Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The New Evangelicals, Part I

The previous post, focusing on Rick and Kay Warren, is billed Part II of Krista Tippett's latest theme for her radio program Speaking of Faith. In Part I she interviews in depth Jim Wallis, founder and publisher of Sojourners Magazine and evangelical progressive who has been plugging away for three decades now, bringing a message of Christian activism to a resistant world at large and Conservative Christians in particular. I'm listening as I type, but for me there is nothing new in the message. I've been there, done that all my adult life. So I would urge anyone wanting to know what lies beneath the surface of us lunatics to devote an hour to listening to the program.

Here is Wallis' salvation testimony, taken from the transcript of the program.

Rev. Wallis: No, it was very Evangelical in the usual ways back then. And I remember — I remember I was 6 years old and my parents were a little nervous, because, well, I wasn't saved yet. And I was getting up in years, I was 6, you know? So there's a fiery evangelist that was billed to be coming in a couple of weeks, and so I was kind of dreading the day because I heard he was pretty scary. And all unsaved kids had to sit in the first row. You know — we never wanted to sit in the first row, because I think the closer you are to a sermon, the more impact it will have in your life, you know? But he preached and he pointed his finger — it seemed right at me — and he says, 'If Jesus came back tonight, your mommy and daddy would be taken to heaven, and you would be left…

Ms. Tippett: Oh, gosh.

Rev. Wallis: …all by yourself.'

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Wallis: Well, it got my attention. And so I asked my mother how to fix this thing. And to her everlasting credit, she told me about the love of God, not the wrath of God. And God wanted me to be his child. And so I signed up. It wasn't deep, but it was, it was as real as it gets, you know, for a 6 year old.

Well, my second conversion was really the most important, because I'm 14 now, I'm paying attention in my home city, Detroit. I'm reading the papers, I'm listening to the news, and I'm asking questions: 'How come we live the way we do in white Detroit? And life is so different in black Detroit, just a few miles or blocks away?' 'You're too young to ask these questions,' I was told. 'When you get older, you'll understand or…"

Ms. Tippett: So where — what are we — what decade are we talking here?

Rev. Wallis: This is like early 1960s, yeah.

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Wallis: And so I didn't get answers. So I went in the city to find answers, and I met the black church. And they loved the same Jesus and read the same Bible and sang out of the same hymnbook, made it sound so much better than we did.

Ms. Tippett: Did you just walk into a black church?

Rev. Wallis: Yeah. I just started reading books and I read the autobiography of Malcolm X, and I…

Ms. Tippett: Oh, so the civil rights movement's bubbling along…

Rev. Wallis: It was…

Ms. Tippett: …in the culture at large.

Rev. Wallis: Oh, yeah. And I'm hearing about this guy in the South, this minister named King, you know? What was he up to, you know? How come we never had any black preachers at our church? Never been to a black church. And so I came back with questions and — new questions and new friends and some answers. And an elder, one night in a very pivotal moment for me, said, 'Jim, you have to understand Christianity has nothing to do with racism. That's political and our faith is personal.'

And, Krista, I think that's the night that I left in my head and my heart. And I was gone in a couple of years altogether and got — joined the civil rights struggle and the anti-war movement. I didn't have words to go around it then, but I do now. And the words are that God is personal, but never private. And I have a privatized notion of faith that never touched the world.

Ms. Tippett: So you left the church because you felt that the church…

Rev. Wallis: Yeah.

Ms. Tippett: …wasn't meshed without that and couldn't get — couldn't make the connections you were making?

Rev. Wallis: To be honest, I felt kind of kicked out, because I was raising these questions and they really didn't want them in the church. You know our favorite verse in those days was, "For God so loved the world," John 3:16, "that He gave His only begotten son. And who so ever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." The problem is, we only focused on the last two stanzas about everlasting life and not "for God so loved the world." And the world was who I cared about is — was my world. I was a teenage kid; I wanted to change the world. And they didn't care about changing the world. They just didn't care about the world.

Same thing happened to me. Reared as a Southern Baptist, grandchild of a Presbyterian minister, I was struck full force by the Civil Rights movement about the same time and also felt more or less kicked out of the church I had known. When deacons formulated a game plan how NOT to seat any black people should they show up to make trouble some Sunday morning at our white church, I knew there was something wrong.

Krista Tippett is all over the place with her programs. She treats a bewildering array of subjects and people with sterling journalistic professionalism. I don't listen to every program, but when I do I enjoy her approach to her subjects, I appreciate the respectful manner with which she handles everyone, and I always learn something.

No comments: