Since 2008, Q, an organization that sponsors conferences and frames itself as a Christian version of TED, has hosted lectures, interviews, and debates between cultural leaders, pastors, and other educators. Their goal? “See the Christian faith become increasingly attractive, credible, and influential in the church, our communities, and the next generation.”

But in hopes of reaching out to a broad audience, the organization has made some alarming compromises. The conference undoubtedly wants to reach any believer. It can help with its ideas and opportunities to encourage thoughtful and provocative conversation about contemporary issues, whether political or theological. Frequently, that means that they desire to bring in people from many sides of the problems, whether progressive or conservative.

But that also leads to some very peculiar exchanges. This year especially has gotten some attention and perhaps even demonstrates where this goes wrong. Earlier in May, Q received media attention when pro-Trump radio show host Eric Metaxas engaged in a debate with Never Trump writer David French about the justification (or lack thereof) for supporting Donald Trump.

But what makes this particular exchange interesting is how, despite the rather vulgar language used by Metaxas and the dismissal of French’s claims, Lyons strives to end the debate with a call to recognize the humanity of the other. By itself, this isn’t bad. But there is something forced about Metaxas calling French his ‘Brother in Christ’ after stating to the audience that everything French said previously was ‘utterly preposterous.’ Mix in comments made afterward by guests on Metaxas’ show about how French being “Neocon first: and “Christian second,” and all of it rings hollow.

A few weeks later, the conference gained attention again. According to reporting from Religion News Service, Lyons had brought on Joshua Axe, a chiropractor, and alternative health advocate twice to speak on medical issues. In that period, Axe promoted alternative medicinal answers to the Coronavirus, claimed that the media was making the pandemic worse than it was, and discouraged the use of vaccines, claiming that

A vaccine — again, that’s not the ultimate solution…. The ultimate solution is God, and also, secondarily, supporting this body God has given us, strengthening our immune system so we can fight off not only this virus, but every virus we’re exposed to in the future.

What makes this particular incident even more aggravating is that Axe was preceded by an actual doctor who had experience regarding Coronavirus and that there wasn’t any attempt at a correction on Lyons’ part toward any of Axe’s assertions.

Then again, perhaps that isn’t that surprising. Lyons has long been committed to hosting a diverse, wide-ranging group of speakers at Q.In an interview with World Magazine, the author asked Lyons about his willingness to host people described as ‘outside of Biblical orthodoxy.’ In his response, he stated:

That’s the risk you take when you’re trying to create space where you’re going to have difficult conversations about topics that are very complex, that don’t always have very simple answers, and where you’re not trying to instruct and prescribe every single person in the audience [by saying], “This is exactly how you must think when you walk out this door.” That’s not what we’re doing at Q.

At Q’s core is the implied value of conversation. For Lyons, communication is beneficial in itself because it allows for exchanges and growth, as well as exposure to new or challenging ideas and possible growth.

But should anyone be allowed to the table? This question is one I struggle with because it requires the organizer to maintain a set of standards. The presence of Axe, a pseudoscience promoter on the stage of Q is concerning, while I would not see the presence of Christine Caine of Hillsong to be as consequential as others.

When Lyons speaks about influence, he speaks of learning to “say it in a way that people listen.” He notes Chuck Colson’s influence and how the former political official made strides to influence entire cultures. Those notions are certainly admirable, and even desirable. But to what end? What form of Christianity or common good is to be pursued? Is it the politicized and Americanized sense of faith that defines Metaxas’ career in past years? Is it the pseudoscientific notions that orient themselves around Axe and the anti-vaccination movement?

Lyons seems unable to provide a meaningful answer to this throughout his work . Rather, there seems to be an underlying notion that communication and cooperation are goods in and of themselves, and in doing so, society can be improved.

This is a significant concern with Q. There is a place among believers to have a conversation and seek correction and opportunities to learn. But the act of communication is not enough to justify allowing an open platform to anyone who wants to speak to the issues and matters of the day. There needs to be a set of universal principles which speakers adhere to. Perhaps it is that of reliance on factual consensus, or perhaps a coherence regarding select issues.

Q, at its heart, wants to start a conversation about what it sees as matters of importance, whether political, cultural or theological. And conversations are important while churches exist in a marketplace of ideas. But if that conversation is opened to those who deem it an opportunity to seek profit or promote false ideas without appropriate pushback, then it is setting a precedent that could lead to significant harm among Americans. We can hope that Q will learn from recent events about how to approach these issues, particularly as life and politics becomes further saturated in misinformation and polarization. It will need to do so in order to meaningfully witness to whatever sense of truth its organizers might hold to.

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Posted by Christopher Hutton

Christopher Hutton is a freelance writer who has covered culture and religion for Religion Unplugged, RNS, and The Federalist.

  • Why wouldn’t your proposal end up with two people in a discussion agreeing with everything that the other says, or discussing only topics no one really cares about?

  • Tim James

    It sounds like Q has exactly the same issues that TED Talks do: If you place a premium on compelling communication and novel ideas, you’re going to become the favorite platform of hacks, quacks, gurus, and hustlers. Because the point isn’t the truth; the point is giving charismatic people a chance to publicly float their interesting ideas, whether or not those ideas have any basis in reality. I think of one very popular TED Talk where the speaker essentially claimed that MLK not only planned the March on Washington (which he did not), but that his sense of purpose was solely responsible for the “success” of the civil rights movement (which is both inaccurate and insulting). Surprise, surprise: it’s a TED Talk about marketing, and the bad history is just a cheap way of making a shallow, inspiration point. What’s ultimately missing, of course, is wisdom, and the willingness of the organizers to be actually do a little research and use a little discernment. Would that undermine the whole project? Maybe. But at that point, who cares?