Tuesday, 3/8/16

  1. The Cult of Big
  2. More progressive than the Progressives
  3. I know Evangelical when I see it
  4. Video victims
  5. Lenting


I generally detest the “get big or get out” approach to, er, things.

It was not always so. I may even have applauded when Earl Butz famously legitimized it in agriculture. He was, after all, a Purdue guy before he became a Nixon appointee.

I particularly detest it in Church. Rod Dreher cites and embeds an example from some guy named Andy Stanley (I can’t keep up with the Evangelical world while doing all the other things I need to do.)

In my opinion, Stanley goes off the rails with a absurd nonsequitur 53 seconds in: “Now this is one reason we build big Churches,” which elicited from me the sentiment conventionally distilled these days into “WTF?!”

Everything he said up until then about community, which the possible exception of “circles are better than rows,” seemed to me to be an argument for small Churches. All his talk of bigness for the sake of the children, and his reflexive assumption that kids will hate a church if it’s small, is sheer ipse dixit.

Leroy Huizenga, a smart guy who presumably is the First Things author of that name, replies in greater depth:

“…if you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough Middle Schoolers and High Schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church…”

This encapsulates precisely the problem in education and Christian education today–sorting kids into peer groups cut off from meaningful relationships with those older and younger than them. And here it ignores the hard reality that parents shape the faith of children, for better or worse.

I did some part-time youth ministry and was program director at a Bible camp for a couple years, and while we could do good things with kids–provide them mountaintop experiences, pull them out of the daily humdrum of their lives–if mom and dad didn’t model the faith at home, it didn’t stick.

As youth workers we were prophets, providing drama and flair. Kids also need priests, rooting them daily in the actual practice of the faith. That’s something parents must do.

A friend, now essentially secular after an Evangelical upbringing, speculates about a mutual friend, now deceased, who strayed into occult interests from the Bob Jones University fundamentalism of her father:

Her departure from the church and her interest in the occult and paranormal ideas my have been a result of fatherly oppression. I had two theologically oppressive parents, so I can understand.

And elsewhere, the same friend:

And there are many churchgoers that are phonies. My father was a prime example. At home, he was a strict Christian. When I was in my mid-twenties, I became the general manager of his quite successful business. He was a very different person in that context.

Parents, take notes. I want no bitchin’ and moanin’ about your college or adult kids not going to Church if you were two-faced. This is a reason why “integrity” is a word that is personally precious to me. And if you haven’t got it, it doesn’t matter how big a youth group your megachurch has got.

Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily (καθ᾽ἡμέραν) and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.’” (Lk 9: 23-24)

The word(s) “daily” (καθ᾽ἡμέραν) in Christ’s commandment to “all,” to take up their cross, did not enter the “textus receptus” of the Gospel, but they are abundantly attested in the most ancient manuscripts of Scripture. So my decision to take up my cross, to follow Him, and to “lose” myself, to give myself away, for His sake, is to be renewed on a daily basis.

I find this “daily” approach to cross-carrying very refreshing, very encouraging. Because God knows it would not suffice, under the ever-changing circumstances of human existence, to make this decision to take up the cross just once, or to make it only on Sundays. No, He invites me to take it up again today, on Monday, and start anew.

(Sister Vassa Lerin) Although I have left the Evangelical Christian tradition in which my parents raised me, all four of their sons are regular in Church attendance. They had integrity, and I’d like to think that, having both reposed in the Lord, they’re now pleased at my move.

Pastor Stanley apologized for the offensive comment, but I’ll bet he still believes substantially the same. Meanwhile Dreher’s comment boxes are excellent, as usual.


The Michigan Catholic Conference … is modifying its coverage in a way that will make it possible for gay employees of the church to get health benefits for their partners and spouses.

(Washington Post)

This is not a Chicken Little post. The Post article continues:

It does so in a way, however, that doesn’t affirm gay marriage, but simply redefines who qualifies for health coverage in a way that could include same-sex couples.

[H]ealth care coverage will be expanded to include legally domiciled adults. A person is considered an LDA, the letter notes, if they’re 18 or older, are financially interdependent with the church employee, and have lived with that person for at least six months.

A person’s sexual orientation or behavior will not factor into the church’s decision to provide employees with health care …[T]he church’s primary consideration will be residency.

(Emphasis added)

I suspect this is a model of the sorts of things we’ll be seeing much more of from the Roman Catholic Church and other religious bodies and religiously affiliated nonprofits of conservative conviction. It should be a model.

It echoes an occasional conservative counter-proposal when institutions were considering domestic partner benefits a decade or more ago (I encountered it in 2002): “‘Domestic partner’ connotes ‘lover,’ and if it’s truly not our business who our employees ‘love,’ why tie our fringe benefit to domestic partner status? Let’s offer coverage similar to that now afforded spouses to any one person who is financially dependent on our employee.” Back then, that was a deal-killer, either because if would be too costly or (in my opinion the real reason) it did not affirm same-sex relationships as did the domestic partner version. The Catholic Conference wisely changes “dependent” to “interdependent.” Good call.

It may appear ironic to those who are reflexively irreligious, but this makes the Michigan Catholic Conference a progressive employer, ahead of many secular counterparts, because many secular employers are dropping domestic partner benefits in the wake of Obergefell with the diktat “If you want coverage, get married” — a diktat some celibate domestic partners cannot honor.

Christian entities often are progressive in prophetic ways.


“Evangelical” has become such a charged quasi-political term term that some Evangelicals are distancing themselves from it. The New York Times has a What Does It Mean to Be Evangelical Today? exchange of views prompted by the reported Evangelical support of Trump (which may or may not be real).

What I’ve come to wonder is whether “Evangelicalism” is even real. We can’t seem to live without it, but it’s surprisingly difficult to define it. Maybe this is “I know it when I see it.”


Is it just me, or is Hulk Hogan really a less sympathetic plaintiff than Erin Andrews? Be aware: if you seek out either of those videos, you’re an accessory after the fact, morally if not legally.


In a week, Eastern Christians like me will be in Lent. That’s a very big deal for us. I expect my internet presence to diminish. It may be extra easy, or extra hard, in this year of unprecedented political turmoil. I think it will be easier because I identify with the speaker in this poem.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.