To my conservative Christian friend:
It was so good running into you at a local restaurant recently. It was nice to catch up about family and hear the news of your new grandchild.
I wanted to again express how stimulating it was to have an open discussion about topics weighing on your heart and mind these days.
I admit that some of the perspectives you shared were new to me, ideas I’m not hearing elsewhere.
You shared a traditional view of sexual morality and gender identity; your perspective is, of course, increasingly countercultural.
But I heard no judgment in your voice, and I was struck by your stated intention not to push your set of beliefs on people. You simply want to introduce folks with love to the God from whom you derive your beliefs.
You try not to tell people who they are or should be, but your mission is instead to attract people to the God you believe in and, from their own personal relationship to that God, have them learn to truly know themselves.
With all the culture wars going on, it was a refreshingly simple concept.
I understand your concern and your support of the local pastor who recently shared from the pulpit his commentary on the book of Genesis. He touched on the topic of gender identity, which unintentionally set off a firestorm of dissent in some parts of the community.
Like most people, I did not listen to the sermon itself, though it sounds as if you did. I can’t even keep track of the podcasts I am subscribed to.
I did, however, note that the Columbia Missourian invited him to write a column about his views. In his piece published Sunday, I can’t for the life of me find any sort of “hate speech” there, the kind of speech he has been accused of espousing.
In fact, over and over, he seemed to bend over backward to be sensitive to those who have disagreed with him.
After a local film organization was pressured to cut off a 10-year sponsorship from his church, the pastor was still willing to continue the partnership.
But when ultimatums from other stakeholders made it impossible to continue the partnership, he respected that decision. He didn’t fight back, nor did he cave on his core beliefs.
I had a chance to hear from a few conservative Christian acquaintances recently. Many are alarmed at the way he was treated and are frightened that they might be treated similarly some day.
Some lament the cultural, sexual and spiritual revolution that has occurred in the last 50 years or so.
Others wish their fellow congregants would “wake up” to the fact that they no longer represent the cultural norm in this country.
That fact was confirmed by a recent Pew poll that found 65% of Americans still describe themselves as Christians but only 45% say they attend church at least monthly (likely a better barometer of people practicing their faith).
So, my conservative Christian friend, you attend a church service every Sunday and lead a Bible study in your home during the week, but the American subculture you identify with is now a minority lifestyle.
Still, it is surprising that you wonder whether more social pressure on those who express traditional views of morality might actually be good for the church at this point. Why the heck would you want that?
I was a bit shaken by your view that the American church at large is “fat, happy — and dying.” This confused me, until you explained a counterintuitive paradigm: Where Christians have been relatively free to express their views — notably in the United States and Western Europe — the church is fading.
But where Christians are given a hard time for their beliefs — in China and sub-Saharan Africa, for example — they tend to become more devout. More people are attracted to the church, and the numbers keep growing.
So losing the culture war is good?
I don’t know whether I agree with you or not, but I honestly appreciate this kind of philosophical discussion. I’m glad you thought I provided you a safe space for expression.
But frankly, going forward, you may want to self-censor on the gender topic and keep those ideas to yourself. If you start posting those ideas on social media or elsewhere, I think you’re just asking for trouble.
We should get together again soon. I want to hear more about your feeling that the meaning of Christmas has been eroded by materialism — you and I might actually be on the same page there.
Steve Spellman hosts “The Mid-Missouri Freedom Forum” at 5 p.m. every Tuesday on KOPN/89.5 FM.