Category Archives: Culture

Taking a Hard-Line Stance on Abortion

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This weekend I attended the Women’s March in Washington, DC. It was an incredible experience to be surrounded by so many people passionately expressing their beliefs in a whole host of causes, and I was proud to be included in what I know deep my bones will be regarded as a historic event in the years to come.

The March in DC was largely touted as a pro-choice event. Of course pro-lifers were welcome to march, but they were not represented among the list of speakers for the pre-march rally, and pro-life organizations were not allowed to be listed as partners on the official Women’s March website. Many of the signs at the March proclaimed pro-choice messages that largely pertained to the idea that women ought to have the right to make their own choices when it comes to reproductive health.

All of this has inspired me to share my own complicated feelings about abortion, since to be honest I took issue with many of the pro-choice signs I saw. The more I consider this controversial issue, the more I realize how terribly complicated it is, and how difficult it is to develop a view on abortion that is morally consistent.

Growing up as a conservative Christian, abortion was one of those many issues in which there is only one “godly” position to take: it is nothing less than murder, and as a Christian I am obligated to support legislation that would make abortion illegal, since a fetus is a human being entitled to all the same rights that an infant, child, or adult would have.

I first started to question this belief when I stumbled across the blog of Samantha Field. She wrote a six part blog series called the Ordeal of the Bitter Water, and at the time I stumbled across it I believed in the divine inspiration of the Bible enough that if the Bible taught certain things, I believed that teaching should hold true in my life in some form. So when I learned God mandated abortion among the ancient Israelites as a form of punishment for an unfaithful wife, I was shocked. Reading about this caused my first tailspin into doubt, because I realized that the Bible is more complicated than I thought when it comes to scriptures about abortion. If God mandated abortion in ancient Israel, how could I say that my pro-life stance is in line with God’s will? If God could justify abortion, then why shouldn’t I?

The more I learned, the more confused I became. At first I thought it was pretty clear that the root issue that determines whether a person is pro-choice or pro-life is the personhood of the fetus. After all, if you believe a fetus is a human being, you can’t really regard abortion as anything less than murder.

I have a few problems with this, though. The first is that natural abortion – a.k.a. miscarriage – happens all the time. It is a natural part of the reproductive system. The reason this complicates things is this: who gets to decide whether a woman has had a self-induced abortion or a miscarriage? There have been women who have been wrongfully incarcerated for as many as 30 years in prison when their miscarriage was determined in court to be an abortion. This is a travesty, and it is an injustice someone who is pro-life will need to come to terms with if they believe abortion should be criminalized.

That is the problem with taking a hard line on treating a fetus as a human being. One cannot regard a fetus the same way that they would an infant because that fetus is growing inside a woman who also has rights. That is not a nuance I have ever seen in a pro-life stance, and it’s because they can’t take that stance; you have no choice but to place the rights of a fetus over the rights of its mother if you end goal is making abortion illegal. And that is a big problem.

The second problem I have with the pro-life stance is that it takes for granted that life begins at conception. This is also illogical when you really think it through. From what I understand, the most widely accepted definition of cconception is when an egg becomes fertilized by a sperm. If you are hard-line pro life, it is from that moment on that abortion becomes murder. Yet, women naturally dispel approximately 80% of these fertilized eggs before they plant on the uterine wall. How can one possibly say that a fertilized egg that is naturally dispelled suddenly becomes murder when it is expelled through medical means? I would never be able to wrap my head around charging a woman with murder for having such a procedure done, when it is one that her own body does naturally. Yet that is what you must do if you believe a zygote ought to be endowed with the inalienable rights of a human being who has been born.

Thirdly, I cannot accept the pro-life stance because it deprives women of choice. For a long time I never fully understood the gravity of this. I bought into the conservative lie that women always have abortions for selfish reasons; they are not responsible enough to be abstinent, and they don’t want the responsibility that comes with having a baby were the two biggest reasons I heard for why women have abortions.

This is not true. There are many cases in which a pregnancy is not viable, and the woman must have an abortion to save her own life, or cases when the pregnancy is not viable. When I reach of one such case, it just about broke my heart. This woman named Karen conceived, and she and her husband were joyful with anticipation. They found out she was a girl, and they named her Evelyn. Twenty weeks into her pregnancy, Karen discovered that her unborn daughter had a disease called skeletal dysplasia. Not only was the disease lethal, Evelyn was also in terrible pain. Karen and her husband had a choice to make: carry the baby to term with excruciating pain and the very small chance that she may live up to a few hours, or terminate the pregnancy and spare Evelyn that pain as well as lower the health risks to Karen.

This couple chose abortion. In my mind, there is no argument one could make in which the government would be justified in charging Karen with murder for aborting her child. She wanted this child, she was this child’s mother. By choosing abortion, she believed that she was making the best possible choice available not only for herself, but for Evelyn as well. It was her right as a potential parent to make that choice, and no one – especially not the faceless legal system – has any right to make that choice for her.

I chose this story as the last and biggest problem I have with the pro-life stance because it also highlights the problem I have with the pro-choice stance as well. Often, among those who are pro-choice, I see the unborn child stripped of all humanity; it is a collection of cells, it is a developing fetus; it is not a human being. It is almost as if an unborn child is not human at all – just a thing developing in a woman’s womb – until that child is born. Women should feel empowered about abortion; they should not feel guilt, or angst, or have any negative emotions.

This is troublesome to me because like it or not, a fetus developing in a womb is potential human life. That is something that should be taken seriously, because every single human being on the planet was once a developing fetus. They are so much more than a collection of cells, and I think the idea of abortion on demand undermines the sacredness of that potential life.

A world in which abortion is freely accessible to anyone, anywhere, for any reason is a world that is, in my opinion, freakishly unbalanced. Just as the pro-life stance does not value the woman enough, the pro-choice stance does not value the unborn child enough. Especially when I see those rare few stories of late-term abortions, I am horrified that we have compartmentalized humanity so much that we justify ending the life of an unborn baby as old 7 months.

In many cases, I can see why women might believe abortion is the best choice available for themselves. But on the other side of the coin, I can’t help but wonder if having an abortion chips away at the heart of the woman. After all, abortion is not a routine medical procedure no different than a minor surgery; it is the end of what would otherwise one day grow up into a boy or a girl as beautiful and unique and full of personality as you and I are. It is no small thing to make that choice, and I believe that the psychological damage caused by abortion is often underestimated among those who are pro-choice.

As I said in the beginning of this post, this is no easy issue to navigate; it is very complicated and the more I think about what is at stake for both sides, the more I realize that neither really has an answer that would grant autonomy to a human being because before a child is born, that unborn child and its mother are one. To argue for the rights of the unborn baby denies the rights of the mother, and to argue for the rights of the mother denies the rights of the unborn baby. And what is more, the concerns that both sides of this issue have are valid and worth considering.

Typically when one writes a post like this and hashes out the “for” and “against”  reasoning behind an issue like this, they conclude with taking a stand one way or the other. But for all the reasons stated above, I truly can’t. What I can say with conviction is that I believe with all my heart in minimizing abortions. At least half of abortions occur because the woman cannot financially afford a child, did not have access to affordable birth control, or is too young to be ready for motherhood. Under the Obama administration over the last eight years, abortions have reduced to an all-time low in this nation precisely because the pressures of all the above factors were alleviated.

So if there is any stance that I have on abortion, it is this: for the sake of women everywhere, and also for the sake of unborn children everywhere, let’s make it our primary goal to reduce abortion by improving the condition of the pregnant woman instead of taking hard-line stances that dehumanize mother or child. Investing our efforts in that cause will achieve a result that everyone can get behind.

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Putting Away Our Swords

Over the last few days, I’ve been mulling further over everything I was taught at the retreat last weekend. One of the recurring themes seemed to be standing up for our beliefs, and being vocal about defending the truth in the Bible. We talked about our roots as a Christian nation, and how much more moral our society was fifty years ago, and how we must hearken back to those days to recapture the values that the Bible champions.

Of course I have my own misgivings about that language, but what I want to write about today is the tendency we as Christians have to take matters into our own hands. We fret and worry about how degenerate our nation has become, and how we must rally to restore values that have changed in our culture. And we guilt-trip each other with the responsibility of witnessing: “What if this person dies in a car crash on their way home from work today, and you missed the only opportunity you’ll ever have to show them Jesus and save them from eternal damnation?”

I’ve been thinking about this tendency, and of all things, relating it to Peter’s actions in the Garden of Gethsemane right before Jesus was arrested. In Matthew 26:51-54, we read:

“And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. Forall who take the sword will perish by the sword.  Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

Now, this could quite possibly be an interpretive stretch, but I think you and I have a lot to learn from Peter here (we know this is Peter because of a similar passage in John). I don’t think Jesus is just chastising Peter for resorting to violence when his beloved Messiah is threatened. Jesus is reminding Peter that He is God, that he is capable of constructing events in the garden however he wishes, and that if Jesus is arrested it doesn’t have anything to do with God’s failure to protect him—or Peter’s failure to protect him—and everything to do with a larger plan, a larger story playing out that Peter can’t see in the moment.

I think that when many Christians talk about how we are responsible for telling as many people as we can about Jesus, when we talk about how we are responsible for imposing “biblical” (read: conservative) values on our culture, we are guilty of doing what Peter did in the Garden of Gethsemane. We are relying on our own strength, and our own supposed knowledge of what God’s will is, to bring about change and usher in what we think God desires of our lives and our nation.

But just think about it: Peter thought he was doing what was best. He was defending Jesus. He was standing up boldly and making a statement of devotion by cutting off that soldier’s ear; it was undoubtedly a very brave thing to do.

But that wasn’t the plan God had in store. God had a larger, more beautiful, more liberating plan for Jesus in that moment. He wasn’t supposed to be just another revolutionary, inspiring people to take up arms and fight for his defense. It was never God’s intention to call down angels to the rescue of his Son. Instead Jesus went away calmly with his captors and subjected himself to humiliation and torture and death.

He lived and trusted in God’s plan for his life, instead of walking through life as if everything depended on his own actions and words to usher in the Kingdom. So perhaps we ought to live like Jesus, and a little less like Peter. Perhaps we ought to remember that we are not responsible for how God works in the hearts of people to draw them to himself. That his plan so far beyond our own limited vision, just as it was in that garden.

God’s kingdom will come, and we must have faith in that. God’s plans are so much bigger than inspiring us to cut off the ears of soldiers in our defense of him. Maybe the best way forward is to obey Jesus’ words to Peter, put away our swords, and trust in God’s future as we grow and walk with Him.

A Struggle for Authenticity

So in case you haven’t noticed, I’m continuing to write very sporadically. I think it’s because right now I’m in something of a spiritual wasteland in which God feels quiet and distant and I feel very disconnected from my spiritual life. Several times now, I’ve sat at my computer and started at an empty blog draft screen for minutes before realizing I just don’t care to write about my meager and sputtering faith right now.

This past weekend, I went on a retreat with my young adult group. We spent an evening, a whole day, and a morning at a cabin in the woods, having fun and chatting and kayaking in between listening to a speaker from our church and discussing his sessions.

I felt as though everyone there grew, and learned, and found a gold mine of truth there. I did, too, in a way…a non-spiritual way. I enjoyed laughing and having fun conversations and spending a whole day kayaking on a lake. I learned how much I value relationships.

And if you had been at the retreat, I bet I could have convinced you that I had just as much a good time during the spiritual talks and the discussions we had about them afterward. I offered well-thought out input in the form of carefully worded responses, and I listened attentively during the sessions (though I admit  I may have scoffed my displeasure at a few things he said. Real mature, I know.).

But inside, I spent this past weekend coming to a terrible realization: I feel as though I’ve been living out a farce. That whole time we spent talking about the Bible and how to live as Christians, that whole time we spent sharing testimonies and exchanging Bible verses…that whole time, I feel as though so little of what I said was truly the genuine expression of my heart.

I realized for the first time how much of my life I spend in fear of judgment, in fear of how others will perceive me if I’m honest about where I am in my spiritual journey. Behind closed doors, inside the recesses of my heart, I hold all these convictions that I earnestly believe reflect the heart and will of God. Be radically inclusive; don’t alienate people. It’s okay if you don’t have the answers to life’s hardest questions; the Bible teaches us, but it is not the direct Word of God himself, and it is certainly not a simple, cut-and-dry road map. Gay people can love God and have faith that is as genuine as  a pastor’s.

These are the things I was thinking, the things I feared to say aloud. And I realized: authenticity is one of the scariest things imaginable. To lay yourself bare, to express the truth as you best understand it, is freaking hard.

So I stayed silent while the speaker spoke. I stayed silent while he talked about Sodom and Gomorrah and how homosexuality is one of the few sins God says he especially hates. I stayed silent while he talked about how the mark of a “solid” Christian is that you read you’ve said the Sinner’s Prayer, you read your Bible daily, and you witness to nonbelievers.

I stayed silent through this, and a lot of other teaching that I have found to be life-draining and oversimplified and alienating of other human beings. And I realized that I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to craft careful answers that I know won’t raise red flags, for the sake of convincing others that I’m right on the same page as everyone else. I don’t want to hide my beliefs about homosexuality, about the Bible, about the way that I often struggle with doubt.

I want to be real. I want to be truthful.

But the next question is: do I have the guts? Because if I don’t, I fear leaving church may be the only way I will ever acquire authenticity in my life. And I know that running is just never the answer.

A New Wineskin for the Gospel?

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It’s been weeks since the World Vision scandal happened, but I haven’t been able to work up the heart to write about it until now. It was such a terrible situation that disheartened me like no other culture war scandal has, and I wanted to wait until the visceral reaction had given way to a more studious, thoughtful attitude about everything that happened.

First, let me briefly outline the situation. On March 24, the magazine Christianity Today announced that World Vision USA had decided to amend its employment requirements to allow individuals in same-sex relationships to work for World Vision. They were clear that this was not a theological statement affirming gay marriage, but rather a neutral one that sought to treat married couples consistently. It was a courageous decision, one that the board claimed to have prayed over and considered for years.

And then, of course, the storm erupted. Christians across the nation were outraged at the decision World Vision had made. In the course of two days, the organization received an abundance of hate mail. After all was said and done, approximately 10,000 children lost their sponsorships. Let me say that again. Ten thousand children were dropped from sponsorship so that Christians all over the United States could make a statement about how wrong World Vision’s decision was. This is 10,000 futures altered tragically, 10,000 mouths that will go unfed, 10,000 little boys and girls who will ask why? and have no answer in return.

It fills me with such rage to think about it, to think about how evangelicals have turned children in need into pawns in a culture war, into collateral damage sacrificed on the altar of self-righteous indignation.

The way in which these people rallied to withdraw support from their sponsored children and from World Vision was the worst part of everything that happened, in my opinion. But then, to add insult to injury, World Vision decided to reverse their decision just two days after announcing it! I, along with many others I’m sure, was utterly shocked. Do you remember how I said they had considered their decision prayerfully for years? I don’t care what anyone says, I can’t believe World Vision reversed their decision because they believed it was the right thing to do. Not after they had prayed over their initial decision for so long. No. They had capitulated to the pressures of the conservative right, plain and simple.

Anyway, that is all I’m going to say about that. As I’ve thought about this whole situation over the last several weeks, I’ve realized that dwelling on my disdain for how so many evangelicals reacted won’t make what happened any less painful for everyone involved—for World Vision, for the kids whose needs went unmet, and for the LGBT men and women who undoubtedly felt like pawns themselves.

Instead I want to talk about what happened afterward in the blogosphere. This is where I saw the thread of new beginnings, in places where people understood for the first time just how far evangelicalism has strayed from the Gospel and how deeply immersed in the culture war it has become. Bloggers all over the place, in tones that were (mostly) not aggressive, not antagonistic, but rather heart sore and sad, came to realize that evangelicals no longer represent what they believe to be the Christian faith.

The reactions to World Vision’s announcement and reversal were the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Rachel Held Evans decided that “rather than wearing out my voice in calling for an end to evangelicalism’s culture wars, I think it’s time to focus on finding and creating church among its many refugees.” Micah J. Murray voiced the truth that “a lot of us [are] walking away pretty sure that we’re not evangelicals anymore but not sure what that even means.” Zack Hunt wrote about how the Church is in need of new wineskins: “As the past few years have hinted at, and last week made crystal clear, evangelicalism is an old wineskin that is long past its expiration date.”*

Then, Ben Moberg wrote this piece, which had echoes of a farewell and a new beginning all rolled up in the same blog post. His tone was somber, yet hopeful. Full of expectation for a return to the heart of the Gospel that sheds the legalism and hard lines in the sand that have come to characterize the evangelical world.

So this is the silver lining. This is the redemption that is born out of the awful mess that was the World Vision scandal. It is sad, of course, that it took something like this to spur people of faith everywhere to search out a new way forward, but it is also exciting, in a way. We are on the brink of something new, a reimagining of how we live our lives as disciples of Jesus and followers of the Word, a step away from the constriction of the pharisees and a step toward the Kingdom. For I know that my God is a God of redemption, one who breathes life into the darkest of places, even when those places are of our own making.

* The wineskin is a reference to Matthew 9:16-17.

 

CTW Conference Part 4: Millennials and the Church

In this post, I will be writing about the final three sessions of the conference, since they all revolve around one question: why are millennials leaving the church? Of course, as someone right in the middle of the generation labeled millennials (who are generally considered to be people born between the years 1984 and 2002), this conversation is very pertinent to me, and I found the discussions concerning this topic to be very enlightening.

The morning breakout, titled “Vanishing Acts”, discussed several key “felt needs” that the church should be addressing if it is serious about creating a space that is inviting for millennials. The breakout was led by Nick Cunningham, the young adult pastor at Ginghamsburg Church.

The first felt need Nick talked about is the need for relationships. He cited a study which revealed that 60% of millennials who have chosen to stay in the church do so because of the friendships they have developed. Often, however, churches can make this environment difficult by structuring small group gatherings as classroom lectures.  When a group leader spends a whole hour teaching a lesson, it creates an environment that prioritizes lessons over relationships and gives people the perfect opportunity to leverage curriculums as a shield against forming genuine relationships.

Another felt need we discussed during the break-out was the need for authenticity. Nick used a pop-culture example to illustrate this need: Anne Hathaway, whose image has traditionally been associated with the smiling, sweet girl next door (think The Princess Diaries, Ella Enchanted, and Bride Wars) didn’t gain the respect of the public until her role in Les Miserables. In this film, her life is tragic, and her distressed emotional state is revealed for all the world to see. In short, Anne plays a role that is authentic.

Millennials today are looking for an oasis from the hype—a place where all the gaudiness and unrealistic representations of life are blessedly absent, and we can be real about our dreams, fears, doubts, and hopes about our faith and our future. We are looking for a place where the truest, hardest questions in our hearts will be handled gently yet seriously, instead of being glossed over with an oversimplified answer that doesn’t really hold water when we step outside the doors of a church and into real life.

Admittedly, vulnerability is hard; revealing our authentic feelings is hard. But it is also the truest way to form meaningful relationships, and in that way, the first and second felt needs we discussed are inextricably interrelated.

Nick concluded his break-out with an appeal to millennials. Of course, the work to reconcile the lost generation of young people back to the church cannot be a one-way street. He encouraged our generation to challenge ourselves in three ways: first, to stop being cyncial, and look for the hope that is the kingdom of God instead of dwelling in wariness at every turn. He also encouraged us to not be reluctant to make decisions and step outside our own bubble of comfort. And lastly, he acknowledged that it is often so easy for us to become ensnared by shallow, trendy approaches to church. He encouraged us to continue seeking that authentic community which is so important in the body of Christ.

After the morning sessions, we broke for lunch then continued on to the final two sessions of the conference—the two I had been anticipating greatly during the weeks preceding the conference. Rachel Held Evans, a popular blogger and author of two books, delivered the afternoon keynote entitled “Keeping the Church Weird.”

She started with the sobering statistics: today, 59% of millennials have stopped attending church. Rachel contended that the reasons for this are varied and complex, but at the heart of it is grace. We wrap the gospel in so many layers of theology—so many principles for “right belief”—that we make Christianity more exclusive instead of more inclusive.

Rachel also talked about the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, which you can read in Acts 8:26-40. Traditionally, pastors use this story as a framework for evangelism: this is how you reach people who are seeking after Jesus. However, to connect this story back to Nick’s point about authenticity, reading the story that way overlooks the absolute scandal of what Philip was doing.

As a eunuch, the Ethiopian was ceremonially unclean. He was a outcast of the religious right, deemed unworthy to participate in temple worship, let alone be baptized. Yet when Philip explains who Jesus is to him, he does not hesitate to ask Philip to baptize him. Rachel points out that alarms must have been going off in Philip’s head: “But this guy isn’t clean; how could he understand the gospel?” “This man is the last sort of person I would expect to baptize!”

Yet when the rubber met the road, and Philip was poised with a simple question, he did not hesitate. He led the eunuch down into the water, and he baptized him.

It is a beautiful example of the truth that the Gospel isn’t offensive because of who it keeps out; it is offensive because of who it lets in. If we get out of the way, and let God do his work in the world, he might use methods we don’t approve of, and that thought can be terrifying for those who have the methods—who have the theologies—all hammered out.

Church, Rachel reminded us, needs to be a place where the outcasts, the eunuchs of today, feel just as welcomed as the middle-class “acceptable” people. It needs to be a place where everyone can pass within the doors of church, breathe a sigh of relief, and lay out the real and true baggage of our lives before our fellow believers.

In short, church needs to start looking like an AA meeting.

After Rachel’s enlightening discussion, there was time for Q&A, and of course one of the first questions asked was what church leaders can do practically to demonstrate that they are serious about implementing this sort of change. At this point, Rachel bravely shifted the conversation from the eunuchs of the ancient world to the eunuchs of today: the LGBTQ community.

She talked about the many changes we can make in order to demonstrate genuine compassion for them: first, use their language. Learn what the acronym means, and why they use it (and as a side note, don’t ever use homosexual as a noun!). Create room for their voices to be heard, and listen to their stories in the same way that Philip listened to the eunuch as he explained his fascination with Isaiah 53.

Rachel concluded her talk with reminding us that solidarity is not the same thing as conformity, and people rarely fit into the categories that we try to assign them. She offered the idea that the best way to establish that solidarity despite the differences is confession. Confession drops our guards and puts us on level playing ground as equally broken human beings. When we are honest about what hurts, honest about our own shortcomings, we pave the way for others to do the same.

The Q&A with Rachel continued into the afternoon break-out session, where we returned to the broader discussion of evangelicalism in the United States. Rachel discussed how it is troubling that those who are most committed to the evangelical label are also the ones who define it most narrowly.

This is very problematic in the Church today, because our narrow theology has led to what Rachel called the “cost of false fundamentals”: people are leaving the church because the feel they must make choices that aren’t central to the Gospel (i.e., believe in creationism or evolution, be gay or be Christian). And when their reading of scripture and their experiences of the world lead them to embrace a view contrary to the conservative one, that rejection is equated with rejecting the Gospel.

Yet, for every rule we create, for every stipulation we place upon what constitutes a faithful follower of Jesus, there will always be someone for whom the rule doesn’t fit. There will always be someone who is walking unashamed in the grace of the Father, yet who seems to our limited vision to be living a life contrary to our idea of Christianity. Embracing these people and accepting that sometimes God accepts those we deem unacceptable is the epitome of grace.

This, Rachel suggested, is the direction the church must turn. We must embrace those who seem unlovable. We must be willing to step out and speak an honest word, even when we fear upsetting other or losing their respect. Sometimes, our capacity to love despite our differences is more resilient than we expect.

Thank you for listening along with me as I write out my experiences at the Change the World Missional Conference at Ginghamsburg Church. I learned lessons there that I will never forget, and I hope you learned a little something as well by reading about the teachings of these incredible men and women of God.

 

CTW Conference Part 3: The Fall of the White Evangelical?

If you haven’t already, be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 of my commentary on the conference.

The first day of the conference exceeded my expectations far beyond what I could have imagined, and I could hardly sleep that night in anticipation of another full day of sessions with my fellow believers in Christ.

Friday morning kicked off to a great start with professor Diana Butler Bass, who has written eight books and specializes in teaching about American religion and culture. Her keynote, titled “New Spiritual Awakening or Big Religious Bust?”, was about the culture shifts in these present days and how white evangelicals, who have enjoyed influence in both the cultural and religious spheres for as long as our country has been a nation, are beginning to lose that hold on our culture.

Diana began her talk with a metaphor (in fact, she used a lot of very interesting and practical metaphors!). She talked about the differences between weather and climate: weather is temporal. You can go outside and observe it, and anyone can tell you what the weather is like at any particular moment. But it also changes quickly, and an ordinary layperson can’t predict it.

Climate, however, is quite different. It is steady, and it is a macro-cosmic description of weather patterns over a long period of time, all of which are predictable and testable via statistics. Sometimes, though quite rarely, the climate of a particular area can change.

Right now, Diana contended, we are in the midst of a climate change. The Church is transforming from one way of believing to another, and we are right in the midst of it.

One of the ways she illustrated this climate change is by describing the voting demographics for the 2012 presidential election. The graph she showed us broke voters down into eight religious categories: unaffiliated, white evangelical, white mainline, white Catholic, Hispanic catholic, black protestant, other Christian, and non-Christian religious.

She went into detail explaining the logistics of this, but basically Diana’s main point in showing us the graph was to point out that white evangelicals had comprised 40% of Mitt Romney’s vote, and only 10% of Obama’s. Yet for Obama, a whopping 25% of his voters identified as unaffiliated.

It was the first time in history that a candidate has won the white evangelical vote and lost the election.

White evangelicals are losing the political influence they have enjoyed since the founding of the United States, and they are being superseded by voters who may or many not be followers of Jesus, but for whatever reason have chosen to identify as unaffiliated. According to Diana, this is a huge shift.

She showed us a few other statistics about how people choose to label themselves, and revealed that more Americans today than ever before choose not to affiliate with institutionalized religion, preferring the term “spiritual” as often as they identify as “religious” (almost half of all Americans identify as both). She concluded that this is not something that we should deem a threat to protect ourselves from, but rather as an indication that the presence of God is here, and it is “moving with the beat of the world in a new way.”