This week we were honored to continue the Raven Reviews Election 2016 series by talking with Brian McLaren, influential Christian author, speaker, and activist. We talked about Brian’s latest book The Great Spiritual Migration and the current political climate. Brian spoke with us not just about political issues, but how to talk with others about the issues we face during this political season. He stated, “In the current political campaigns, the focus is so much on winning that we poison the whole system. We make it harder for anyone to govern when the election is over. We have to find a way to protest and disagree in a spirit of love.” For more from Brian, you can read his blog and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Brian McLaren – The Great Spiritual (and Political) Migration
- The importance of a sense of humor during stressful times
During stressful times it’s important to have a sense of humor. In our political situation, we are dealing with serious, life and death situations. And you see a cavalier attitude by people who are only motivated by their team winning and by the other team losing. That deserves laughter, mockery, and disdain.
We also need faith that in the long run the power of good and the power of love will win. That faith helps us not take some of this temporary insanity not so seriously. We all need ways that we can de-intensify. For example, in marriage counseling, if people are excessively serious, they stay stuck. There needs to be some ability to step back, have a laugh at yourself, not take yourself too seriously. This makes it possible for us to move forward. Stepping back from a paralyzing seriousness is important on personal and political levels.
- Brian writes in his book, “… the extractive and consumptive way of life that we have created will not stand. We are headed for self-destruction, and our destructive way of life needs more than minor tweaking, more than modest incremental change. It is time for a great spiritual migration to a new way of life, supported by a new kind of Christian faith.” That quote speaks to the urgency of our times. How urgent do you think this moment is in human history?
The environmental crisis is one of the most serious crises that the human race has ever faced. We inherited a way of powering our entire civilization that uses fossil fuels. We discovered that those fossil fuels were throwing our climate out of balance. The polar ice caps are melting, the gulf stream is disrupted, and we’re facing all kinds of huge challenges in the climate. In the election it is hardly even mentioned. Donald Trump doesn’t believe climate change is real, but that it’s a hoax invented by China to slow down the American economy. All thinking people who pay attention to the data know that it is real.
But if we are going to change our relationship with the earth from an extracted economy, it’s going to require a change in values. We need spiritual and faith communities to be mobilized to address the deeper values issues that underlie the climate dimension of our crisis.
We have other important issues, too. A deep seeded racial blindness among white people. White privilege and white supremacy are encoded in our systems, and we really need to address it. An unjust society is going to have to face the consequences of its wrong-doing.
When you verbally attack people by calling them wrong, it makes them feel defensive. In the long run, a more effective way to bring about change is to make a “powerful, nondirective statement.” I’m not telling you what to do, I’m simply defining myself by saying, “Wow. I see that differently.” You don’t need to go into arguments, but just state that you see it differently. If they are really interested, you can talk about it later. The ability to differ, without having to persuade that I’m right, is a tremendous gift that we can give to people.
Eco America has researched into what helps climate change deniers to change their minds. The smartest thing we can do is just give one or two very simple facts that just lets people know there’s another way to see this.
- Brian says that Christians need a spiritual migration in three primary ways. First, we need to migrate from a system of correct beliefs to loving and compassionate ways of life.
If John Calvin were my Lord and Savior, or Thomas Aquinas were the messiah, it might be different. But we follow Jesus of Nazareth. His focus wasn’t on saying, “We have this system of beliefs called Judaism. Let’s throw it out and we’re going to bring in a new system of beliefs called Christianity.” Jesus doesn’t do that. He proposes to people that there is a new way of life that is possible. And people need to change their way of thinking to embrace that new way of life. “Follow me”
suggests that he is setting an example that he’s inviting us to observe and imitate. Jesus doesn’t say, “Perfect your system of beliefs and everything will logically flow from there.” Rather, he says to love. Love God and loving neighbor as you love yourself are at the core.
Because of all the hate speech during this campaign, Brian has helped start a new project called We Stand with Love. It’s discovered that scholars, activists, philosophers, political scientists, ethicists, have started “The Love Driven Politics Collective.” It claims it’s time to bring love to bear on our political ends and means.
How do we love people, especially out enemies, while calling out injustice? As we take this question seriously, it will lead to a new kind of activism. Some activism in the past has tended to demonized our opponents and ascribing the worst possible motives to their actions. What would happen if we did the opposite? If we ascribed the best motives to those we disagree with? We give them every benefit of the doubt we can and in that spirit we disagree. It might take a little longer, but it will produce fewer unintended consequences. In the current political campaigns, the focus is so much on winning that we poison the whole system. We make it harder for anyone to govern when the election is over. We have to find a way to protest and disagree in a spirit of love.
When we are motivated by love when we stand against injustice, we will live into Cornel West’s truth that “Justice is what love looks like in public.” When we are motivated by love, we stand up against injustice. We confront ideas, systems, sometimes even people who are abusing power. And when we do there will always be blowback and criticism.
The message of Jesus is so powerful and can lead us out of the mess we are in. He’s inviting us to learn to turn the other cheek, an act of courageous resistance, rather than revenge. Criticism will happen, and if we aren’t careful, our response to criticism will discredit us far more than the criticism did. We need spiritual practices to help us handle criticism graciously and not get caught in a visceral cycle of reaction.
- The second migration is from a violent and exclusive view of God to a harmonizing and reconciling view of God.
Anthropology of religions has discovered that very early in human history, we found a way to create an “us” that is very strong. If we pray to the same God and follow the same rituals, it creates a strong sense of “us.” But anyone outside of our circle of “us” is “them.” They are “othered” and dehumanized. We continue this pattern. For example, in the United States some people refer to immigrants as “cockroaches.” This leads to horrific violence in human history. It’s a by-produce of creating a strong sense of belonging among “us.” The spirit of God is calling us to open ourselves up to seeing that all human beings are part of the group we call “us.” And beyond that, all of life, all of this whole beautiful and fragile planet becomes one big beautiful “us.”
God leading us from and exclusive “us” to an all-inclusive “us” has important implications for politics. Egotism, narcissism, selfishness, begin to fade away as our circle expands to include more that includes all humanity along with all creation as one interdependent community empowered by the love of the Creator. This is the trajectory of spirituality, the Bible, and politics.
Lacey from San Diego asks about Evangelicalism and race. Brian’s Response – Evangelicalism is experiencing a schism. Many evangelicals are upset with the symbols of racism that Donald Trump is saying. Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Jim Wallis of Sojourners, Tony Evans, and others are trying to sensitize Evangelicals to the latent racism that embedded in all of white culture, including white Christianity. It seems like there’s a group that’s retrenching. Jerry Falwell Jr and others have managed to say that abortion is more important than every other concern.
Lisa Sharon Harper has been doing great writing and thinking on race, as has Native American Mark Charles. These great strides are ignored by certain people who attempt to push abortion to the center. It’s bad citizenship and bad ethics, but it works with some people who like a very simple short cut to the moral high ground.
Tony from Syracuse asks if the political campaign is so poisoned, maybe politics isn’t going to solve this crisis. Is it beyond help? Brian’s response: You can’t give up on politics. Politics is how we organize our public lives and our families with other families. There are boundaries that we have to negotiate across. That’s politics, but politics isn’t the only ground where these negotiations are worked out.
As religious people have become more involved in the Republican party, the party made a concerted effort to bring in white Evangelicals and conservative Catholics, as they did this, political discourse became uglier. The role of religion did not lift up discourse, it made it easier to demonize people.
But you can’t give up on religion either, because religion is how we negotiate our relationship with existence, with life and death and values and creation and meaning. When we see crises in politics and religion, we have to engage more deeply with both. The Great Spiritual Migration is about how to do just that. It’s about dedicating ourselves more energetically and creatively than ever to a progressive and humane spiritual movement that will influence business, family life, arts, creativity, politics, and economics.
How does Jesus lead us to a nonviolent and inclusive view of God? It’s interesting because Donald Trump has promoted water boarding as a way to make the world better. But as Christians, we follow someone who was tortured, but never tortured anyone else. We follow someone who, when he was being tortured, said, “forgive them.” It means that what they were doing was really wrong and that they need to be forgiven, but I’m not going to torture them back. Jesus life, teachings, death, and resurrection all embody a God who is nonviolent. The Christian religion hasn’t worked out whether we believe God is nonviolent. It’s time for us to grow up in this way and become more fully Christian by acknowledging the nonviolence of God and the kindness of God.
Brian’s recent article for “On Faith” makes the point that white Evangelicals are Donald Trump’s most loyal base. As historian Bob Ericksen pointed out in a previous interview, it’s similar to the Christian support of Hitler. These two men who don’t hold Christian values and don’t have much of a Christian history are largely supported by a group of Christians. But we have to take the signs that politicians give us. We need to those signs as an indication of their values. If this person gains more power, we should expect to see more of their signs enacted. We all have our flaws and those flaws could be exaggerated if we got more power. That’s true of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. If what’s really behind the email scandal, for example, is a desire for secrecy, I wouldn’t be surprised if she becomes president we’d see more problems of secrecy. She has given us signs of that. When I compare those dangers to the dangers of a guy who’s talking about locking up his political opponents and all the rest – when you reward someone who gives those signs with more power, you shouldn’t be surprised at what you get as a result.
What to do about ISIS? No one has an easy answer. The Buddhists have a very important principle called the “Law of no independent origination.” It means that something cannot come into existence unless the conditions are right to bring it into existence. Something like ISIS comes about through certain conditions. If we don’t want something like ISIS to exist in the future, you can drop bombs on it, but it will come back into existence in some new form if you don’t deal with those conditions. The Bible gets at this idea through wisdom teachings, which recognizes that a series of causes will likely get you certain results. We need more pastors and Imams leading us forward into the ways of peace.
- The third migration is evangelism and mission.
Evangelism means the Good News. This isn’t about threaten people with hell unless they believe certain things. The Good News is that God is inviting people into reconciliation. It’s a new way of life that that is the way of love. Now, if I have that Good News and it’s about seeking the common good in love, I want to share that with everyone I can. If they want to change religions, that’s fine. But in many ways I’d rather them stay as an agent of that love in their religion.
Another word for this is mobilization. Mobilizing people to become spiritual activists or contemplative activists by working for the common good.
Tony from Syracuse asks – Brian is an apostle of a sea change in Christianity. Have you seen evidence of this sea change happening apart from yourself? Brian’s response – There are signs of hope everywhere. People are getting it. Creative young leaders are starting new faith communities and leading in these directions. The danger is that people think this movement is coming and so we can relax. We can’t relax. The signs of hope require each of us to become a spiritual activist so that these things become real on the scale we need them to be.
There is hope because we are working in a spirit that is bigger than any one of us. We are working in a creation that is worth the struggle.
Jim from Lake Oswego Oregon asks about fear as a motivator. Fear is driving beliefs and policies. Are there strategies for counteracting such fear? Brian’s response: Fear is a motivator. If we are over motivated by fear, we will get into a lot of trouble. That’s why one of the most common statements in the Bible is “Fear not.” We have to allow foresight about potential negative consequences to be a factor in our decision making. That’s the reasonable side of fear. But we must not let a primitive “flight or fight” response based on fear to dominate our decision making. The book of Proverbs claims we have to dig deep for wisdom. Wisdom isn’t on the surface. We have to dig deeper. When we start feeling fear, or seeing politicians using fear to try to get us on their side, they are asking us to be afraid, trust me, and stop thinking for yourselves. We have to say, “No. I’m not going to surrender my wisdom to somebody else. I’m not going to go deeper than ever with people I trust and we’re not going to let fear become the drug that puts us in a trance to take us to dangerous places.
Let’s not be afraid to speak up. We need real life chats with relatives, neighbors, and co-workers. Let’s keep these conversations going.
Explore what’s at stake in this pivotal election with our 6-part series, Raven ReViews Election 2016: Weekly Interviews on 6 Crucial Topics:
“…all of the Christians who supported Hitler believed that God wanted them to be patriotic Germans and work for the strengthening of Germany within the world… they believed that the two most important things for a Christian are God and country.”
“If you are a part of the (racist) system, and you participate in the privileging of yourself, or the unprivileging of others, whether intentionally or unintentionally, then that makes you a part of the system.”
“The solidarity we have is a solidarity of enmity, not a solidarity of friendship. The implosion of the Republican party under Trump is a very good example of the instant solidarity of enmity. It’s very interesting for someone in another country, but as an American it’s more that interesting in the context of the next president. But whoever the next president is has implications throughout the world. It’s an issue that concerns us all.”
“Trump is afraid of Muslims coming in who do not share Americans values. But how well does Donald Trump represent basic American values? His extreme misogyny, regarding women as play things on recent tapes shows he has very little respect for women.”
“So, this good thing of listening to the voice of the victim can be abused by ‘playing the victim card.’ But there are real victims. The danger is that we can play the victim card in a way that seeks revenge, not justice. We do this by projecting guilt upon another person or institution.”