues as much as he is trying to claim a priority for evangelism of the Gospel. When we are totally absorbed with social issues to the exclusion of spreading the Good News, then we're putting the cart before the horse. He doesn't equivocate in stating that he thinks that Jerry Falwell was wrong even though he believes that he was a good man with good intentions. I can't agree with that assessment. I think that Falwell got caught up in the glare of power and publicity that fed his ego so that he succumbed to the thrill of notoriety rather than focusing on the Gospel. I do agree that when we descend into name-calling and judging those with whom we disagree we are on dangerous ground. The church, however, must be called to account for the damage it has done (both literally and psychologically) to a very vulnerable population that has faced decades of discrimination. Words matter, and when you attack homosexuals from the pulpit (as a group) as Falwell did, then you must face the consequences of those actions.
Trump has unleashed a revival of the open hostility to LGBT people, immigrants, and people of color. Racism is implied in most of his tweets if not directly called for. We are under attack again, and we must defend ourselves. But we must not lower ourselves to the level of our opponents. We must take the higher road. Hateful or hurtful language has consequences no matter who uses them. We alienate potential allies when we question their motives.
As a young staff member of a large evangelical church in Atlanta, the author demonstrates the reality that the culture is changing, and the views on LGBT issues are very much a generational issue. Most young people, even those who have been raised in the church, just don't care or think that they are of primary theological importance. Of course, if you are LGBT, they assume a much higher priority because of the impact on you personally. Most people's views change when they get to know a LGBT person as opposed to talking about generalities of "the other."
I am actively engaged with a number of LGBT advocacy groups, including one within the United Methodist Church: The Reconciling Ministries Network. But I also try to be understanding and gracious in talking with someone who is not affirming. At 81, I sympathize with a person for whom the media focus on LGBT issues is bewildering. When I was a young adult, it was an issue you couldn't even mention. Our society has progressed on these issues, as well as many European nations, but we still face an uphill battle. Let's try to engage with love and grace rather than with hate or harsh words.