Seeking Good Christians to Talk About God

Building/Consensus | Culture
What’s promising about the Internet, it’s been suggested, is that it can facilitate conversations, particularly among people who wouldn’t ordinarily meet in everydate life. Online I purposesly try to seek out people different from myself.

I found my virtual demographic opposite in La Shawn Barber– she’s black, conservative, Christian and female. True, I have a good and friend and coworker who is black, female, and Catholic, and was undecided the morning of Election Day. But we don’t talk politics all that much. La Shawn had linked to my Webcred/Inclusivess article, which is how I found out about. In the post, she mentioned being a “God blogger,” so I took some time to read about how she wrote about her faith on her site. I found one December post which absolutely fascinated me, where she wrote:

“If anyone believes that George Bush’s re-election means America will become more ‘moral,’ you’re deluded.”

Now this is the start of a conversation I’d love to have. One of the core values of the modern Republican party seems to be that the excesses of social liberalism (ie., those paraded about on the FOX network) undermine morality, and need to be curbed by elected Republicans.

I wrote La Shawn, we exchanged some emails, but she couldn’t be bothered to continue the conversation very far. Shortly thereafter she hopped on the Easongate bandwagon calling for Eason Jordan’s removal from CNN, and next she “covered” the Conservative Political Action Committee. Actually she just took pictures with other pundits. According to Chris Nolan, the best blog commentary actually came from Ryan Sager, who made the effort to transcribed Phyllis Schafly defending the minimum wage. La Shawn’s returned to her regular pattern of Limbaugh-derivative kick-em-while-they’re-down missives. Today, writing about an indictment of a Virginia man who threatened to kill President Bush, she offered these kind words: “By the way, he claims he was tortured. Boo hoo. He’s still living so he apparently wasn’t tortured enough.”

So I found myself another demographic opposite. Kyle Williams is a white male like myself, but he lives in rural Oklahoma and is also, at 15, a syndicated columnist for WorldNetDaily. This online publication is where right-wingers publish when The American Spectator won’t even touch something. But Williams is different. He’s writing on a different plane than one would automatically expect (just as we liberals have places like CommonDreams which are to the left of The Nation). His columns puts many bloggers to shame– even his blog posts put bloggers to shame. I thought it was fluke when I read last fall one of his blog posts from July:

Regrettably, the Christian community has aligned itself with the Republican Party, discrediting our image even more.

I returned to his writings this week. I found that Kyle had in fact answered La Shawn’s question. In a New Year’s column, he wrote:

This year will not magically bring peace or a resolution, even as much as we long for it. The morality that will change this nation and bring peace to America will not be found in power, but in being humble and shedding this self-addiction.

The more you read– and I’m talking to you, my liberal coastal audience– you find that there’s diversity among Christian evangelicals. Every cultural movement invites a backlash, and Kyle may represent a new generation, offended by the crass hucksterism and shameless politicking of the Christian Conservative leadership. I have no idea how popular or respected Kyle Williams’s views will become. But if we respect a diversity of opinion– or heck, if we just want to read someone thoughtful on matters of morality and ethics– this is a tremendously clear voice at the age of fifteen. And he writes out of deep faith and conviction, he has no political ax to grind here.

Granted, there’s a shortage of real world solutions offered. Perhaps to appease his publishers, every now and then Kyle trods out some conservative bunk like “It’s easy to recognize that the Congress handing out millions of dollars to anyone as financial aid is unconstitutional.” So is putting God on currency, but no one has seriously challenged the constitutionality of that. Since the mid-80’s, before Kyle was even born, Oklahoma has seen their balance of payments from the federal government steadily rising. Today, for every dollar that Oklahomans pay to the Federal government, they get $1.48 in payments and benefits. So you won’t find too many Sooners complaining.

But it’s his religious talk which truly enlightens me. I’ve mentioned this to my liberal friends. The respond: You can’t convert these people! Twenty Million evangelicals voting, listening to Jerry Falwell! Who said anything about converting? How small-minded of them to assume that that was my intention at all. The whole point of interfaith dialogue is learning about the other. I don’t consider every decision based on whether it’s going to help elect Democrats in the next election. And I’m not even doing this to figure out how to align with Christian Conservatives to help Israel– that’s been done. I just want a conversation. It’s still one country, America, and we need to live together.

While religion has been used throughout history to divide people, there’s a possible chance it can provide some common language based on shared experiences. Last year I’ve written about religion and politics from God and the Single Issue Voter to Canvassing in God’s Country. More recently I wrote about a summary of my Interpersonal ethics, based on my connection to Judaism.

Of course, movies are shared experiences as well. I skipped out of seeing The Passion of the Christ, but I did take the time to analyze responses to The Passion on BeliefNet. I then sought to find out whether there were Passion stories for nonbelievers. More recently I have seen the utterly silly Constantine, and the marvelously made Millions at a sneak preview; both are deeply imbibed by Christian themes. I wish I could speak to more people about them.

A note. The name of God is so holy in Hebrew, we do not even know how it is to be said (YHVH)We use titles to substitite for the Ineffable– Adonai (Lord) and Elohim (the concept of God or gods)– and even those we often abridge to Ado-shem or Elokim. Writing God’s name, in Hebrew makes a document (such as a prayerbook) holy, which means it cannot be discarded out out like any other document. The overall point is to underscore the second commandment not to use the Lord’s name in vain. So the practice in English is commonly to substitute punction in the name: G-d. I’ve always felt that it’s unnecessarily inclusive to write G-d, just as it is unnecessarily inclusive for a Christian to refer to Jesus as God when talking in mixed company (I originally made this point a year ago on the Dean Forums). If we’re in a public forum, we should be able to talk about God and be comfortable doing so.