A Response to Ken Ham: Let’s Make Peace

Transient

Evolving in Monkey Town made national news last week when it was featured in a Nashville Tennessean story that was picked up by USA Today.  The story described various views regarding the evolution-creationism debate and included my perspective that young Christians long for a more nuanced, constructive approach to this issue.  

“My generation of evangelicals is ready to call a truce on the culture wars,” I said. “We are ready to move on."

This quote caught the attention of Ken Ham—president and CEO of Answers in Genesis, the organization behind the famous Creation Museum in Cincinnati.   In a blog post, Ham wrote:

“Well, Rachel, I have news for you.  Your generation is not ready to call a truce in this battle in the culture wars; in fact, we are finding more and more people are getting enthusiastically involved in fighting the culture war by standing uncompromisingly and unashamedly on God’s authoritative Word.” 

According to Ken, the fact that thousands of young people visit the creation museum each year proves that this army is growing. But if you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, the numbers tell a different story. Young adults are leaving the church, with some studies suggesting that up to seventy percent of Protestants age 18-30 drop out of church before they turn 23. (In fact, Ken himself has observed this phenomenon.) 

While the factors behind the trend are complex, I think I speak for a lot of young Christians when I say that you can’t argue us back. We are tired of fighting. We are tired of drawing lines in the sand. We are tired of Christianity being cast as a position in a debate when it is supposed to be a way of life.  

What we are searching for is a community of faith in which it is safe to ask tough questions, to think critically, and to be honest with ourselves. Unfortunately, a lot of young evangelicals grew up with the assumption that Christianity and evolution cannot mix, that we have to choose between our faith in Jesus and accepted science. I’ve watched in growing frustration as this false dichotomy has convinced my friends to leave the faith altogether when they examine the science and find it incompatible with a 6,000-year-old earth.  Sensing that Christianity required abandoning their intellectual integrity, some of the best and brightest of the next generation made a choice they didn’t have to make.

The reason I speak out about this issue is not because I am passionately committed to the theory of evolution; it’s because I am passionately committed to the fact that it’s not worth leaving the faith over! And it's certainly not worth breaking fellowship over either. 

Ken likes to frame his position as an unwavering commitment to the authority of Scripture, but in reality his is an unwavering commitment to one interpretation of Scripture.  Young earth creationists seem unbothered by abandoning other elements of biblical cosmology— like a stationary earth (Ps. 93:1; Prov. 8:28; Job 38:4) and a solid firmament (Genesis 1:6; Job 38:22; Ezekiel 1:22; Daniel 8:10)—but they tend to cast a literal seven-day creation as such a fundamental element of the Christianity that one’s faith cannot survive without it. 

But I am a living breathing example of the fact that it can.  I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and I believe that the earth is old.

I am not asking Ken to change his interpretation of Genesis or even his devotion to it.  If he believes it is the best interpretation, then he should continue to commit his outstanding energy, creativity, and resourcefulness to promoting it. I respect his conviction and I count him as a brother in Christ because, at the end of the day, Ken and I agree on what’s most important —that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

All I am asking is that he honor this common bond and join me in making peace, in acknowledging that there is enough room in Christianity for both of us and that we can talk about this issue without our weapons drawn. We don’t need a Church in which everyone agrees on the age of the earth. We need a Church that is committed to the Apostle Paul’s instructions that “if it is possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18).

How are we ever going to be at peace with all men if we can’t even be at peace with one another? 

I am ready to call a truce, and I hope that Ken Ham will join me.

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Doubt, Family, and Friends: Part 2

How have your friends and family responded to your book?

I’ve been asked that question more than any other since the release of Evolving in Monkey Town, and it’s a question I often receive from readers like Dave who are struggling to share their doubts and ideas with the people they love.

First let me say that my immediate family—Mom, Dad, Amanda, and Dan—have been incredibly supportive throughout this whole process.  Even when they disagree with me on the details, they know that I love Jesus and want to follow him, and that’s good enough for them.  The same goes for my current pastor as well as my former pastor. I try not to take these blessings for granted.

Unfortunately, I haven’t fared as well among certain friends and religious groups in the community. I've been the subject of gossip. I’ve been added to prayer request lists. I’ve been called everything from a cotton-candy-Christian to a communist. I’ve lost very dear friends and gained new ones. I’ve struggled to accept the fact that some of the most important relationships in my life will never be the same.

Along the way, I’ve made some mistakes and I’ve made some resolutions. 

Mistake #1: I tried to make other people feel what I was feeling. 

When I first started struggling with doubt, I longed for companionship so much that I tried to force my friends to ask the same questions I was asking. As I write in the book, “I grew obstinate and incorrigible, ready to debate family and friends whose easy confidence baffled and frustrated me and gave me an excuse to be angry at someone besides God. It bothered me that other people weren’t bothered. I couldn’t understand why no one else was stressed out about the existence of hell or angered by all the suffering in the world. I feigned surprise when my friends got annoyed that I raised such topics at bridal showers and poker games. Wherever I sensed a calm sea, I sought to rock the boat; I wanted others to share in my storm” (p. 113-114).  

I’ve learned the hard way that if you aren’t careful, you can actually rock people out of the boat. At the time, I told myself that these were just fair-weather friends, that if they couldn’t accept the real me, then our relationships were superficial anyway. But now I miss these people. I want them back in my life and I’m sorry that I tried to make them understand something they have simply never experienced. 

Mistake #2:  I got defensive and judgmental

Like most people, I tend to get really defensive when I’m feeling insecure, and there’s nothing quite like a faith crisis to make you feel insecure.  As a result, I argued with people who were trying to help me.  I interpreted their concern as condescension and judgment, and (being a decent debater myself), did all in my power to shut them down.  Even when I “won” these arguments I lost, for I became a picture of the very judgment and hypocrisy I hated in the Church. 

When I feel like I have something worthwhile to say but am not given the time of day, I like to imagine all the reasons why these people won’t hear me—they are so satisfied with their own salvation, they don’t care about anyone else; they are afraid to look critically at their elaborate theological systems because they find so much security in them; they are stupid; they are prideful; they are coldhearted. Ascribing motive is a way of protecting myself from the painful reality that deep down, I want these people to like me and understand me. When I sense that they don’t, I come up with clever ways to make them smaller and less significant in my mind so that their rejection won’t hurt as much. 

Fortunately, these mistakes have led to some resolutions. 

Resolution #1: I will show discretion when sharing my doubts and ideas.

It has taken a long time for me to accept the fact that some people have questions about their faith and others don’t. Some people are willing to talk about these questions, while others see them as a frightening threat to everything they hold dear.  While I’m not ashamed of my ideas, I can show some discretion in how I share them and who I share them with.  I’ve got enough self-control to hold back when in certain company.

Of course, the blog and book have helped tremendously with this because they have provided opportunities for me to share my thoughts with people who are receptive to them.  And over time, I’ve actually developed some new relationships here in Dayton with people who are likeminded…(or who are different enough that being different gives us something in common). So I encourage others who are struggling with tough questions about Christianity to take advantage of online resources and books and also to seek out new friendships in their community without abandoning the old. 

Resolution #2:  I will love the people it is hardest for me to love

Loving my sponsored child is easy. Loving the people at The Mission is easy. Even loving my abstract notion of “enemies” (the Taliban, Osoma Bin Laden, etc.) is easy. Loving fundamentalists…not so much. 

I tend to be judgmental of judgmental people. But if I want to be like Jesus, I have to learn to love the people it is hardest for me to love. Otherwise, all this talk of judging not and turning the other cheek and making peace and loving enemies is just lip service to a good idea rather than a way of life.  If I can’t approach hyper-Calvinists with the same love and grace with which I approach the poor, the homeless, and the oppressed, I’m nothing more than clanging cymbal. 

Resolution #3: I will become more like Jesus

It’s impossible to completely isolate ourselves from criticism, but when the fruit in our life grows more and more abundant—when we are filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control—it’s harder for people to say that we’re sliding down a slippery slope simply because we voted a certain way or believe the earth is a certain age. Grace has a disarming effect, and if the questions we are asking and the ideas we are forming give us more of it, we will not only avert some criticism, but we will be more prepared to deal with it when it comes. 

The most important thing I can add to this conversation is this: Let your good works speak for themselves. If we really believe that God is in the reconciliation business, then we will become people of reconciliation. God’s love is not something we can prove in an argument; it’s something we’ve got to prove with our lives. I’ve got a lot to learn on this front, and I need people to keep me accountable, but I’m convinced that my best “apologetic” is not an argument or a defense or even a  published book, but a life transformed by the love and grace of Jesus Christ. 

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What are some mistakes that you have made in sharing your questions and ideas about faith? What are some resolutions you have made?

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Family, Friends, and Doubt: Part 1

Every week I hear from readers who have been touched in some way by Evolving in Monkey TownOne of the most common dilemmas these readers say they face is trying to navigate their doubts, questions, and new ideas in the context of their current faith communities.  Several of you suggested last week we address this on the blog, so I thought I’d introduce the topic by including an excerpt from an email I recently received from Dave. 

Writes Dave: 

…For the last three years my soul has felt like a sick and dying animal. God seemed gone, and suddenly all the perfectly logical systematic theology I had assembled my entire life to answer all the questions just felt apart. I prayed, I talked to all my pastors, I talk to my cell group at church, I talked to my wife, and I talked to God a lot. I didn’t know how God could demand that I be intellectually dishonest in order to follow him. He gave me my intellect. How could I tell myself a young earth made sense, or eternal hell for people who never heard of Christ made sense, or any of the other big issues made sense when I knew I was lying to myself? How could I feel gratitude and affection to a God who randomly chose me to spend eternity with Him and took delight in the rest burning for all time?
When I posed some of these questions to others they would try to answer them (with genuine grace and love), and ultimately tell me I wasn’t trusting God enough. When I read your book, I wanted to cry. I felt like I had written it, because every question and suspicion I have held was echoed in it. And from your book and blog and other resources…I’m finding that I’m not alone. I know that God is good again. Jesus loves me, and even more amazing, He loves everyone, and plans to reconcile ALL things to Himself. I read my Bible eagerly last night, which I’ve felt ill doing for a very long time. 
There is one big problem though, and I know you’ve had to face it. My pastors, and the people I go to church with love Jesus very much and love other people very much as well, but they don’t subscribe to this line of thinking. In fact, when they hear me talk about it, they will be deeply concerned…It is possible some will assume I have never understood the gospel at all, and that I “went out from them because I was never of them.” I love these people, and I want to continue to fellowship and discuss and pray with them, but I know many may feel they can’t do this any longer. How have you dealt with this in your own journey? 

I’ll respond tomorrow, but today I would like to open this question up for discussion.  Dave is certainly not alone, and I know we could all benefit from one another’s stories. How do you respond when friends, family, and people from your faith community are uncomfortable with the questions you pose or the ideas you share?

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Celebrating story in a sound bite culture

Transient

Since cutting our cable, Dan and I have enjoyed a break from the endless speculation and drama of 24-hour cable news and instead rely on a few trusted print and internet sources for our information. This has improved our quality of life significantly, making us less angry and more informed…(although I have to admit I miss Anderson Cooper during disasters). 

This most recent flap with Shirley Sherrod reveals just how out-of-control our sound bite culture has become and why we decided to ditch cable news. The speed at which Sherrod’s words were lifted out of context, edited, distributed, and then subjected to reaction was truly astounding, and we should all be alarmed by the sloppy reporting the sequence of events revealed. 

Having worked in journalism for several years myself, I am familiar with the temptation of trying to fit a person (or source) into a predetermined story. When working with a tight deadline and a tough editor, it’s just so much easier when you hear what you expect to hear, when your “characters” play right into your headline or lead. This tendency is only exacerbated when certain networks actually require certain slants and when the demands of impatient consumers take priority over accuracy and caution. As newspapers sputter and fail and the talking heads on TV get louder and louder,victory is given to those have mastered the sound bite rather than those who have mastered the story. 

Because stories take too much time. 

Stories are too complex.

 Stories are too colorful and messy and inexact to fit into a three-minute segment on TV. 

Of course, journalists are not the only guilty parties.  We do the same thing when we cut people off, hurry through our conversations, and surround ourselves with those who look and think just like us.   We want people to fit our stereotypes because it makes them more manageable. We want stories to be brief and simple so we don’t have to be changed by them. We are running low on patience, and we are losing our love for story. 

 What strikes me about Sherrod’s story…when revealed in its entirety… is how beautifully redemptive it is. It is the story of a black woman grappling with the injustices of her past and overcoming personal prejudices to find common ground with her neighbors. It is a redemptive story precisely because it is complex.The characters are complex. The culture is complex. The history is complex.   It’s not a story that shoves people into neat and tidy categories of good and evil.  It’s not a story that resolves perfectly at the end.  It’s not a story that fits into a sound bite. 

 None of the good ones do.

 To exploit the part of the story where Sherrod is most vulnerable, most open about the darkness within herself that she must overcome, is nothing short of sacrilege. It is like interrupting a prayer or a poem.

Part of our challenge as followers of Jesus is to preserve his tradition of storytelling in a culture that demands we get to the point.  

We’ve got to slow down. We’ve got to listen better. We’ve got to be willing to risk being changed. 

After all, our very faith is rooted in a story. If God doesn’t speak in sound bites, maybe his children weren’t made to either.

(Photo by onkel_wart)

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What are some of the effects of our sound bite culture? Do you think it has influenced how we read and interpret the Bible? What does it look like, practically speaking, to celebrate story in our day-to-day lives?

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