- Lord, Save Us From Your Followers: Filmmaker Dan Merchant, producer and director of the film of this name, was the guest speaker for this year's Northwest Yearly Meeting pastors' conference.
As part of his presentations, we saw the full movie, which presents, by turns, both the ugly and hateful face of the contemporary evangelical church in the USA, and its most extraordinarily gracious face. Dan doesn't shield the viewer from full-on exposure to our reputation among many in today's America--judgmental, hypocritical, vindictive, shallow. Interestingly, he contrasts these indictments (gleaned from street interviews as well as TV samplings) with what these same people say about Jesus, who enjoys almost uniform approval from this skeptical public. Why the gap?
In the film, one of Dan's street-interview devices is wearing white overalls covered with bumper stickers and asking people-in-the-street for their reactions. He also presents a game show, "Culture Wars"; includes a Michael Moore-like segment proposing to change the name of St. Paul, Minnesota, to something less religiously offensive; and, adapting an idea used at Reed College, sets up a confession booth at a Pride Northwest festival in which he confesses TO gays and lesbians, asking forgiveness for Christian hatefulness. He interviews such observers as Tony Campolo, John Perkins, Tom Krattenmaker (USA Today), former senator Rick Santorum, and almost senator Al Franken. But nothing in the film portrays the polarized extremes as vividly as the confrontations between Ron Luce's Battlecry demonstrations and the counterdemonstrators in front of San Francisco's City Hall. Dan Merchant's subsequent teasing out of the human realities of those confrontations is a theme throughout the movie--and beyond, as Dan told us about his ongoing friendship with Sister Mary Timothy of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
In our discussion with Dan Merchant and each other, Friends had a tender discussion of the nature of grace, of "loving but not condoning," and of the priority of relationship. It just would not work to tear bits of that discussion out of context and report them here, but I can pretty well guarantee that any group willing to grapple with this film thoughtfully will have an equally valuable conversation.
Shortly after the pastors' conference ended, Gregg Lamm let us know that a national distribution contract for the film--to get it beyond the church and college circuit and into commercial theaters--was perhaps on the edge of being concluded.
- One of the participants at the conference was Mike Berry, pastor at CrossRhythm Church, Annapolis, Maryland. Among many other interesting things, Mike told an amazing story of the legacy of slavery on Annapolis, and its effects on the spiritual vitality of the area. He went on to describe his and the church's participation in an act of reconciliation between the descendants of slaves and the descendants of the slaveowners and their allies. For video clips of this story, see the "Foundation for Transformation" videos here.
- Many of the pastors' conference attenders had read Gregory Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, in preparation for the book discussion scheduled for day two of the conference. I had not read the book, but remembered the coverage Greg Boyd got in the mainstream media when, as the evangelical pastor of Woodland Hills Church in Minnesota, USA, he questioned the alignment of conservative Christianity with nationalist politics. (See this interview.) This alignment is sometimes present among evangelical Friends, including Northwest Yearly Meeting, so I was impressed by the seriousness, depth and forbearance of the discussion led by Newberg Friends pastor Gregg Koskela.
Do you know any women church planters?
"Torture is a moral issue." -- Friends Committee on National Legislation. -- National Religious Campaign against Torture..
A different kind of conference: QuakerSpring. This year it's June 9-14, 2009, Barnesville, Ohio, USA.
George Fox and a Great Basketball Team to Be Gathered.
After that wonderful conference at Twin Rocks, I'm looking for something bluesy but with more than usual grace. Jean-Rene's beautiful version of "Twelve Gates to the City" qualifies: