While this conversation was recorded prior to the 2016 election, the issues discussed are relevant today in the run-up to the 2018 mid-terms.
Brian McLaren, influential Christian author, speaker, and activist, joined us for a conversation about his latest book The Great Spiritual Migration and politics. Brian 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.”
Brian McLaren on Voting Christian Values - Transcript
ADAM ERICKSEN: Hi everyone and welcome to Raven ReView Election 2016, weekly interviews on six crucial topics. The Raven Foundation is presenting in-depth explorations of big issues that aren’t being discussed in mainstream election coverage. We have already discussed Christian support of Nazi Germany with historian Bob Ericksen; racism with Melvin Gray; and democracy, violence and the risk of tyranny with political theorist Paul Dumouchel. You can see all of those interviews in the Raven Foundation. In the next few weeks, we talk about politics, violence, and Islam and our final interview will be on politics, scapegoating, and healing our nation. But today, am so excited because we have Brian McLaren with us. Hi, Brian!
BRIAN MCLAREN: Hi, great to be with you, Adam.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Well, thanks you so much for being here. Brian is the author of many books, including A Generous Orthodoxy. Brian, I don’t believe in book jackets, I throw them away. This one was the book, A Generous Orthodoxy, that really introduced me to you. I read it in 2004, I was so young but I still took notes. Thank you for this book. It’s fantastic and I still look back to it and think how it makes me a much more generous person, human being, and Christian. Thank you for that one.
BRIAN MCLAREN: Alright, that’s good to know.
ADAM ERICKSEN: And you have also written other fantastic books: Everything Must Change, A New Kind of Christianity, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road. Important for our conversation today about politics, Brian has written a book, The Word of the Lord to Democrats, and its companion, The Word of the Lord to Republicans, which are both fictional accounts that kind of explain politics and opening and expanding our view of politics. I remember those coming out last election cycle, right, and you have a way of calming things down, in this hyper crisis moments, and so, thank you for those books, as well.
BRIAN MCLAREN: Thanks, I am just thinking the one The Word of the Lord to Republicans, one of the characters in that book, has an eerie resemblance to the Republican nominee this time around. Nobody has accused me of hypocrisy yet but, anyway…
ADAM ERICKSEN: You saw that one coming, yeah. You have also helped write a new voters’ guide for Chalice Press called Progressive Christian Voter’s Guide which you can download on chalicepress.com. Brian latest book, which we will talk about more today, is called The Great Spiritual Migration. I kept the book jacket just for our conversation, but now I am going to throw it away because it just gets in the way. Brian, is also an influential speaker, at conferences throughout the world, and has mentored countless pastors, church planters and bloggers. Brian is with the kids today called “kind of a big deal”, but you wouldn’t know it, because one of the best things about Brian is his kindness and his humility. So, Brian, it is an honor to have you here. Thank you for talking with us today about The Great Spiritual Migration and about politics. Before we get into our discussions, I want people to know in the chat room is Suzanne my colleague here at Raven. She is in the chat room. She will be monitoring it and coming in when she has questions or comments to ask.. Thank you for doing that Suzanne.
Brian, thank you for another excellent book, timely, as with all your books, you talked about serious topics and provide great information, but you also tell wonderful stories and have this refreshing sense of humor that runs throughout your books. And I want to get that humor first, because I feel like I need it in this stressful kind of crisis, political climate. I mean when you write about standing under a tree in an African zoo to avoid the rain, and discovering that it’s not rain falling on you, but fruit bats are pooping on you. My inner third grader thinks that just hilarious. So what is it about a sense of humor during these critical moments that is important, do you think?
BRIAN MCLAREN: First of all, during this election season imagery of fecal matter falling down from the sky, you know, that might have a special relevance. But putting that aside, we really do need a sense of humor at times like these. Obviously incredibly serious matters, matters of life and death on so many levels are being discussed. But then, you see the kind of cavalier attitude by people who are only motivated for their team to win and for the other team to lose. That deserves laughter, it deserves mockery, it deserves to distain. But also, sometimes, we also have almost rise to a higher level, have some faith that in the long run, the power of good and the power of love will win, which maybe helps us not take some of these temporary insanity quite so seriously.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Having a sense of humor is so important, I also hear people say, oh, I just don’t have a sense of humor. Is a sense of humor something you can work on, is it something you are just born with?
BRIAN MCLAREN: You know, it’s funny you said that because I married my wife, her name is Grace and Grace is an amazing wonderful person and my best friend, my compatriot through life and companion through life, but, man, she doesn’t get jokes. One of the funniest things in the world is to tell her a joke and watch how she doesn’t get it. I mean, she gets it, she just doesn’t think it’s funny. So, I do think there are some people who some of those genes just didn’t quite make it in their DNA splicing or something like that. But, I think of all of us have to have ways that we can de-intensify. I was a pastor for 24 years and I did a lot of marriage counseling. Now one of the things you find out in marriage counseling is that if people are excessively serious, they stay stuck. And there is some ability to sort of step back, have a laugh at yourself, not take yourself so seriously that makes it possible for us to move forward. And so, the ability to escape from excessive seriousness, I think, a paralyzing seriousness is tremendously important on personal levels and I think on political levels too. By the way, that’s one of the reasons why we, so many of us, are lamenting that Jon Stewart is not on the air with us these days. We are grateful for Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, and others who give us a chance, and Saturday Night Live, I think that give us a chance to laugh about and de-intensify the seriousness.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Yes, Jon Stewart did an excellent job of bringing humor to politics. Yeah, he is greatly missed, yeah. But let’s get into the seriousness of the situation, but not get paralyzed by it. Yeah, I like that line. So there is one particular passage in your book, that really points to the dire moment in human history. You write that, “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 need 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.” I mean, that quote speaks to almost apocalyptic urgency in our times, how urgent do you think the moment is in human history?
BRIAN MCLAREN: Here is what’s, one of the things you have to laugh or cry at in this election, a lot of us think the environmental crisis is one of the most serious crises that the human race ever faced. It’s not our fault, but we inherited us, a way of powering our entire economy, our entire civilization that uses fossil fuels. And this in our live time, we in found out that these fossils fuels were throwing our climate out of balance. That we crossed key thresholds now that they are going to lead to the polar ice caps melting, things like the Gulf Stream being disrupted. We facing all kinds of huge challenges relating to climate. And, in this election, it’s hardly even mentioned Donald Trump doesn’t believe climate change is real. He says it’s a hoax invented by China to slow down the American economy.
But, obviously, all thinking people who pay attention today know that it is real. But here is where this becomes really interesting, for someone like me, a committed Christian activist. If we are going to change our relationship with the earth from what I call, in that quote you mentioned, an extractive economy. If we are going to change that, it’s going to require a change in values. And a change in values is something we normally look at religion to help us achieve. And this is where we need spiritual communities, faith communities to be mobilized to address the deeper value issues that underlie that dimension of our crisis.
I should probably add, Adam, that, obviously ,that’s not the only important issue. We have this deep-seated racial blindness among white people in our country. We have white privilege and white supremacy,encoded in our system and we really need to address it. And, again, this is a matter of great importance because an unjust and unsustainable society is going to have to face the consequences for its wrongdoing. So, you put all of these things together and you see, this is a time when people of faith and people of moral conscience, they can’t just get lulled to sleep by the media circus that this election has been.
ADAM ERICKSEN: You are a great model of someone who has these conversations with people, with whom we disagree. You bring up Trump, as being a climate change denier. I have and am sure people listening have people in their family who deny climate change too. I just had a conversation with somebody in my family and I was like kind of dumbfounded. Like, as you say, if you look at the evidence, it’s there. But I didn’t know how to respond to this person in my family, in part, because I wanted to keep the peace. But, also, how do you have these conversations with people, not just like the abstract Donald Trump out there, but the people that are close to you, in our family, people that we love?
BRIAN MCLAREN: You know, the first thing I have learned is… here is where a little bit of humor and lightheartedness can come in and be helpful. So if I were to be every time respond to a relative or neighbor, and it happens where I live quite often, who doesn’t believe in climate change, I might just sort of put a smile on my face, sit it back and say, you know wow, I see that differently. In other words, short of saying: you are wrong, what’s wrong with you, don’t you know believe in science, you know getting into a kind of attack. When you attack people it makes them feel defensive, and I think a kinder and, in the long run, a more effective way to bring about change, is to make what I call a powerful non-directive statement. In other words, I am not telling you what to do, and I am doing nothing regarding it, I am simply defining myself. Wow, I see that differently now.
Having a bald head really helps, you know, to make the point there. But, you know, just to define myself, and then, very often, people say, what do you mean and I will then say, you know, I don’t really need to go into it, I just need you to know, I see that very, very differently. And if they are really interested, I might say well, you know, ask me about it next week or something and I might be glad to talk about it, because I don’t want to get into an argument right now. You see, the ability to differ without having to persuade you that am right is a tremendous gift that we can give to people and so that’s one thing I will say.
I will tell you another thing, Adam, especially in this issue of climate change, I am involved with a wonderful organization called ecoAmerica and they have a special division of what they do, related faith called Blessed Tomorrow. They have actually done quite a little bit of research on what helps climate change deniers to change. And one of the things that research tells us is that, if you say to a person, if you give them ten reasons why they should accept the validity of climate change, there is something in human brain that’s called complexity bias. If I have a simple lie and you offer me a complex truth, complexity bias will make me emotionally prefer my simple lie to your complex truth. So what that would mean then, is the smartest thing we can do, is just give one or two very simple facts that wouldn’t complexify the person’s life and just lets them know that there is another way to see that.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Reminds me, and I know you read this book too by Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind which talks about this quite a bit. Let’s get into the new kind of Christian faith that’s in that quote. You stated Christians need to migrate in three primary ways. So let’s take those three ways one by one. First, you said that we need to migrate from a system of correct belief to loving, compassionate ways of life. So like the first question that comes to my mind is what are the dangers of belief when it comes to loving others and also, I don’t have the book jacket for this, Why did Jesus, Moses, Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road’, is this refreshing book about beliefs. So it’s not you wanting to do away with beliefs, but move them a kind of in a different direction to loving others in a better way?
BRIAN MCLAREN: Yeah. Look, if John Calvin were my lord and savior or St. Thomas Aquinas was the Messiah, it might be different. But if we’re in a religion that purports to follow Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus’ focus is pretty hard to disagree with. Jesus’ focus was not on saying we got a system of belief called Judaism, let’s throw it out and we are going to bring a new system of beliefs that we are going to name after me and a new religion called Christianity. That’s just not what Jesus does. What Jesus does is proposes to people that there is a new way of life that’s possible and that people need to change their way of thinking to embrace that new way of life. That’s what that word ‘repent’ means. And the word follow me suggests that he setting an example, that he is inviting us to observe and imitate, that’s what that word follow really means. It means a positive kind of imitation. And when he is asked what that way of life is about, what’s the greatest commandment, what’s the prime moral directive. Jesus says, not perfect your system of beliefs and then everything will logically flow from there, but rather he says loves and he does something very profound and very powerful. He says, not just have the right ideas about God, the right conceptions of God, He says love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. So interestingly love is really at the core . And then what He does, He says and the second commandment, in other words you can’t just get away with loving God, you also have to love your neighbor as you love yourself. And to say the second is like it, is a way of saying, the second is equal in importance, the second is inseparable from the first.
So what Jesus does forever for people who are serious about following him is he links the love of neighbor with the love of God. And forecloses on the possibility of claiming that you love God while you don’t love your neighbor. That is a way of life issue, a way of life centered in love. And in the book, I talk about it as love for neighbor, love for self, because if you love your neighbor as yourself, we have to have the proper self-love, love neighbor, love self, I think you have to love the earth, because neighbor and self will depend on the earth. In that context, when you speak of loving God, I think it’s very different to love God and in the context of a way of life centered in love than it is, you know, just some kind of set of beliefs.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Reminds me of that passage in 1 John that says “those who say they love God but don’t love their brother, sisters are liars”. But that’s true…
BRIAN MCLAREN: It makes it clear that, the writer of that epistle certainly got Jesus’ message and Paul’s message because Paul reiterate the same thing. And this is where, you know it’s been interesting, Adam, because of all the hate speech that comes up in this election season, a group of friends of mine and I started a little messaging campaign called we-stand-with-love. For people who are interested, you can just look up westandwithlove.org. And in the process of doing that, we found out there is a group of scholars and activists, you know these would be philosophers, political scientists, ethicists, who have started something called The Love Driven Politics Collective (LDPC). The idea is to say isn’t it about time, that we bring the idea of love to bear on politics, both our political and our political needs and that to me is tremendously exciting and that’s exactly what am advocating for in the first third of this new book.
ADAM ERICKSEN: One of my favorite passages in the book is where you talk about the nature of love, you state, “you can’t learn to love people without being around actual people including people who infuriate, exasperate, annoying, offend, frustrate, encroach upon, resist, reject, and hurt you, thus tempting you to not love them.” And I felt, Brian, you were talking to directly to me in a way, especially in this point, as you have been talking about American politics but, I’m living in this kind of tension. Because you also talked rightly a lot about the need to expose injustice. So when we have these kinds of conversation can you help guide me through this tension of loving all people especially as Jesus commands those we call our enemies and exposing the injustice that we think our enemies are causing?
BRIAN MCLAREN: Well, this is really, really important and I think as we take that question seriously, Adam, it’s going to resolve in a whole new kind of activism. Because a lot of our activism in recent years involved demonizing our opponents, ascribing the worst possible motivations to their actions. I have been on the receiving end of this. I remember a few years ago, a book was written by a conservative Christian critic of mine, a very loyal critic. He wrote a book that was largely about me with a rattlesnake on the cover. That usually is not a good sign. I was allowed to see an early draft of the book before it was published. And the author said something like, he disagrees with my interpretations of the Bible and he even disagrees with the way I interpret the Bible. The truth isI disagree with him on both counts as well. But what he said is “it’s obvious McLaren hates the Bible”.
Look, that’s just not true. I love, I respect the Bible. I have devoted my life in many ways to understanding and communicating its message. So it’s just not true to say I hate the Bible, but it’s very tempting. It’s very tempting when we disagree with someone to try to put all their motives, to put the worst thing we possibly can on their motives. What’s would happen if we did the opposite? What would happen if we try to ascribe the best motive to the people we disagree with? We give them every benefit of the doubt we can, and in that spirit, we disagree? I think it might take a little longer, but it will produce fewer unintended negative consequences along the way. This is part of what’s so disturbing in this political campaign, when in your attempt to win; you actually poison the whole system. You make it harder for anybody to govern after the election is over. And we do something similar in our activists’ work, we have to find a way to even protest and disagree in a spirit of love.
ADAM ERICKSEN: One of the parts about the book that also really appreciate is where you talked about criticism and what you have learned about people who criticize you and can learn about yourself from those kinds of criticisms. Can you talk about that a little bit because criticisms is really hard to take and perhaps really helpful ways doing that?
BRIAN MCLAREN: First of all, if we are motivated by love to stand against injustice, which I think we will be. I think Cornel West tells the truth when he said that, “justice is what love looks like in public”. So when we are motivated by love, we stand up against injustice. It means we have to confront ideas, we have to confront systems, sometimes we even have to confront people who abuse their power. And sometimes we have to do that by name, very directly. When we do that, there will always be blowback, there will always be criticism. Let’s put it this way, very few human beings in history have admitted they were wrong without a fight. Very few human beings in history have given up power without a struggle. Our egos, they have that fight or flight response, so they got to punch back when they are punched. And this is why the message of Jesus is such a powerful message out of the mess we are in. He is inviting us to learn, to turn the other cheek, which is act of courageous and confidence resistance, rather than revenge, punch back, or flee, you know, run and hide. So all that’s to say that criticism is going to happen, and if we aren’t careful, our response to criticisms will discredit us far more than the criticism did. And that’s why I think there is a kind of spiritual practice that is necessary for us to learn how to handle criticism graciously and not get caught in a kind of visceral cycle of reaction.
ADAM ERICKSEN: That’s really helpful. The second migration that you talk about is from a violent and exclusive view of God to a reconciling and harmonizing view of God. How has our violent and exclusive view of God led to such destruction?
BRIAN MCLAREN: One of the recent things that happened in anthropology of religious evolution is that we found a way, to help religions create an ‘us’ that is very strong. We all pray to the same God, if we all use the same language for the God, we all follow the same rituals when we are referring to God that creates a very strong sense of ‘us.’ But, then, either intentionally or unintentionally, anyone who is outside our little circle of us is seen as them, as other, as dangerous, as less than. We are clean, they are unclean. We are saved, they are unsaved. We are orthodox, they are unorthodox. That “un-ing” or that “other-ing” is a form of dehumanizing. And ultimately, if you reduce people to make them less than… I just was reading in it this currently political discourse somebody was referring to immigrants as cockroaches, which is classic language which was used in the Rwanda genocide. This is in the United States, someone is referring to immigrants as cockroaches. But then, if they are just insects, what’s the problem with stepping them out or gassing them? You understand how that language has exclusively evoked some of the worst moments of human history.
So, this tendency of dehumanizing, it’s a byproduct of creating a very strong sense of belonging among the “in” group of us. This is a deep part of religion, as it has been, and, I think, to use the language am comfortable with, I will say, the spirit of God is calling us to open our circle of us as big as all of humanity, to say all of human beings are part of that us. I think even larger all of life in this whole, beautiful, fragile planet that’s God’s creation becomes one big beautiful us.
ADAM ERICKSEN: It reminds me of you talk about the understanding of God, moving like from God 1.0 to 2.0, to 3.0 to 4.0 to 5.0. I found that’s really helpful because a lot of times when you make those kinds of move, it can feel like other people are stuck back in God 1.0 and went to so much further ahead, the God 5.0 or 4.0, or whatever. But you have these beautiful ways of saying no, we need to incorporate of all of these God 1.0 to God 5.0, we need to incorporate them together include and expand all of them, which was really helpful. But if you go from God 1.0 to kind of seeing God as parent when we were in our infancy and God is just supposed to lead all of us and all our needs. To God 5.0 which extends from this we mentality of just us and them to a we of everyone is included. I kept thinking how important that is to politics and how a God 5.0 can help us move from something like a politics 1.0 to a politics of 5.0?
BRIAN MCLAREN: Exactly right and, in a sense, what we are seeing, I think, is this is the trajectory of human development, it’s the trajectory in the Bible, I think. Egotism, narcissism, pure selfishness to them saying well, no, I have to be concerned about my family, you know a larger circle; oh no, I also have to be concerned about my tribe or my nation; oh no, I have to be concerned about even larger circle of all humanity. Oh gosh, I also have to be even concerned about the soil, and the bees, and the trees, and the climate, and the sea. You know all of this is part of one interdependent community and ecosystem that is all empowered by the love of the creator. To me that’s a deeply spiritual way of looking at life and it’s the trajectory to which we call. We often get stuck on various of stages on the way there. So you know, if I am at that very narcissistic stage, any time you get in my way, you are my enemy. It’s me versus you at every moment. But no, I think, in one place in the New Testament, the apostle Paul refers to the gospel or the essential message as the ministry of reconciliation, helping us bring people together in a larger whole.
SUZANNE ROSS: Adam and Brian, I have a couple of questions from the chat room, it might be good point to bring it in, if I could. Brian, Lacy from San Diego has a question about the evangelical community. Particularly questions about the dealing with racial issues among evangelicals and whether she saw signs in the past and currently of authentic efforts to expand, if you will ,the circle of inclusion. But is wondering if with Trump, do you feel Brian, that there is a retreat from that good work?
BRIAN MCLAREN: I think there is a schism forming in evangelicalism right now. And I think it’s not simply old versus young, but I think the younger and more educated evangelicals are deeply disturbed by the nativism, and white privilege, and white supremacy that Trump seems to send out little signals about reinforcing. Through organizations like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and good work of people like Jim Wallis and Sojourners, and Tony Evans, sort of mainstream evangelicals, who have tried to sensitize evangelicals to the latent racism that’s so deeply embedded in all of white culture, including white Christianity.
Now, here is the other group that is retrenching. It’s a strange kind of deal that’s been made but, somehow older white evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr. and others have managed to do is -pardon the pun- they managed to say that outlawing abortion trumps every other concern. So it doesn’t matter if you are concerned about race, it doesn’t matter if you are concerned about the environment, it doesn’t matter if you are concerned about how women are treated, the only thing that matters is getting Supreme Court justices who will outlaw abortion. Now, there are deep ironies about that project, we can talk about it if you like. But what’s it’s done is, it’s made all the progress some people has been making, I think, for example, of brilliant younger African American evangelical like Lisa Sharon Harper, who’s been doing great writing and speaking on the subject. A rilliant younger evangelicals like Mark Charles, who is a Navaho, Native American, who has been speaking out about how Christianity was used to legitimize land theft and genocide against the native peoples here. These are great strides of progress and then all of that just gets washed away and pushed to the side by this promise about Supreme Court justices. To me, that’s bad politics, it’s bad morality, it’s bad ethics, it’s bad citizenship, but it sure works for some people who like a very simple kind of a shortcut to the moral high ground.
SUZANNE ROSS: Well, that kind of leads into Tony’s question. Tony Bartlett from Syracuse, Brian, is asking about the political campaign, and if it’s so poisoned that maybe politics isn’t gonna solve this crisis. Is there a kind of response that is actually deeply characteristic of Christianity that knows how to respond to such a root crisis, which I think you are referring to these deeper cultural problems, or is it beyond help? Then he maybe give us a hint, for an answer. Tony says I am thinking of things like monasticism or the early Franciscan movement as maybe other courses.
BRIAN MCLAREN: So, Tony is … I’d love to hear what he has to say about this because I know he is very thoughtful on these matters. Here is the thing, you can’t give up on politics because what politics means is how we organize our public lives, how we organize the intersections of our lives, and our families with other families, and our state with other states; and our profession with other professions. As soon as we realize that there are boundaries where we have to negotiate across, we are dealing with politics. But, at the same time, we can never think that politics is the only ground where these battles are contested or these negotiations are worked out. And frankly, this is maybe the deepest indictment we have to give the American Christian community. As religious people have got more involved in the Republicans Party The Republican Party made a very concerted effort to blend in white evangelicals and white conservative Catholics. As they did this, political discourse became uglier. In other words, the role of religion did not lift up discourse, it made it easier to demonize people, and those demonizing tendencies of certain strains of religion then became more mainstream. In a way, it’s only in certain conservative religious communities where women are still treated, theologically justified that they can’t have equal rights to man. And it is no surprise then, that when those religious sensibilities enter the world of politics, the progress of women towards equality is resisted.
But there is the thing, you can’t give up on religion either, because religion is how we organize our negotiations with existence, our negotiations with life, and death, and values, this creation, and meaning. And so, when we see crises in politics and crises in religion, we have to engage more deeply with both. We can’t escape them. We are stuck with them as long as we are alive. But that to me is why I am passionate about in this book, The Great Spiritual Migration, and the work of my life. I think we have to dedicate ourselves more energetically and creatively than ever to a progressive and to humane spiritual Movement that will then influence business, and influence family life, influence arts and creativity, and influence politics, and influence economics. That’s where the engines of meaning some ways are built, in our spiritual lives, and then they can have enough influence on our cultural lives. Sorry to ramble along but it’s a great question.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Any more questions Suzanne or…? Okay, I think that’s it. So, Brian, you mentioned earlier that you love the Bible but it’s also clear in your book that you love Jesus. And Jesus, it seems to me, is the one who helped you move most especially from a violent view of God, you talk about God embodied in Jesus to be different than the violent, exclusive view God. Can you talk about more of about Jesus? And I have a follow-up question to that.
BRIAN MCLAREN: Sure, so interesting in this political campaign, it was interesting to watch Donald Trump say how he loves waterboarding, and he thinks we need I think his exact quote is “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding to get where we want to go”. Here is the irony. 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, which is a way of saying what they are doing is really wrong, they need to be forgiven for this, but I am not going to say, let’s go torture them back, or let’s get revenge. So the very essence of Jesus’ teaching, as well as the way he interacted with people, his lifestyle, as well his way at the moment of His death, it all embodies an understanding of God that is non-violence. And the Christian religion has not yet worked out whether we believe that God is indeed non-violence.
I advocate that it is time for us to grow up in this way, and it’s time for us to actually become more fully Christian by acknowledging the non-violence of God, the kindness of God, the compassion of God. Islam is going through this too. In Islam, one of the most beloved names of God is Allah, the compassionate, God the compassionate one. But yet, I don’t think in Islam there has been a way of dealing, with what we might call a Koranic texts of terror to be parallel to Biblical texts of terror. And so, I just think it’s time for religious communities to grow up, and that’s gonna mean developing a grown-up way of reading the Bible. So that we don’t carry around scriptures that depict God as violent, as being absolute and non-questioned, non-challengeable. That’s really important, you know, the people study brain science tell us that if you meditate on a compassionate understanding of God, you wire your brain in a more compassionate way. If you meditate on vengeful and vindictive idea of God, you wire your brain in that way as well. The irony is that we become more like our God, whether that God exists of not, we become more like our image of God. So, this to me is one of the things I love about Jesus, that the image is the God who calls us beyond our current level of violence to greater harmony and love.
ADAM ERICKSEN: That makes a lot of sense to me. I have a Moslem friend who says every chapter of the Koran starts with in the name of God the most compassionate, the most merciful. And he tell me that every time he buttons up his shirt, he says in the name of God the most compassionate, the most merciful. And it’s like something that he does throughout his day when he is doing normal mundane activities, he repeats this mantra. And yeah, he is very compassionate and merciful person. So that makes a lot of sense.
BRIAN MCLAREN: This to me is one of the great challenges at this juncture. And this election is holding up a mirror for us and helping us to see. And you know what’s ironic about this… you know,I have been dealing with this a long time and I remember decades ago, when the big issue was can women be ordained. I remember when I was an advocate for men and women being treated equally in all facets of life including religion. People tell me you are going to hell, you are going to burn in hell. It’s so ironic that this impulse that is built in people is that a violent God is going to torture you unless you agree with me. I just think we have to become more truly Christian in understanding that’s not what God is like and neither should that be what we are like.
ADAM ERICKSEN: You have a recent article out in OnFaith which relates to this Jesus issues. It’s titled “Our Evangelicals Come to Jesus moment, Let’s Hope So”. In that white evangelical Christian are Donald Trump’s most dependable base. You write “they are so intoxicated by the cocktail of fear, winning, scapegoating, simple words and big un-keep-able promises. They sideline the golden rule and the great commandment”. And when we were talking with our historians, Bob Ericksen, and he said the same thing happened in Nazi Germany. This kind of sidelining the golden rule and great commandment for a greater Germany. I don’t want to like start comparing Hitler and Trump. It’s not fair to what happened in Nazi Germany. But you get the same, they point to the same evangelical support of people who don’t look very Christian. I am wondering if you can say something about that ?
BRIAN MCLAREN: Hitler never went around saying, elect me, and we’ll slaughter 6 million Jews. Right? He didn’t show his whole hand, he didn’t show what he is planning to do. So, I think, and this is true of many, many politicians, we have to take the signs they give us to tell us what their values system is, the signs they give us that tell us who they are, and then we have to say, if the person gets more power, we should expect to see a lot more of that. And look, if you or I or even Suzanne were running for president, we all have our flaws, and those flaws could be very deeply exaggerated if we got more power. Certainly true of Hilary Clinton, if we read behind the email scandal, for example, is a desire for secrecy. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hilary is elected, we will see problems of secrecy. She’s given us signs of that. but on the other and, when I compare those dangers to the dangers of the guy who is talking about locking up his political opponents and all the rest. By gosh, when you reward someone who gives those signs with more power, you shouldn’t be surprised at what you got as a result. And that’s why, many of us are working very, very hard to encourage people not to make that mistake.
ADAM ERICKSEN: I have a parishioner who was listening to NPR in a debate between a megachurch pastor and an evangelical professor. And the megachurch pastor said that he doesn’t want anybody who look like Jesus to be the president and the government is supposed to be a strong man to protect its citizens against evildoers. When I am looking for somebody who is going to exterminate ISIS, I don’t care about candidate’s tone or vocabulary, I want the meanest, toughest, son of you know what, I can find. And I believe that’s biblical. And this gets back to the whole transformation of our understanding of God from violent to non-violent and also what to do about organizations like ISIS. I mean Hilary Clinton wants to destroy ISIS too, but she got out of it. So what are do about, evil in our world?
BRIAN MCLAREN: Look, I want to talk about ISIS in a minute. I first wanna to say that megachurch pastor you quoted has no idea how foolish he is, has no idea how dangerous that use of the word biblical is. Look, genocide is in the Bible. In the middle third of my book, I talk about this in some detail. People can use the word biblical, their Bible becomes like a loaded gun and theology becomes like a hand grenade and all they need to do this is pull the pin. So, talk about evil. There is some really evil stuff can be hidden in the word like biblical and we better get a lot more sophisticated about that. We’ve done so much damage already, it’s time for us to get wise about our own past. But, when you talk about ISIS, look, nobody has an easy answer for this.
My Buddhist friends have taught me something that I think it’s there is a lot of wisdom to. There is a principle in Buddhism called the law of no independent origination. What that means is that something cannot come into existence unless the conditions are right to bring it into existence. And when the conditions are right, that thing will be brought into existence. Well, something like ISIS comes about through certain conditions. And if we don’t want it 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. Now I think, Buddhists express that in a very succinct and powerful way, I don’t think that idea is missing from the Bible. In the Bible it’s called wisdom and wisdom recognizes that if you set up a series of causes, if sow certain seeds, you will reap the consequences.
So if we want peace in the Middle East, then we have to have a greater sense of collaboration around the world to help create the conditions that will bring peace there. And wouldn’t it be interesting if what the spirit of God, I am speaking as a Christian and that’s the language that makes sense to me and it’s what I see happening in the world, if the spirit of God is brought us to a place where Christians and Muslims the two largest religions in the world, 33% and 24% of the world’s population, so well over the half the world ‘s population. What if we are in a place where those two religions actually need to start working together to create the conditions for peace, starting in the Middle East, but of course spread around the world. Look, it’s either that or it’s like what megachurch pastor said that we want to go back to the middle ages, to the era of strongman, warlords, and so on. And this is where I just wish that we had a lot more pastors and preachers out there who are calling us forward who are having a courageous moral voice, beckoning us on what I call a spiritual migration. Calling us to move forward.
ADAM ERICKSEN: That gets to the third migration that I want to talk with you about, which is about evangelism and mission. Like most mainline Christians, when I hear these words I get shiverish but you have reframed it for me helpful way. Can you talk about the importance of evangelism and mission?
BRIAN MCLAREN: Sure, the third section of the book is where I talk about movement dynamics and I think that it’s time for Christian theology and other theological systems, as well, but for Christian theology to start thinking about our work as movement work rather than just institutional maintenance. So, evangelism means the spreading of good news. You know what that’s meant for a lot of people is going towards the door, handing out tracts, and saying you going to hell unless you join my religion, and then you go to heaven. That’s not what am talking about. But if I have good news to share, that good news is that God’s inviting us all into reconciliation, that the way of life that makes the most sense is the way of love.
If I have that good news and all people are being invited into a way of life, which is a way of love, seeking the common good, I want to share that good news with everybody I can. If they want to change religions, that’s fine, but, in many ways, I would rather than stay as an agent of that love in their religion, whatever it might be. So that’s good news that I want to share and another word for it is mobilization. Mobilize the people to be spiritual activists or contemplative activists, working for the common good. My gosh, what an exciting mission that is. I know that the traditional term of evangelism and mission have a checkered history and if people don’t want to use those words, I would push them to, but that’s what why I am using those words.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Makes great sense to me. Suzanne, do you want to get Tony’s last question in here?
SUZANNE ROSS: Yes, I would thanks, Adam. Brian, Tony says you are an apostle of a sea change in Christianity. Have you seen evidence of this actually happening apart from yourself?
BRIAN MCLAREN: It reminds me of one of my mentors, who said speaking of mission, his mission was to reach Christians for Christ beginning with himself. Sometimes, beginning with ourselves is a big enough challenge. But here is what I would say, I would say, there are signs of hope, everywhere I go, people come up to me say they get it, this is what they care about. I keep seeing creative young leaders starting new faith communities or people taking leadership in existing faith communities and leading it in these positive directions. But here is the thing, I think a whole lot of us want to say oh good, the movement that we need is coming, we can all relax and watch another TV show and have another drink. I don’t think that’s the case. I think the signs of hope we see require each of us to become a spiritual activist and to throw our lot in for these things to become real and on the scale that we need them to be. I want to say that I been in something like 40, between 40 and 50 countries, in the last fifteen years. All around the world, I see very promising signs of this happening. I guess the language of Jesus makes a lot of sense. It just takes a tiny bit of this yeast to make the bread rise and I think there is certainly enough yeast out there for that to happen.
ADAM ERICKSEN: It reminds me of one of the things I really love about The Great Spiritual Migration is you tell this stories of good people, people doing good things in the world. Is so easy, especially, I don’t wanna blame the media, but so often we get negative stories about how the world is coming to an end, and it’s just going awful. But you point us to the fact there are good things happening in the world. And maybe to end, can you tell us about one of those stories, particularly one that gave me hope about Dieter Zander?
BRIAN MCLAREN: Well, at the end of the book with Dieter’s permission I told you Dieter’s story. Dieter was kind of a famous Christian celebrity, megachurch pastor, an incredibly gifted guy, just a really wonderful guy. Dieter and I became friends back in 1998, I think it was. After rising to some level of celebrity status in the Christian community, at a relatively young age, I’ve forgotten exactly his age, but I’m thinking of maybe early to mid-40’s, in his sleep one night, Dieter had a stroke. He lost the ability to speak and severe limitations came from that stroke. But over the following years, a couple of things happened. One is that a friend of his knew he was a creative guy, he’s been a great musician, songwriter, as well as a gifted speaker, someone said, well he can’t use words now in the way he did before, but they gave him a camera. And he… immediately, the use of the camera became his creative outlet. And so that kind of reawakened, gave him some channel for expressing his creativity. And gradually, with a lot of work, he got some speaking ability back, but because of what he had had, and what he lost, and what he made of what was left, he has really deepened his spiritual life. Dieter said two things last time we were together. He said one of the outcomes of the stroke is that he is learning to play with God. In other words, it’s not about all this pressure, ‘I’ve got to do all this stuff’ but there is just this sense of I am just a human being and I wanna be at play with God.
The second he said, was that he realized now that everything is holy, all of life is holy and of great spiritual value, and I wanted to end the book with Dieter’s story because I think it creates a kind of spiritual vision that we need to be our spiritual activist over the long haul in difficult times like these. We need to have some sense of rootedness that we are working together in a spirit that is bigger than any one of us. And that, the creation itself is so worth the struggle that to me has been one of the many great gifts that D Dieter has given me.
SUZANNE ROSS: And Brian that might be partial answer to this last question. Jim from Lake Oswego, Orgon is asking about fear and see that as a motivator for a lot of behavior, now either conscious or sub-conscious. And I realized I am asking myself recently what do I fear, and I thought I don’t fear anything and then I thought about it or a while, and the list got really long. But that’s an aside for me. But Jim says, I see fear driving the list and policies do you have any recommendations for strategy for countering such fear?
BRIAN MCLAREN: This is a great question. Look, fear is one of our motivators, and the problem is if we are over motivated by fear, we get into a lot of trouble which is why one of most common statements in the Bible is “Fear not”. I think what we have to do is allow foresight about potential negative consequences to be a factor in our decision making, that’s the reasonable side of fear. But to not let this kind of primitive flight/fight response that fear can kick us into to dominate. In the book of Proverbs in the Bible, it constantly says we have to dig down, we have to dig deep for wisdom, wisdom is not on the surface, wisdom is deeper. And what I will say is when we start feeling fear, or when we see politicians using a lot of fear to try to get us on their side, in some way, they are asking us, be afraid, trust me, and stop thinking for yourselves. And I think what we have to do at that point is to say no, I am not going to surrender my wisdom to somebody else, I am not going to outsource my conscience, I am going to go more deep, deeper than ever, I am going to go deeper with people I trust, and we’re not going to let fear become the drug that puts us in a kind of trance to take us to dangerous places.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Brian, that is a great way to end our chat. Thank you for being with us and spending this hour with us.
BRIAN MCLAREN: I really appreciate what you guys are doing, keep up the good work with Raven Foundation. And to everybody that’s been part of this, let’s all of us not be afraid to speak up. You’ve got online chats, but we also have lots of in real live chats with our relatives, with our neighbors and our co-workers, let’s keep these conversations going .
ADAM ERICKSEN: Yes, definitely. Here is the Raven Foundation and the Raven Review, our tagline is change your view, change the world. And you have certainly changed our view today, so thank you for that. You can keep up with Brian on his website, brianmcclaren.net, and on his Facebook and Twitter feeds. Anywhere else you want to send people to Brian?
BRIAN MCLAREN: No, that’s a good start right there.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Awesome. Thanks to everyone who joined us for the chat with your comments and questions. Next Friday, October 28, we will talk with Asma Afsaruddin about debunking the myth about Islam and violence. The following Thursday, November 23rd, we will talk with Hanna Mäkelä about truth, lies, and political scapegoating. For more information, please check out the Raven Foundation website, the Raven Foundation Facebook page. Thank you, everyone and we hope to see you next week.
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