Monday, September 13, 2010

Big Tent Christianity


I recently attended a Big Tent Christianity Conference in Raleigh, NC. Big Tent is another buzzword or offshoot of the Emergent Movement. Speakers at the conference included Brian McLaren (often attributed with starting the Emergent movement), Shane Claiborne, and Jay Bakker (Jim and Tammy Faye’s son).

Ministers and theologians spoke with passion about justice, denominationalism, and sexuality, among other things. We sang a few songs and at break times you could go around to different booths. Booths included “People of Faith Against The Death Penalty,” Wesley Seminary, Mars Hill Graduate School, and a table selling books by many of the big emergent leaders of today. Some of the writers were in the room.

Now I figured I might disagree with some of what was said. I knew this going in, but that is why I wanted to go. I wanted to feel challenged and hear some decent debate/discussion. Tony Campolo is lumped in the emergent pastor category often, and I have found him interesting, ever since I heard him speak in 1985.

Leaving the conference, I came away feeling, well, possibly sad. Now no, it was not a revival really, I get that. But everyone who spoke is a professing Christian. I heard Jesus mentioned. We sang a couple songs about “justice” and making our heart “green” was one lyric sang amongst all the Styrofoam coffee cups and numerous laptops.

But upon first leaving I did not feel filled up. Then I went home and thought about it all.

As much as we as Christians want to reach out to people, I feel maybe we have lost sight of something. It seems many are so concerned with reaching out and including all in this tent, that they are compromising the scripture.

Overall, it felt like there was just enough truth to be dangerous.

One comment I wrote down was, “Jesus never said he follows scripture. He said he follows God.”

It seemed to me that people were getting way too close to just disregarding the Bible all together.

I thought about how minister Rob Bell once wrote it would not really matter if we found out the Virgin Birth did not happen.

Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz-Weber, said, “I preach the gospel I actually need to hear.”

Interesting. Shouldn’t we hear all of it? Even the tough parts?

The topic of Big Tent Sexuality, quickly turned into a discussion on only homosexuality.

Kimberly Knight, a lesbian woman and a minister, stated “we look silly arguing issues of homosexuality to secular people.” I had to think, what does that matter?

Aren’t we supposed to stick out and look different than the rest of the world? We should not come across as rude or judgmental, but I did not think silly was an issue.

A general mantra seems to be: “why are we worried about this issue, when A: is happening over here and B: is happening over there?”

Just because there are all sorts of issues to deal with, doesn’t mean we completely ignore another does it?

Maybe the most interesting speaker for me was Brian Ammons, a gay man and member of the Alliance of Baptists. Brian had a take I had not yet heard; as he is offended by the arguments that “gay people can’t help it, they were born this way.”

Ammons says this was all strategy created in the 1970s. “It’s victimizing, it’s saying you have no choice. I have a choice with whom I’m sleeping with.”

Jay Bakker closed out this topic. He passionately preached about supporting his homosexual brothers and sisters and said “I don’t think it is a sin. But if you do, you must get past it.”

Concerning Jesus, he said, “If the Torah was his Bible, he didn’t follow it.”

This to me is a perfect example of a quote that needed some follow up. I mean, is it true? A little true; not true at all?

The one time I remember the panel being really tested by the moderator, was one of the most interesting moments. During the topic of Justice, the panel was asked, if they felt that the very safety net structures in society they always vote for, were actually hurting their ability to practice Christian Justice?

This was followed by an almost awkward pause, and eventual answers that made little sense. A better answer is out there, but I do not think the panel was even prepared to have to answer for themselves.

Bakker was the only person I saw with a Bible in hand. Raising it up, he stated, “Has this distorted our view of love?”

“I challenge anyone to prove me differently. The concept we have of gays or lesbians, the concept against two people in loving committed relationships, is nowhere to be found in the bible.”

“Don’t preach against my LBGT brothers and sisters. It’s not there! People say I’m picking and choosing, well maybe I am, but it’s not there!”

But homosexuality is mentioned in the Bible as wrong. The argument most people make is it’s not directly mentioned by Jesus, so therefore it can’t be wrong.

But don’t tell me it is not mentioned. Does monogamy make everything alright?

We seem to be ignoring parts of the Bible when they do not suit us. There are passages I have struggled with. It is why study and discussion is important to me.

A sentiment I felt through the conference was “we like the bible, but we wouldn’t mind ripping out a few pages.”

“I don’t worship the Bible, I worship Christ. If this (the Bible) gets in the way of love, then throw it out.” -Jay Bakker

My main concern is, are we loving our brothers and sisters to hell? Maybe that puts too fine a point on it, but I do not know any other way to say it.

I am reminded of a video one church made where a man is drowning. Another man sees this along the beach and shouts out, “I love you! I love you! Be my friend!”

Of course the man drowns. So how loving are we really, if it just helps lead to one’s destruction?

I realize some people will never agree with me on the Bible. Some would say, it was written a long time ago, by men, and just take it for whatever good you get out of it.

But I just cannot make myself do that. If Christianity means anything to me, then the whole book matters to me.

Jesus is not only responsible for the words in red.

W.C. Fields; that famous comic actor, was also well known at the time for being an outspoken atheist. A famous story goes that a few weeks before he died, a friend visited him at the hospital and found him in his bed reading the Bible. His friend asked what he was doing and Fields responded, “I’m looking for loopholes.”

There were some good things said in Raleigh last week. But if shaping the Bible to any way that feels more comfortable to us is an answer, then count me out.

I want to make sure God is shaping me, and not the other way around.
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