Summer has finally left. I’m always reluctant to say goodbye to it, but there is snow in the mountains, last night was our first freeze down here in the valley, and the trees are giving up their leaves, so I guess that summer really has gone. It is not easy for me. Fall and winter have always been times of endurance and symbols of sadness. All Saints, Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas are times of joyful celebration, and I celebrate joyfully with all the rest, but by the end of January I find myself in great need of warm sunshine, blue skies and outdoor living. Thankfully, spring comes early to our valley. By the end of February there will be new growth showing in the garden, and with a certain eager anticipation I will await the too slow return of green leaves on trees. Winter, like New York City, is something to be tolerated in good humor, even enjoyed a bit, but I don’t have to love it.
The Barna Group is a well Christian survey firm that is respected for the quality of its work while, at the same time, strongly endorsing a conservative Evangelical approach to the faith, particularly among those whom they call “born again.” So it was a bit of a surprise to receive their latest update on September 24 revealing that a growing percentage of young people between the ages of 16 and 29, both Christians and others, have a negative view of Christianity. Only 16% of non-Christian youth have a positive view of Christianity, according to their findings. And only 3% have a positive view of Evangelicals. They are joined in that attitude by church going youth; apparently 80% of them agree that Christians are judgmental, hypocritical, too political and obsessed with being anti-homosexual. On our local college campus Christians (as represented by a very conservative campus fellowship once a part of the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship) are caricatured as being dull, dense, narrow minded, rude, holier-than-thou, bible-thumping jerks.
For the most part, these attitudes can be laid a the feet of the so-called Christian Right epitomized by a few well known televangelists and certain church related organizations promoting what they call “family values.” I believe that we Episcopalians, and most other “main-line” churches that have been faithful to the classical and progressive traditions of the Church, offer a far different approach that is more deeply rooted in the gospel message and Christ’s commandment to love one another as he loved us. But we have been miserable failures as bold evangelists willing to proclaim that with power and conviction. We have been too much concerned with defending ourselves against fundamentalist accusations or wringing our hands at the daunting tasks that confront us. We have been too easily distracted by a few dissenting voices determined to wreak havoc on our unity in Christ.
The same Barna Group has time and again confirmed that there is a desperate spiritual hunger out there, especially among young people. We know what will satisfy that hunger. We know where to find it. We know how to serve it up in generous proportions. We can assert with all integrity that through Scripture, tradition and reason we offer an intellectually valid and exciting engagement with God in Christ Jesus that encompasses the wholeness of God’s love for all persons. Respecting the dignity of every human being and doing our best to seek and serve Christ in all persons, we recognize that we are but jars of clay full of our own cracks, leaks and limitations. We have no warrant to be judgmental. But we do have a warrant to be bold in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ that opens all of life, now and to eternity, to all persons at all times in all places with no exceptions.
Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize today. It seemed but a nano second before a multitude of so-called conservative pundits criticized it, and him, with harsh ridicule. It wasn’t just that they condemned everything he, or anyone, has said about global warming on the weight of nine, according to a British court, factual errors in the film “An Inconvenient Truth.” One noted economic wizard seriously proclaimed that it was not worth being conscientious stewards of God’s creation (my words but his meaning) if that would jeopardize the economic might and wealth of Americans here and now. Others complained that Gore should not receive a prize normally given to scientists, apparently not recognizing that he received the peace prize not a scientific prize. Senator McCain opined that Gore was not worthy to receive such an honor but that it should have gone to the Burmese monks who have stood with such courage for reform in their country. Those monks may well deserve such an honor, and perhaps Senator McCain will offer a nomination on their behalf, but I cannot understand how he connected one with the other. Hysterical fear mongering seems to be the weapon of choice for far too many people engaged in just about any debate on public policy. Have human beings caused global warming? Probably not. Are we in a time of change in a normal cycle of nature? Probably so. Have human beings exacerbated the effects by their greed, corruption, ignorance and thoughtlessness? You bet! I have no idea whether we humans can do much to change things by changing behavior. As Christians that is hardly the point. As Christians we are required to be stewards of God’s creation, doing what we are able to do to provide for the well being of countless generations yet to come. As Christians we are to honor the holiness of all creation and to use it with care and grateful thanksgiving. That is what we are required to do. Whether that does or does not fit well with somebody else’s political agenda is not our concern. We are simply called to be obedient as stewards of all that God has given into our care and keeping.