Still Not Listening: A Response to Chelsen Vicari

Deliberate ignorance = dogmatic bliss.

Some of you may have seen this article in Charisma Magazine entitled “How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel.” The writer, Chelsen Vicari, is a 26-year-old evangelical and self-proclaimed reformed leftist who recently penned her own book about how the gospel is being distorted by secular values and young Christians who don’t want to upset anyone by being vocal against sin. David Schell, a pretty fantastic post-evangelical blogger, wrote a great response to Vicari’s article, which you can read here. However, I felt that David’s critique left out a few things, so…here we are.

In reality, Vicari doesn’t say anything in her article that I haven’t already heard 200 times. I could probably turn on The 700 Club or flip open any James Dobson book and get the same spiel, almost verbatim. Vicari’s article is a classic example of the Christian Right’s general pontificating. And I say “general,” because, as is common with these kinds of spiels, the language is really vague and the content contains all the wondrous depth of a damp napkin. For an article that purportedly addresses how the gospel is being twisted, it only contains two – count ’em, two – scripture references. In fact, as I read, I often wondered if Vicari even had a sense of what the gospel is, because not once in 1,900 words does she ever actually articulate it. Case in point:

But now popular culture is being aided by Christ-professing bedfellows whose message to “coexist,” “tolerate” and “keep out of it” is more marketable to the rising generation of evangelicals.

The seasoned Christian soldiers are noticing these distortions of the gospel.

So…the gospel is the opposite of “tolerate”? I thought it was about Jesus redeeming mankind. But…whatever.

Here are some other examples of the pervasive vagueness:

“You’ll find faith leaders encouraging young evangelicals to trade in their Christian convictions for a gospel filled with compromise.”

Ok, who are these faith leaders? Where are they teaching? What are the titles of their books? What are the compromising elements of their message? False teachers are serious business! But, apparently, not so serious that Vicari can be bothered to name them. The closest we get are “public school teachers, TV celebrities and rock stars,” and none of those qualify as faith leaders.

One day my co-teacher and I decided to play “True or False.” We casually went down a list of worldview questions with our class, sure that our little evangelicals would nail every question correctly.

No. 1: Jesus is God. “True.” Great job.

No. 2: Jesus sinned. “False.” Bingo!

No. 3: Jesus is one of many ways to heaven. “True.” What?!

Shocked is the only way to describe how I felt. Hadn’t they been listening to us? When I asked who taught them that, one girl said, “Coexist.”

Ok, “Coexist” is not a who. It is a word, and its meaning has nothing to do with various ways to heaven. It means we all have to live on this planet together no matter what our beliefs are, and it’s a whole lot more pleasant to do that when we’re not stuffing each other into ovens, beheading our detractors on the beach, or even just screaming at each other from behind our various podiums. This is the typical ultra-conservative fear-mongering that seeks to paint anything that even hints at liberalism into some ubiquitous, invisible swamp monster who gobbles innocent children when backs are turned.

Our churches have rarely—if ever—faced the exodus we are seeing today. This will have a direct effect on the spiritual and moral values that will shape the nation in the coming years. That is why it is urgent that concerned Christians start acting now before the situation gets worse.

And the plan of action is…about 1,000 words down at the close of the article, and it is to “uphold the authoritative Word of God,” “have transparent and honest discussions about the culture wars,” and “offer sorely needed leadership.” According to the article, it is not enough that you take your kids to church or lead them in Bible studies, because even the Millennials who were raised that way are leaving the church. So, how to uphold the Bible as authoritative in an effective way? Vicari doesn’t say, so it’s anybody’s guess…I guess.

We dismiss old hymns that focus on God’s transforming salvation, love and mercy and opt for “Jesus is your boyfriend” songs. Or we contribute to nonprofits that exploit and misuse terms such as justice, oppressed and inequality because tweaking the language makes us feel more neutral, less confrontational.

I promise, I have read this last sentence six times and still can’t comprehend it. What nonprofit out there is misusing these terms? How? And who is contributing to them just because these words make them feel less confrontational? That doesn’t even make logical sense.

Speaking of misusing terms…

Research tells us that evangelicals are drifting further away from the orthodox truths their parents and grandparents held dear.

Orthodox? I’m sorry to say, the word dost not meanest what thou thinkest it means. Orthodox Christian belief goes all the way back to the days of the Early Church. There is now very little in “traditional” evangelicalism that actually fits the term. Demonism, Dominionism, Penal Substitution Theory, Premillennial Dispensationalism, American Exceptionalism, Name-it-and-Claim-it, eternal fire-and-brimstone hell: none of these doctrines are considered orthodox. In fact, pretty much all of these doctrines have only surfaced within the past 200 years.

But that’s beside the point.

The point is, Millennials have not been silent about why they are leaving the Evangelical Church:

– Lack of concern for the poor

– Politicizing of faith

– Dismissal and cover up of spiritual and sexual abuse

– Judgmental attitudes and condemning doctrines

– Extra-biblical rules that serve only to control believers and elevate the leadership

– Dishonesty and anti-intellectualism

– Lack of community

– No room for doubt, questions or suffering

– No voice

It’s that last one that is most illuminated by Vicari’s article. Vicari may be a Millennial herself, but she parrots the old guard’s diatribe: Young people are falling away because we’re compromising with “the world.” We’re getting too many “feel-good” ideas from textbooks and TV, and it’s outweighing our evangelical indoctrination. Really, we just need to be indoctrinated more. Our pastors and parents just need to preach louder, shelter us further, make more convincing arguments. Meanwhile, our real concerns about the church are swept aside. Ignored. They’d rather tell us why we’re leaving than actually ask us.

Vicari claims that evangelical youth want to have “honest discussions” about today’s hot-button topics. But from my experience, “honesty” in evangelicalism translates into a one-way conversation. Evangelical leaders are convinced they know the absolute truth, and “honesty” entails informing both the curious and the critics about how they are wrong.

Millennials do want an honest conversation, but one in which there is an actual dialogue – where we get to address our concerns about the church becoming politically over-involved in civil matters…where we can make a plan for administering justice and accountability in cases of abuse…where our doubts are accepted as a necessary step in our spiritual growth, not the end to all faith…where church becomes a vibrant, supportive community, not a gilded enterprise that expects us to check our brains and our compassion at the door.

Some of us are crying out – even begging – to be heard. We’re fervently praying that one day, evangelical leaders will finally let us have a voice within the church. Because we care about the church and its future.

Sadly, it will require compromise. It will require choosing to value hearts and souls over ideology and dogma.

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14 responses to “Still Not Listening: A Response to Chelsen Vicari

  1. I think you expect too much from Charisma. They dropped off the chart for responsible publications a while back. Christianity today is better, but on the same trajectory. Since you are keen towards this topic, would you consider a review of Rachael Held Evan’s new book after it comes out April 14? I would love to hear your thoughts. It would also allow you to put off reading “Love and Respect” that much longer. ;-0

  2. I can’t even tell you how delighted I was to see you say that my critique of the post “left out a few things.” It’s like… He thought it was bad, but it was actually worse.” Great post.

    • I’m so glad you liked it, David, and stopped by to tell me. Really, I could have written much more. Some paragraphs were just sentence soup. I swear, there exists an evangelical catch-phrase roulette wheel that Vicari used to write this article.

      Thanks for visiting and keep up the good work!

      • So I went back and actually read your post more carefully and out loud. Hil-larious. My wife enjoyed it too and she saw a lot of truth in what you wrote. Keep up the good work yourself.

  3. … as is common with these kinds of spiels, the language is really vague and the content contains all the wondrous depth of a damp napkin.

    Ok, who are these faith leaders? Where are they teaching? What are the titles of their books? What are the compromising elements of their message?

    So, how to uphold the Bible as authoritative in an effective way? Vicari doesn’t say, so it’s anybody’s guess…I guess.

    There is now very little in “traditional” evangelicalism that actually fits the term. Demonism, Dominionism, Penal Substitution Theory, Premillennial Dispensationalism, American Exceptionalism, Name-it-and-Claim-it, eternal fire-and-brimstone hell: none of these doctrines are considered orthodox. In fact, pretty much all of these doctrines have only surfaced within the past 200 years.

    Millennials have not been silent about why they are leaving the Evangelical Church

    Young people are falling away because we’re compromising with “the world.” We’re getting too many “feel-good” ideas from textbooks and TV, and it’s outweighing our evangelical indoctrination. Really, we just need to be indoctrinated more. Our pastors and parents just need to preach louder, shelter us further, make more convincing arguments. Meanwhile, our real concerns about the church are swept aside. Ignored. They’d rather tell us why we’re leaving than actually ask us.

    You truly have a gift with words. Articles like this are ultra-conservative evangelicals with little taste for discretion, clarity, subtlety, charity, or intellectually refined analysis, talking to themselves as if they themselves need a fresh pep talk because their message continues to land on deaf ears. There is no attempt to truly engage “the other” as perceived by the self-righteous.

    I would like to add one of the other major well attested contributing factors to “deconversions” from conservative evangelicalism: standard rational and biblical criticism (By “criticism” here I mean the discipline). There have been many times (probably about 90% of the time) when I have raised questions about my faith and have been advised that I’m asking the wrong questions. Funny how in the discipline of apologetics we can let our questions, doubts, and rational criticisms run wild so long as we are pointing the gun away from ourselves, but if we apply that same standard to our own faith we are advised it’s pure pride and we need to repent and ask God to remove the doubts. In other words, we are told: “That’s not allowed.”

    So let me get this straight — we hold everyone else to a strict standard and argue their worldviews are philosophically and logically problematic in order to “defend the faith,” but we aren’t allowed to hold ourselves to that same standard? I get it. It’s allowed, so long as we remain close minded enough to never take seriously the possibility that the critical standard we judge others by could never by equally applied to ourselves. Doubts are off limits, out-of-bounds, sinful by nature. When answers can’t be easily found in some apologetics handbook, the answer is “I’ll pray for you” (read: something is wrong with you, you might not be “saved”).

    • “Funny how in the discipline of apologetics we can let our questions, doubts, and rational criticisms run wild so long as we are pointing the gun away from ourselves, but if we apply that same standard to our own faith we are advised it’s pure pride and we need to repent and ask God to remove the doubts.”

      I have never realized this, but it’s true. It brings to mind that verse in which Jesus talks about straining out gnats and swallowing camels.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  4. April said: “…Demonism, Dominionism, Penal Substitution Theory, Premillennial Dispensationalism, American Exceptionalism, Name-it-and-Claim-it, eternal fire-and-brimstone hell…”

    Hi April. Your month is coming. I no longer call these things “doctrines.” I call them “docterns.” There are so many of these things that have arisen in the Neo-fundamentalism of the past 50 years that I actually sat down to make a list one day.

    One of the ones I have been hearing lately from fundies is that a person cannot be saved unless they believe in every last word of the whole KJV Bible exactly the way they believe in it.

    When is this insanity going to end?

  5. One more thing. Just in case you might not know, Ms. Chelsen Vicari is an executive at the Institute on Religion & Democracy in Washington D.C. This is a right wing conservative “think tank” of sorts. One of the organization’s goals is to destroy the United Methodist Church (UMC) as it exists today in the United States, take over the ruins and ashes, and create a new church that will be called “Methodist” (probably) but will look, think, and act like the most backwards Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) you can imagine.

    They have recognized that the UMC cannot be overwhelmed using the same model that Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler used to turn the SBC to the dark side—because it is structured differently. What few people know is that fundie churches and missionaries overseas (Africa, Brazil, etc.) have subverted millions upon millions of poorly educated people saved by UMC missionaries overseas. After their salvation, someone dropped the ball and allowed them to be taught Christian lifeways by fully indoctrinated IFB types. These millions of people call themselves United Methodists and are members of the United Methodist Church. However, they and their leaders (including bishops and other hierarchical leaders) are IFB indoctrinated to the core. Worst of all, they far outnumber—far and away outnumber—the UMC population in the United States where the UMC is based. The plan of Ms. Vicari’s organization is to bring the full force, weight, and overwhelming population of these overseas people to bear on the UMC here in the United States in just such a calculated way as to bring down the entire UMC hierarchy in the United States, and by so doing, convert the UMC into a right wing extremist fundie citadel.

    I am warning you right now. If you are an average UMC member, and this succeeds, you will no longer be welcome in your church after this planned takeover occurs. This is not just people talking some pipe dream on their porches as the sun goes down. This is a real plan that has been developed and is approaching time for full-blown implementation. These people are highly organized and dead serious.

    They are also evil.

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  7. You left out Internet porn addiction, which is actually two separate issues:

    – Internet “social media” addiction (Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, …)
    – porn addiction

    Electronic devices and the mass media have become the false gods of the millennials, so it’s no wonder they’ve lost touch with the true “God”. They are growing ever more detached as they seek instant gratification for their selfish, material desires. I think even secular psychologists know this.

    When I was growing up, I thought sex was an expression of love. But the other day, I met a guy who told me “Sex is fun.” (speaking of what he does with his girlfriend who has a contraceptive device implanted in her arm). It’s the same thing I heard from a girl on a blog last week. Sex is fun??? That’s all?!?! People have become selfish and hedonistic. They live without meaning or purpose.

    “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God — having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”

    (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

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