I've remarked to a number of friends lately that there seem to be three main kinds of religious people in the world.
First, there are the fearsome -- those who like to make others afraid.
Second, there are the fearless -- those who refuse to be intimidated by the fearsome.
Then in the middle are the fearful -- those who are afraid to associate with the fearless because they might incur the ire of the fearsome.
I've noticed over the years that a favorite tactic of the fearsome is "guilt by association." A small group of the fearsome is using this tactic this week to attack Kay Warren for her participation in the upcoming Envision 08 gathering at Princeton University, June 9-11.
One of their blogs recently began like this:
Kay Warren Joins Heavy-Weight Emergents at Envision 08
Kay Warren, wife of Purpose Driven pastor Rick Warren, will join several heavy-weight emergent leaders at the upcoming Envision 08 event this June. Kay Warren will share a platform with Brian McLaren, Jim Wallis (Sojourners magazine), Shane Claiborne, Jay Bakker (son of PTL Jim Bakker), Doug Pagitt, and several other speakers who share emerging church proclivities.
In my opinion, Kay Warren is a hero. I doubt she would even be aware of "emergent heavyweights," much less wish to be associated with them. She is busy helping influence thousands of Christians to care in unprecedented ways for people in need around the world -- especially for those suffering from HIV/AIDS. The fearsome critics choose to ignore the amazing good Kay and Rick Warren have done and are doing, and instead they attack Kay for attending an event that includes people like (shudder) Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis, Jay Bakker, Doug Pagitt, and (shudder again) me.
Ironically, today's fearsome were probably yesterday's fearful who became co-opted by a mindset of fear. One can hope that more and more of today's fearful will refuse to be intimidated or play into the old politics of fear. After all, recalling Paul's words (2 Timothy 1:7), God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
When people tell me about the latest statements of these well-intentioned but less-than-fully-informed people, I feel like Nehemiah: I have important work to do and I don't want to get involved in their debates (6:3-13). Nor do I want to waste my and others' time in the kind of arguments Paul warned Timothy about (2 Timothy 2:14). So, may God bless the fearsome with a good night's sleep and a better attitude tomorrow, and may God bless Kay and Rick Warren for their good work -- fighting HIV/AIDS and helping the poor around the world (Galatians 2:10). And may God bless all who will make Envision 08 a remarkable, positive, Christ-honoring event. May few be intimidated or discouraged by the attacks of the fearsome, but instead, may many be strengthened in their resolve to do what's right and good -- fearlessly. And may we all manifest the fruit of the Spirit through all these controversies ... love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Brian McLaren also blogs at (brianmclaren.net) and serves as board chair for Sojourners. He is an author and speaker (deepshift.org). His most recent books include Everything Must Change (2007) and Finding Our Way Again (2008).