Tag Archive: where’s the faith


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Can I Get A Witness?

Split Ticket: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics, edited by Amy Gopp, Christian Piatt, Brandon Gilvin. Chalice Press.
Reviewed Jess O. Hale Jr.

In the U.S. it seems almost every policy matter gets entangled in a war of partisan politics from which little emerges, too often only a shadow of what is needed. Just look at the results of health-care reform, immigration, and climate/energy initiatives.

With anger from the tea parties — and to a lesser extent the left — challenging both Republican and Democratic politicians, political ferment bewilders and frustrates many citizens of Christian faith who seek the welfare of the city in which they dwell. We do not find a deliberative democracy. Instead, people speaking out of a faith perspective to issues of national importance, such as health reform, are frequently vilified as partisan, even if those outside the partisan and media echo chambers would consider their participation quite tepid.

To speak to this poisoned atmosphere, Split Ticket’s Amy Gopp and her fellow editors have assembled several often powerful essays from faithfully committed 20- and 30-somethings. They sketch a response from younger voices to the challenge of living faithfully as Christians in a broadly conceived politics in American society. As a 50-something in public service, I found this effort to be both powerful and encouraging.

From a progressive yet distinctly nonpartisan perspective, the editors have brought together essays covering a spectrum of policy issues — including health care, gay marriage, immigration, human trafficking, and abortion. Their concerns of method touch on the morality of voting, the theology of empire, and the role of clergy in policy advocacy. In these essays, evangelicals and theological liberals make a common cause seeking faithful politics. Marches, liturgy, legislator visits, and many of the other tools of community and political organizing naturally give expression to these efforts. Men, women, Asians, Latinos, African Americans, gay and straight people — they are all part of this conversation.

Although geared for young adults and a popular audience, the voice of rank and file lay folks regrettably does not find a significant place (oh, for a William Stringfellow!), as the contributors are mostly seminary-trained clergy. Also, I yearned for the honest reflections of at least one young public servant or politician.

A few chapters stand out. Amy Gopp writes of her experience with an interfaith choir in Bosnia, wrenchingly showing us that Christians must embody the practices of peace, reconciliation, and justice that will allow a politics of shared community. Kharma Amos laments the lack of connections that many activists make between “their issue” and the broader spectrum of justice issues, yet curiously she does not seem to contemplate that coalitions within political parties are one way of making those connections. Former lobbyist Kat Banakis makes real the notion behind the Greek word politeuomai as “live out your political life,” because politics matters as a part of the prayer and work of Christians. In “Exodus,” Brandon Gilvin poetically captures the tragedy of trafficking.

Making clear the necessity of a faithful Christian witness to the politics of our time, Split Ticket argues for one that naturally flows out of the embrace of both God’s love and justice. It expresses an independent faith for our partisan times — but it fails to go the last mile to discuss the prudent politics that employs negotiation to bring in at least half a loaf. In the civil rights movement, the black church brought along other people of faith and joined politicians who practiced their craft to enact laws that brought some real fruit of justice to American society. Today, politicians will still have to exercise their craft — but can our faithful witness bring forth a similarly fruitful politics in our more partisan times?

Perhaps Split Ticket’s voices are willing to leave the political end game to the working out of God’s wisdom. However, while effectiveness is not the final word on our work in God’s eyes, a polis where there will not be infants that live but a few days (Isaiah 65:20) is God’s kingdom. For the hope of that polis, I look forward to where the political witness of Gopp and her compatriots takes us.

Jess O. Hale Jr. is an attorney who attends Eastwood Christian Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

WHERE’S THE FAITH ?

New series of books tackles questions, issues that challenge young Christians

CHIEFTAIN PHOTO/JOHN JAQUES Pueblo author Christian Piatt talks about a series of books he is collaborating on with a variety of authors from throughout the country.

Have you ever questioned the believability of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ? Ever wondered why, if Mary conceived as a virgin, the Bible traces Christ’s lineage through Joseph?

Chances are you’ve pondered these questions and many others about the Bible or Jesus, but never discussed them with other Christians — and certainly never in church.

That’s what gave local author/editor Christian Piatt and partner Brandon Gilvin the idea for WTF (Where’s the Faith), a series of books that pose such questions to a wide variety of religious, agnostic, social justice and other leaders and thinkers — some of them well-known in religious and spiritual circles. The books are published by Chalice Press. Gilvin is the associate director of Week of Compassion, an international relief and aid ministry of the national Disciples of Christ organization, based in Kansas City, Mo.

The books are aimed primarily at young adults — a demographic that churches are struggling to hold onto as their congregations dwindle in all age brackets.

The first book in the series, “OH God, Oh GOD, OH GOD! Young Adults Speak Out About Sexuality and Christian Spirituality,” was released earlier this year and provides “honest and open dialogue about the beauty and gift of sexuality while understanding it in a mature way, including the risks and consequences” but without the moral and doctrinal overtones of most Christian books on the topic, Piatt said.

He and Gilvin edited the book, and Piatt contributed an essay about abortion.

Two more books, which address questions that many Christians ponder but rarely explore  in depth or among each other, will be published next year — the first, “Banned Questions about the Bible,” in February and the second, “Banned Questions about Jesus,” in August 2011.

All of the books “take a more emergent-church approach. There’s no focus on denominations or creeds so much as on content and providing a variety of information, including other sources to study, to help people make up their own minds. We’re trying to present multiple perspectives so people can choose for themselves. It’s about seeking your own understanding of various issues through prayerful seeking, and trusting that if you take the first step, God will meet you halfway and help you find the answers you’re seeking,” Piatt said.

“Churches are dying everywhere, and I believe it’s because there’s been a disconnect between the lives of most people and what they hear in church on Sunday.

“These books are intended to break down the taboo of ‘We don’t talk about that in church.’ In a healthy church, there should be no boundaries, no limitations about what is explored. We’re supposed to bring our whole, human selves to the church and to our faith.”

Another book due out this August, “Split Ticket: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics,” addresses the interconnectedness of faith and politics and explores how Christians can be part of the process without violating their faith or turning their backs on social justice issues and the political process for fear of conflict. Piatt is a contributor as well as co-editor of this volume.

“You People: Faith and Race,” will follow “Split Ticket.” All of the finished books are available through the Chalice Press website or its catalogs, at Amazon.com or through Piatt’s website. Some also are available by special order online from Barnes & Noble and smaller national booksellers, and all are stocked at Cokesbury Christian book stores nationwide. The works in progress will be as well after publication.

Piatt, who founded Pueblo’s Milagro Christian Church six years ago with his wife, Amy, who is pastor there, said the “Oh God” book already has sold more than 1,500 copies — to individuals and to churches that are using them in youth groups and young-adult book-study groups.

“The content is heavy enough that we wouldn’t recommend just throwing these books in a teen’s lap and saying ‘have at it.’ It needs to be navigated with the help of an adult leader,” Piatt said.

Despite brisk sales and many positive reviews in Christian and mainline publications, negative reaction from some conservative Christian groups has surfaced, too, Piatt said, but his response is always the same: “Why is it that sexuality can’t be discussed in the context of faith unless the whole focus is abstinence, which we all know doesn’t work?”

He gets few responses to that question, he said, and doesn’t worry about the criticism because “the people who react that way aren’t the target audience for our books.”

The same critics no doubt will see the “banned questions” books, and “Split Ticket,” as too frank and “not nice,” he predicts.

“But we believe it’s more important to be authentically relevant than it is to be nice. Jesus wasn’t always nice. He challenged the status quo and he didn’t tolerate injustice. He encouraged frank discussion about difficult issues. But some Christians can’t tolerate controversy or confrontation at all, and others only get involved — often in an angry, intolerant way — with all the things they are against.”

Piatt said he and his partner in the WTF series, and authors who contributed responses to questions or essays — despite their widely divergent religious beliefs — “all believe that our responsibility is to get actively involved in these things we’re afraid to talk about” so that younger Christians, especially, will be more inclined to form deeper commitments to their faith and to service than to abandon their church, or religion altogether. They can only do that if they’ve reached their own conclusions rather than having beliefs force-fed to them.

At the end of life, Piatt said, what will matter most is not how many souls someone has “saved” or how many foreign missions were conducted, or how big and beautiful the church is because believers were willing to give cash but not their time.

What Jesus will want to know of every individual, he said, is “What did you do for the poor, for the oppressed, for the imprisoned — for ‘the least among us’?”

Doing nothing, he said, only condones the suffering and injustices that humans inflict upon each other.

“Not getting engaged, not dealing with these issues, is not an option if you consider yourself a person of faith.”

For more information about the WTF series, upcoming books, or past titles by Piatt, go to: www.christianpiatt.com, which also provides links to videos of Piatt and some of the other authors and a link to his blog.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell…in Church?
By Christian Piatt

Originally published in PULP

Lots of adjectives have been attached to my name in the past, but “provocative” is one that seems to keep sticking. As a writer of mainly theological material, it’s expected that I’ll use certain buzzwords and will avoid some topics that simply should not be talked about in polite company, let alone church.

Sounds like a challenge. I like challenges.

Enter the new book series I’m co-creating and editing for Chalice Press, called “Where’s the Faith?” The acronym by which the series is known is “WTF?,” a brief nod to the provocateur in me. Part of the idea behind this series of books on matters of young adults and faith is to tackle the issues we’re supposedly not allowed to, so of course, the first book out of the gate had to be about sex.

After about eighteen months of planning and hard work, Oh God, Oh God, OH GOD: Young adults speak out about sexuality and Christian Spirituality hit the streets to – at least so far – rave reviews. The common sentiment, at least from those who will actually pick the thing up, is that it’s about time we started talking about things like alternatives to abstinence-only sex education, homosexuality, pornography and other hot-button topics.

For the essay on homosexuality, I was excited to bring on my friend, Shannon, who attended seminary as an openly gay man with my wife, Amy, back in Texas. In his essay, “Growing Up Gay,” he talks in both humorous and heartbreaking terms about what it’s like being a man living in a faith calling, while also being transparent about his sexual orientation.

“I was afraid of being stabbed in the middle of the night,” he writes, recalling his childhood in North Carolina, and “of being kidnapped, of being beaten up by the bully at school, of failing my grade and of missing the rapture. I was most afraid, however, of being different in general and of being gay in particular. I didn’t want to be laughed at and made fun of and called names. Instead, I just wanted to fit in and be like everyone else.”

As one who serves in a local church, I can tell you that working in ministry isn’t exactly the best way to blend in. But he feels led to a life of spiritual service, sexuality aside, and so the long, uphill climb began.

Actually, the phrase “sexuality aside” doesn’t exactly fit the situation, as I learned while watching him struggle through the ordination process. When a seminary student completes his or her graduate school requirements and practical ministry work in our denomination, they may apply to be ordained by a team of other ministers in their region. Our denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), varies widely from region to region in policies, given that we have an intentionally weak central governance structure.

But this also means that, while some states or regions will gladly ordain openly gay ministers, others are less affirming, or even tolerant. No surprise that Fort Worth, Texas, fell into the “less affirming” category. Basically, they take the Bill Clinton approach to this issue, which is “don’t ask, don’t tell,” at least during the ordination process. This creates a system that, put simply, asks people seeking a life in ministry to lie or obfuscate to their peers.

Everyone on the ordination committee who knew Shannon knew he was gay, and if you meet him, it’s not exactly hard to figure out. I mean, the guy has a poster of Barbara Streisand in his entryway, for God’s sake. But he was advised to make his sexuality a non-issue as he moved through the process, buying into the game long enough to get his certification, at least.

Easy enough for someone who is straight to say. As a left-handed person in a right-handed world, I notice how very little righties think about being right-handed. But we lefties encounter things every day, from scissors to keyboards and so on, that make real the bias of the world against our nature.

I can only imagine the anger and disappointment Shannon must have felt in being told that something so central to his identity was a “non-issue.” On the contrary, his sexual orientation had everything to do with his ministry. Not that he wanted to start a “gay” church or anything, but it pointed to the very issues of justice and compassion of which he has become an unfortunate object lesson, far too many times.

So he came out to the committee and forced its members to deny him ordination because of his orientation, which they did. Several times in years since, he has considered leaving the ministry, though we encourage him to hang in there. After all, why would the systems ever change if there’s no one on the inside trying to break down the old walls of intolerance?

It’s tragic, though, that his road is so much harder than ours, simply because of who he is. What in the world would Jesus think?

Though you all might enjoy watching me and Brandon Gilvin, co-editors of the new WTF? (Where’s the Faith?) book series in a short video chatting about the series and the first two titles, coming out soon.

The nerd on the right is me.