Ok, so I'm not going to be the guru of fashion activism at the King's college...Maybe I can start a movement to get NYU students to dress better?
And I've blown out the idea that emergents are weak-knee'd hippies - having blasted a respected cultural leader like your President in public and blogosphere.
So, campus dress codes - a perenial source of complaint and dissent amongst student populations since Christianity invented higher education no longer arouse a peep of passion? OK. Sounds like the administration might be putting something in the food when that many students love the dress code, I don't know, just a little weird at most.
So let me be honest - I already knew TKC students support the dress code. I did think I might find one or two out there that might agree on that point, but I knew the majority were happy with it - how? they've told me that in person. I've been to TKC probably seven times over the last number of years, going back pretty close to when it started. I've sat in lectures held by TKC at the Lamb's theater. I've studied in the library, I've eaten food there. I've known many students in church circles.
And it would be important to note three things before I launch into this long and substantive reply - I'm not attacking the school or the school body - as my post started by saying I've come to know and love a number of TKC students. And secondly, it is well accepted that college Presidents are public figures. When public figures say things in public, it is quite within normality to take them to task in public arenas like blogs. This is not a "broken relationship" between brothers that needs forgiveness and reconciliation.
The third thing to note; do you remember at the beginning of the gulf war when George Clooney spoke out so passionately against the war, and he was on the verge of being blacklisted as mainstream America bristled at his "un-patriotism". Now he is hailed as a man of true courage and patriotism because he spoke his mind against the grain. I have chosen to speak out forcefully about things which I will explain more in this post - you can disagree with me, but when we speak critically about important things an institution is manifesting, it's not that we hate the institution or the people in it, we want it to be it's best by pointing to it's current manifestations - often manifestations have an underlying cause that can use some fixing. Often speaking out against an institutions current manifestations is prompted by wanting it to return to it's founding aspirations. So just think of me as George Clooney.
What is probably my fault in lack of communication skill, is that the article/post was only slightly about the dress code (yes, I do have an ounce of interest in the dress code, but that's about it, and I think I said too much about it confusing things) the article is about the conversation I had with the President of King's College and how he denigrated a large swath of people I am intimately connected to (and that's why I noticed it, whereas no one else then or now seems to have noticed or cared about that denigration - aren't some of you PK's and felt like he dissed your dad?). And it was about how I recognize that he was able to do that in a public forum because he is a part of a culture that affirms that and sees nothing wrong with it (a notable manifestation). Not one single comment here from the students seems to have any problem with the things he said about those groups of people, a very interesting comment (manifestation).
I wrote the post knowing it would stir up some trouble because I am trying to get under the hood of that particular culture and check its manifestations - thus helping it return it to it's original aspirations (God's love manifest in community).
I am all about being free to believe whatever you want to believe. But what I think is important to know, is what you believe in the context of other possible beliefs, and to make a wise, reasoned, prayerful choice to continue in that belief culture and stream knowing where it fits on the spectrum (or what side of the mountain its flowing down).
The flow of beliefs and money in a stream are what create institutions in our society. The Jews in America have a tremendous number of cultural institutions that are well funded and that promote their beliefs (awesome!). The Buddhists have a so so number of such institutions. the Democratic and Republican political parties have their stream of beliefs and money. The media institutions have their streams, the art world has it's streams (more like creeks for most of them), political activists of all stripes have their streams. (and the mention of money in this context is not negative, of course these streams need money, but just noting the stream of money is helpful in identifying the stream and its goals).
One of the most important things is to know what stream you are in and really decide if that is the stream you want to be in. Many people find themselves standing in a stream and they don't really know how they got there or why or what it is.
Fundamentalism, the thing that is currently scaring the pants off most of the world's population, is the belief that your stream is the only stream and that's it. No discussion, get in the stream or you're going to die - either by God allowing you to die spiritually and go to hell, or by God commanding me to kill you. Whether he takes you or I take you, you're going to die if you don't get in this stream (I'm not saying TKC is fundamentalist, but be patient as I build here).
Here's why I do what I do; The church in America is shrinking. There are less Christians today than there were yesterday. Tomorrow there will be less also.
Two groups of people are the one's whose presence is missing from the church and thus it is shrinking - the first group are longtime Christians who find themselves increasingly disenchanted with many levels locally and nationally of Christian culture and are literally streaming out the doors of the church - in order to preserve their faith (not to leave the faith). This phenomenon is well documented by George Barna's book Revolution and by many people's anecdotal evidence all across America and the blogosphere.
And the second group is an entire generation of young Americans sometimes refered to as the post-Christian generation. They grew up with baby boomer type parents who were often atheist (at least functionally) and so didn't expose their kids to religion. They grew up in this transition from modernity to post-modernity (or whatever you want to call "that which comes after modernity"). They are curiously very different from their non-religious parents - they are very spiritual or open to spirituality. Some say it only took one generation of atheist parents to drive the next generation to spiritual belief. But, even though they are very open spiritually, they are also completely turned off by what they see of American Christianity. Interestingly, they are very open to and curious about Jesus - they sense a good vibe about him, but what they see of American Christianity nudges or pushes them away.
These two groups of people, the Barna Revolution Christians leaving church to preserve their faith, and the post-Christian generation together represent the first time in the history of America that so many people are "missing" from the church that the church is shrinking. There are parts of the church that are growing but they cannot keep up with the parts that are shrinking. Evangelicalism is shrinking but more slowly than Mainstream protestants or Catholics. Mainstreamers in particular are porch diving. But evangelical Christianity is shrinking.
That's not a small thing. The Kingdom of God was made to grow. So, of course the big question is, "What's causing the shrinkage?" And then, How can we fix it?
I believe, and so do a good number of others (who flow in different streams than TKC) that evangelical Christianity has become so power hungry after a few decades of growing power and political triumph, that there has been a subtle drift away from the gospel of Jesus, to a gospel of political power or whatever else it might be (of course all in the name of Jesus). When Jesus was on earth, he spent a lot of time prophetically calling out the religious political power holders. The prophets did that also in the OT.
If America is the most powerful nation on earth, and the President of America is the most powerful man in America - when the National Association of Evangelicals has weekly conference calls with the President, and are known to be his power base - then I don't think it's too far fetched to imagine a bunch of people that close to the greatest human power on earth could have been tempted to drift by that power.
Now, back to streams. The Kings College is decidedly, and inarguably in a very clearly known stream of money and influence and belief that is at the very heart of evangelical politic and power pursuit (if you wonder about this, follow the money, it will show you who's in the stream). I'm sure most of you know that. The question is did you know that a lot of Christians have a problem with that? Did you know the church was shrinking? Do you think the church is in need of reform?
If you knew a Christian who left the church because he was really bummed out by it, would that motivate you to wonder about you and your "church stream's" role in that loss of your brother?
Do you know that your generation is the most lost in the history of America?
Is that a crisis?
There are by far less Christians amongst your generation than any other before it. If that is true, does it give rise to questioning the status quo of the church?
Are people who do question the status quo of well known public church institutions and their leaders - in this state of crisis - being mean?
Wouldn't having this knowledge and not passionately questioning the status quo power holders (the ones who caused it and can affect change) amount to a betrayal?
If we have a whole new set of issues with our current shrinking church, compared to the excitedly ascendant church of President Oakes college student days 35 years ago, would that lead us to consider the need for new thinking?
The ascendant nature of the last twenty years of evangelical growth, has left those still hot on that exciting warpath unaware of other things that are happening - runners in a race don't notice the fungus on the trees. When you are trying to build political power and influence, you don't talk much about shrinkage or want to notice that it's there. It's too negative.
Maybe you don't know that the main job of college Presidents is to raise money. That is true of both secular and Christian private colleges. Colleges are essential and need talented fundraisers, of course. Fundraising is essentially selling. I was in sales for years. Sales is a good thing. College Presidents have to sell a vision to donors, a vision of how their money is going to change the world through the fine young students produced. That's the job of college Presidents and it is good and needed. The cost of your tuition is directly tied to how good of a salesman J. Stanley Oakes is, and so you should hope he is good - the more he raises, the lower your tuition. I'm sure he is awesome and I'm sure he's personally saving your parents a ton of money. I loved my years in sales.
But here's the thing about salesmen - they don't notice anything negative. You can't sell negative. You can't be negative. You have to drum up a vision of awesome exciting beauty and emotionally communicate that to your audience - and it's truly a grand sight to behold it done well.
But the thing is that when your ship is sinking - you don't need a salesman to motivate you with a grand vision of your destination, you need an engineer with a keen eye for the reality of the negative situation and a mechanic who can execute repairs on the hole. That's what prophets are known for - calling out negative things that are sinking the ship. We need many, many prophets, all the time, it's no big deal to be a prophet or prophetic.
The reason you guys all love J. Stanley so much (as I would if I were in your shoes) is because he is a grand communicator of an exciting vision - and I am not being cheeky when I say that is totally awesome - super awesome.
But here's the thing. We are in a time of crisis. When I say the church is shrinking, that's the same as the ship is sinking. How long can the American church shrink, before it is sunk? Do you want to be Europe? The ship sunk in Europe.
Imagine if the post-Christian generation never gets turned on to Christianity - the seriousness of that is sobering. Time for that logic class - how long will it take the older Christians to die off naturally, and for the new rising post-Christian generations to populate the country with nothing but post-Christians? If that happens the ship has sunk, we are Europe. It could really happen, it is happening now - the only way to stop it is to reach your generation, or the next one for Christ. This is a total and serious crisis.
This is a time for the church to be deeply quiet and introspective about where we have gone wrong. It is not the time to be running ahead. How can you run ahead when you don't know where to go? How can the church be shrinking/sinking, and we not understand that everything we are doing right now has to stop, be considered, and then reformed?
The stuff we are doing right now, is the stuff that leaders and theologians and pastors over the last 30 years slowly thought up and slowly implemented. What you are doing and studying at TKC is stuff that was thought up twenty years ago - that's how institutions work.
So, this is a time not for salesman to pump us up, but for prophets to lead us towards humble self introspection leading to prayers of repentance and asking God to show us where we went wrong and to move in a new direction that he shows us. Anything else is to be partying on the sinking ship.
So back to college Presidents - I doubt J. Stanley Oaks or most of his main ideological and financial partners that stand in the same stream together even know the church is shrinking (because their type doesn't tend to notice that). They are smart, talented, quite impressive people who are running ahead with all their might. I am sincerely and tremendously impressed with many of their accomplishments - they are all smarter and harder working than me.
But I believe they have drifted off the path, and that maybe a meek guy or two speaking out prophetically can help them to see that people are leaving the church in large numbers, and not coming to the church for the first time in large numbers because of the culture they have created over the last 35 years or so (unwittingly). They need to see the ship is sinking and pull back on the throttle (all their plans and ideas).
I don't doubt their sincere early motivations. I was one of them and watched them build this whole thing. I gave Pat Robertson money when I was a high school student in the seventies. I thought he was awesome. If it was 1983 and I was a college student at TKC, I would probably worship J. Stanley Oakes.
But it's 2007 and good and reasonable people in our general culture don't want the evangelical power elite to take over control of the world. They aren't against them because they don't believe in God, or "get" the cause of righteousness, they just don't want someone taking over society and telling them how to live. No one anywhere likes power grabs. This is the core of the drift that lead us to hit the iceberg. Okay, the ship is sinking J. Stanley and buddies - stop the power grab. Okay, I understand you didn't know, but now you do, so stop scaring people and start listening to them.
When you think differently from those all around you, sometimes we call that a blind spot. As a student when you think you are just trying to get a good education and do well in business for the gospel's sake, yet a chorus of voices all around you are proclaiming they perceive your college and whole stream of leadership around it as someone making a power grab - and you are scaring them and you are not listening to them - then it's time to listen to them - and if you are the college President, then you need someone to point out your blind spot. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time when I noticed J. Stanley saying things that I know scare people and make them run from the church. Love for those people makes me want to ask J. Stanley to stop saying those things. Shhhhh, you're scaring the children.
Jesus came to suffer and serve - to build community from the bottom up, not the top down. We need to learn to live in a complex pluralistic society where we make Christ attractive to others because they see the love we have in our midst, not by taking control of the great institutions of power. Christ has never dwelled near earthly power. He has all power, and he expresses it on earth by giving power away, by dying, by letting go - that is our Orthodox example. Christ is always counter-intuitive. We build his Kingdom by drawing people towards loving communities of faith, not by controlling the power in culture and shaping it how we want.
You must understand the chorus of voices who are saying you are scaring them by seeing this in light of 9/11. On that sad September day the world changed, and one of the big things that changed is that a lot of people that used to never be scared got scared. I know TKC is not fundamentalist - but people in the culture don't understand the difference between evangelical and fundamentalist - they are the same to them. I even know mainstream protestants who can't really tell them apart. The rise of super scary fundamentalist Islamic terror has created a deep change in how people in our culture understand people of faith. People are scared of people who do things because God told them to. If you don't understand this one important point you will flounder much in your work for God in todays world. Ascendant evangelical power grabbing has become deeply tied to the fear people legitimately have in their heart towards people doing what God told them to do.
So, you should go to The Kings College and you should study your heart out about business and economics and philosophy and just get super smart and equipped - but we as a church need to take a different approach to how we implement our hopes to change the world. We need to be so freakin' sensitive to the real fears people have of people who want to change the world for God. It's super real and a failure on our part to deal with this reality will fundamentally affect our chance to save one of the upcoming generations and stop the ship from sinking.
This is where we drifted - we started trying to just be present in culture (because we had been missing and that was totally off), but somewhere along the way we got sidetracked. Folks like J. Stanley Oakes have spent their lives fundraising, networking and thinking about how to take power. That's what he told me personally that night, and that's what is obvious to any cultural observer who sees where TKC fits on the spectrum of streams of belief and money. And that's the stuff that scares people bad. You can't lead people to Christ when you are scaring them.
When he said I should just listen to him and accept his judgement because he's been doing it for 35 years - that was a manifestation of him running along this stream for so long, that he doesn't even know the ship is sinking - because that is the kind of statement that says I know what God is telling me to do so don't question it - and that is what scares people today, and also is what just kills the post-Christian generation in terms of not being open to dialog (the whole central political power metanarrative thing) and keeps them far away (I'm sure if he knew that he would never say it - but fundraising is the main job of college President's and it is quite tiring).
When he denigrated all those people that are different from him, that was him saying, "I'm so sure I know what to do with the power when I get it, that I don't really need others input - and I can't even really respect them given they dress poorly, in fact they dress like homeless people, uh, what do you call them...oh yeah, bums" - that's a clear indicator of how power has caused him to drift and put him square in the sights of the need for a prophetic calling out. Telling the powerful and power-hungry that they are arrogant accounts for significant portions of the prophets and the gospels. I'm sorry that your guy got busted, but he said it. And when the ship is sinking and a college President says that - he needs to be rebuked, the stakes are too great.
And maybe the first time you read the post you didn't know of the crisis and that the ship is sinking, and so you just thought I was a jerk...but now that you know your President was partying on the deck of the sinking ship, I hope you'll be more kind to the messenger who went out and asked him to stop.
This is not to say that just going to TKC is an indictment - the church needs to be reformed, not destroyed. J. Stanley Oakes is going to have a huge mansion in heaven - getting caught asleep at the wheel is not that terrible - but it does require some response. If we suddenly wake up and discover that we drifted towards power grabbing and lost our servant based prophetic power to draw people to Christ - then we repent and return to our first love. A lot of us are just now waking up to this drift. I'm no different.
Drift is hard to notice at first. But a whole ton of people are waking up to this drift and they are noticing there are no 18-35 year olds in church(*) and they have a lot of long time Christian friends that don't go to church anymore, and they notice a lot of the society being really annoyed by American Christianity for good reasons and they begin to realize how power corrupts and causes drift. And they notice that the most powerful and wealthy country on earth has been controlled by a political party that is not only known as the political party of the church, but also the political party of the wealthy, and they wonder how Jesus got on the side of the power elite?
Evangelicals are famous for not being strong on social justice, and for being very strong on creating wealth and protecting that wealth through the party of wealth, the Republican party. People notice that and it turns them off. (Once again, just trying to notice manifestations that lead us back to original aspirations - not anti-Republican)
If you're cool being in that stream. Awesome, you'll hear no problems from me (unless you say something really mean and stupid in public - then I might have to call you out).
But do you know the church is shrinking?
Even if you don't notice the church shrinking, or believe me that it is, at least look into it and the fact that a lot of people are talking about these things and so there might be something to it.
And do you know the particular stream of evangelicalism that you and TKC are in? (and how many perceive that stream as the one leaning on the steering wheel while we drifted into the iceberg that punctured the hole in the hull?) Seriously, are you aware that people are scared and that they have coined words like "wingnut factory" to describe TKC - you really have to know that in order to realize the crisis.
I'm not being mean to J. Stanely or TKC, I'm calling you to stop running ahead with a 35 year old plan and start being quiet and listening to the chorus of voices all around you in the culture who are helpful in helping us to see our blind spots - sensitive to the realities of our post 9/11 world and the state of fear out there. And then to be in a mood of quiet attentiveness to God about things like repentance, confession and lots of prayer about the future he is leading us towards.
(*don't be fooled by the amazing growth of megachurches - for every successful megachurch of 5000 people, there are hundreds of other churches that have closed or shrunk that represented 7000 people...5000 moved over to the megachurch and the other 2000 left the church. A net loss of 2000.)
I want to add something about the comment about not being afraid of being excellent and being successful in business and government - of course those are good things. A big part of my life is helping artists of faith be the best they can be in the secular art world, that's my main gig. What has happened is that the church has lost its prophetic call because though we were going in the right direction - to be present at all levels of society, including the high levels, which we had been absent from - we did so while remaining separtist and critical of society in a real ugly and unattractive way.
Ever heard of the culture wars? that's a bunch of Christians not going to see some movie or not buying Palmolive products because their corporate symbol looked weird. We need to be present emotionally, artistically and actually (not in our subculture) before we can be a good member of society who happens to have some strong business gifts and rises to a high level.
When you are a separtist group and you want to take over the world and tell everyone else what to do that is the problem, and that is exactly, exactly, exactly how they view us.
There's nothing wrong with being gifted and doing well politically or in business or in any sphere - but you have to do it if you are a Christian (especially today) from a place that shows people you care about them and are there for their benefit - a true servant. When we don't listen to the voices in the world telling us they are afraid of our grabs for power for a lot of good reasons - we doom ourselves to not being in a place to "ascend as a true servant". If we don't listen to the sound of all the feet walking out of the church by the culture we've created, we won't be able to serve well (if we didn't know so many feet were walking out, were we listening?).
People have a right not to want a separtist group to control them. I wouldn't want Hare Krishna's to take over the government and make me wear their clothes and haircut. Even though we think we "aren't that guy" - we must listen to the world around us who really, really, really do believe we are that guy - and they're scared of us because we have shown some awesome power in political elections. (which brings up the whole point that evangelicalism has really become the dominant political church of our state - we're not really that up and coming anymore, we're already there - note NAE conference calls with the President).
So there is this very long story of how we have to be a present part of the world physically, socially, artistically, emotionally in order to gain the privilege of their trust so we can be leaders in all levels of society - including the high ones of business and government as trusted servants.
This gets into my whole life as a pastor of artists and a voice calling the church to be a part of the art world and culture in general. If you aren't around when the gang is having fun, and then you show up and just want to get your way on the group project, no one will like you. It's like the weird neighbor who never joins others for casual talk out in their yards, the only time you see them is when they are mad at some kid for riding on their lawn - if the only time you see us is when we are denigrating culture and we're not being a part of that culture - if we spend inordinate amounts of time building a whole subculture with our own music and film and books and colleges and then suddenly want to show up and control everything, don't you see how scary that looks to them? We are the weird neighbor.
If you hang out and know everyone in the neighborhood and volunteer to help clean up the playground and generally be present, then no one blinks when you also decide to run for the school board.
This is why though the dress code is not the biggest thing, it is still a part of our lack of "being a part of" physically and emotionally. In your college years, you should be a college student. The vast majority of people who will be filling all the positions of power and influence that TKC students also want to go to are just enjoying being college kids right now and wearing whatever clothes they feel like. I want you to be present among them. Staying separate and preparing for your assault on power by practicing dress up for four years is part of the problem (though a minor one).
You are more responsible for reaching your own generation than you are for the businesspeople in the Empire State Building - there's plenty of older Christian businessmen reaching out to them and because yours is the most lost generation in the history of America - there is just mathematically less people your age reaching out to people your age than there are forty year olds reaching forty year olds. We always have a natural affinity for the people our own age who grew up watching the same TV shows and in your case understand why Myspace exists (which for example, I at age 43 don't understand at all).
Are you exhausted reading this, I don't blame you. I know I am tired of hearing myself think. I'm just a guy doing my best to hear the Lord and live my life and not be afraid to do the tough job. I hope you'll be patient with me if you disagree - if I'm totally wrong and there is no crisis and the church is right on track, I'm sure President Oakes will survive my words and forgive me and I hope you will too. Maybe you'll read some of the earlier posts on my blog where you'll see I'm all about talking about relational love ad nauseum. Many blessings.