conservative christian

The Specter of 'Normalization'

Image via Rene Bach / Flickr / RNS

In the fight over gay rights, conservative Christians have a new enemy. No, it isn’t a politician or activist or organization. It isn’t a noun at all, but rather a verb: normalize.

In Albert Mohler’s forthcoming book, “We Cannot Be Silent : Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, & the Very Meaning of Right & Wrong,” the president of the flagship Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., discusses the normalization of same-sex relationships a whopping 39 times.

“The normalization of homosexual relationships and the legalization of same-sex marriage” is, in Mohler’s words, “the debate of greatest intensity of our time.”

Jennifer Knapp Makes a Case for Being Gay and Christian in Upcoming Book

Jennifer Knapp is as shocked as anyone with her newfound role. RNS photo courtesy Fairlight Hubbard for Eye Photography.

Four years ago, when musician Jennifer Knapp declared to the world that she was a lesbian, some of the conservative Christians who had purchased 1 million of her albums expressed outrage and disappointment.

At the time, Knapp had already been on a seven-year professional hiatus and declared she was not interested in being a poster girl for the gay Christian community. Neither did she feel equipped.

“I’m in no way capable of leading a charge for some kind of activist movement,” Knapp told Christianity Today in 2010.

But her sense of readiness has apparently changed. Simon & Schuster is preparing to release a book by Knapp in October titled “Facing the Music: Discovering Real Life, Real Love, and Real Faith.”

A New Way of Being Christian in the Public Square

Three decades ago, the evangelical faithful was galvanized by public debates over abortion, the size of the federal government, the future of the traditional family, and religious liberty. Many responded by following divisive leaders into the culture wars with the promise that voting for "moral" leadership would end abortion, protect traditional marriage and put our country on the right track.

How did that work? Not so well, it turns out.

A Turning Point on Immigration

“WHAT A MOMENT you have brought me to,” belted a massive gospel choir of nearly 100 mostly white students and faculty at Cedarville University’s G92 Immigration Conference in Ohio in October. Led by several African-American and white students and staff, the choir swayed, clapped, and worshipped, pressing through years of tradition, partisan loyalties, and cultural isolation.

Founded 125 years ago, Cedarville is rooted in a fundamentalist worldview, which is not generally associated with justice efforts in the social sphere. Carl Ruby, Cedarville’s vice president for student life, said in a recent interview: “I grew up hearing about the dangers of the ‘social gospel.’ The social gospel was always presented as something antithetical to sharing the need for personal salvation. I don’t view it that way anymore. In fact, I think if we approach issues of social justice appropriately, it lends credibility to the gospel message that we want to share. I think we need to both tell the gospel and do the gospel.”

At Cedarville, according to Ruby, a transformation was sparked for faculty and students by the 2007 book UnChristian, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. “They outlined the way that people outside of the church tend to view, particularly, conservative evangelicals as being pushy, hateful, disconnected from issues that matter, backward culturally,” Ruby explained. “I want to see us change those perceptions by providing solutions to real-life problems.”

The following year, Ruby tried to bring Shane Claiborne, cofounder of The Simple Way community and author of The Irresistible Revolution, to campus to lecture. The backlash from bloggers and alumni was so great that Ruby canceled the event.

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Joyless Christians and The Lord of the Rings

My favorite characters in The Lord of the Rings are the Ents -- an ancient race of giant living, talking, breathing trees in J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional land, Middle Earth. I have a little confession to make: Whenever I hear a reading from Isaiah 55 where it says, "The mountains and hills before you shall burst into song and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands," I always picture the Giant Ents from The Lord of the Rings. And then I picture these clapping trees from Isaiah holding little Hobbits in their branch arms in what ends up a willful conflation of Middle Earth and Major Prophet.

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