The Elephant in the Room

A Pilgrim DiaryIt has been an interesting couple of weeks as I initiated this dialogue to find common values and a common language in our community. I have heard from a number of people both in the comments to my blog and personally. One of the reasons that my new blog platform (coming next month) will be called “A Pilgrim Diary” is that I have no idea where this dialogue is going to take us. I have simply promised to follow the threads that emerge, very much like being on a pilgrimage.

Already a significant thread, even an obstacle, has emerged. Even in my invitation to a broad and diverse group of people to join a common table has revealed how much our division has taken root. I spoke of trying to get to the “other side” of the divisive and nasty spirit of our time. The feedback I have received so far could be organized into four basic groups:

  1. “Go for it, Brian. I am behind you.”
  2. “I appreciate your ambition, but I think it’s too late.”
  3. “We need you to name the specific problems so we can work on actual solutions.”
  4. “There is no ‘other side.’ We are just where we need to be right now.”
VBS Lord's Army sign
VBS sign in Clackamas County, Oregon

It is the second one (and by implication, the third one) that I mostly want to address today because this showed up in comments, conversations, emails, and news media over the past two weeks. In one form or another, I heard repeatedly that we may be beyond solutions right now. And, while no one named it specifically, the presence of Christian nationalism and mainline Protestant’s contribution to that seemed to be source of many of the comments and concerns.

I heard that the values of Americans are so out of sync that conversation is now impossible. I heard that the Christian church, despite giving verbal lip service to connecting with the broader community is probably too entrenched to actually do it. I heard shame about being part of a Christian tradition that has a history of genocidal colonialism. I heard grief about a church system that wants to address the growing presence of Christian nationalism, but does not have the energy for the fight.

elephant trunkI invited us all to this dialogue so see if we could find common values and a common language that would bring us all home to each other. But first, I think we have to start with elephant in the room, the one that your comments these past two weeks made obvious:

“What is a faithful response to Christian nationalism and how much have our mainline Protestant traditions contributed to it, given birth to it, and played into it?”

It is clear that this is on the minds of so many. It showed up in conversations and comments these past two weeks. It is increasingly showing up in the media as “something that must be addressed.”

For further research and analysis of the growing presence of Christian nationalism read the following two articles:

John Blake’s analysis (CNN)

The analysis by Kristen Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne

I will be especially interested in your comments and how your comments are similar or dissimilar depending on your relationship to the church. Please give a short description (life-long member, grew up in the church, never been to church, agnostic, etc.) along with your comment so I can track how people react to this depending on your particular orientation.

This is a difficult conversation, but one we must have if we are going to get to the “other side” and come home to each other.

In trust…

Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

7 thoughts on “The Elephant in the Room

  1. I grew up in the church, and have been a member of one church or another throughout my somewhat nomadic adulthood. Recently I became an elder of the small community church where I presently live.

    I am one who is afraid that no integration of the churched and non-churched can be achieved. That is not to say that the effort is worthless. I believe the attempt to bridge the gap and make an offer of connection is crucial, and shows the true Christioan spirit. I believe you are right in setting no specific goal and just seeing where the pilgramage leads us.


  2. Grew up in the church – Lutheran, Baptist, Evangelical (Community), Presbyterian. By the time I was in my 20’s I realized how judgmental my Christian upbringing had been. I was looking for something different. I am currently attending a Neighborhood Presbyterian Church, whose Pastor preaches scripture with especially looking at The example Jesus set for us. I believe John 13: 34 “we are to Love one another, just as Jesus has loved us”. It doesn’t say love only those who look, and sound just like us.


  3. Grew up in the PC(USA) and its precursor. Ordained deacon, retired staff and Certified Christian Educator. I continue to have deep ties and gratitude to local congregations. But considering the multiplier effect of recent pronouncements and overtures, I find little room for me in the larger conversation.


  4. Brian, you say that you “heard shame about being part of a Christian tradition that has a history of genocidal colonialism” and that you also “heard grief about a church system that wants to address the growing presence of Christian nationalism, but does not have the energy for the fight.”

    Could you give me your definition of Christian nationalism? Also, which do you feel is a greater threat to our faith and our nation; Christian nationalism, or marxism?


  5. I was raised Lutheran, went to a Lutheran college and remained Lutheran until later in life when I joined the Presbyterian Church. I have been active in this church and served several terms as an elder.
    As usual, I spend more time thinking after reading Breadcrumbs than I do at any other time. I almost always react to something, churn on it and hopefully learn something about myself! Currently I do worry about our society as a whole. Biggest problem: our compulsive use of labels, assigning approval/disapproval in broad strokes. Even the concern you express about Christian nationalism is a label that implies difference in thought and maybe motives. We have forgotten how to look at different ideas/ experiences as an opportunity to come together and grow. I see little actual growth coming out of differences because we create sides and then defend them furiously , gladly demeaning any who disagree. This has certainly overwhelmed our society. Everyone wants more rules/laws to fixed every little thing. How about using our faith to love and embrace each other, wherever we meet!


  6. Since the early 1940’s I have attended a variety of Presbyterian Churches around the country, serving as both a member and a Church Elder. My theology is on the liberal side, since I do not read the Bible in a literal manner, and I value Marcus Borg as wise modern theologian. —-Relating to your question about getting to the “other side’” of the divisive and nasty spirit of our time, I would rate the odds of success at about Absolute Zero.—- At this point I don’t see any way to bridge the huge gap of reality that divides the White Protestant Conservative Evangelical churches and the “Mainline” Liberal Churches in 2022 , with each side having their own agenda and version of Reality—- The cause of this split is not any action by the “Mainline Churches”, but is rather centered in the Federal Civil Rights legislation of the mid 1960’s (sponsored by the Democratic Party) that protected black voting and black use of public facilities that was opposed by most all of the White Conservative Protestant Evangelical churches (mostly in the south) causing them to gravitate to the Republican Party where they supported Republican Candidates and Republican conservative issues (advocates of gun rights and opposition to regulation) at the State and National level. These White Evangelical Church groups (many in rural areas) became a strong voting block for the election of Presidents NIxon, Reagan, Bush Jr. and Donald Trump. Their efforts in helping elect Donal Trump (despite his obvious and embarrassing moral peccadillos) brought them three very conservative Supreme Court Justices who have invalidated federal abortion rights for women, and promise much more change for religious conservatism in the future. At this point I would think that it would be very unproductive to use time and energy on any reconciliation effort on the present spit between the Conservative and Liberal churches in the USA.


  7. There used to be a button to click that said, “Read Comments.” It seems to have disappeared. How do I see other people’s comments?


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