(I hope I'm not doing exactly what Matt is afraid of, but here it goes anyway)
I’ve never related to the idea that Jesus is my homeboy. I’ve never been able to get comfortable with Christian t-shirts or bumper stickers, “praise” concerts that echo the latest variation of what U2 sounded like a few years ago, or radio stations that claim to be a ‘”positive” alternative to their secular counterparts. Basically, I have a hard time with Evangelical pop culture. It’s not that I think that it is, in all its various manifestations, wrong, it’s just plain…not enough.
Despite what you may see on the back of many a jacked up truck, Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson never gave permission for his characters to be merchandized. He explains in the forward of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes that he didn’t want them turned into action figures, printed on underwear, or slapped on a bumper for one simple reason: there was no way such things could properly represent what his stories were about. And he’s completely right. His comic strips are interesting, nuanced, and thoughtful; to translate them to such insufficient mediums would be to erase their value. Seeing what’s happened with his unlicensed images, you can imagine how right he was to resist.
If an unusually thoughtful series of comic strips can’t be properly represented through merchandise, remind me why we’ve even attempted it with the God of the universe? The chronic problem of pop culture is that it skims the top of actual culture, at best expressing the spirit of the current age, at worst misrepresenting, mocking and undermining anything that isn’t easily understood or immediately current. Evangelical pop culture has not faired any better. In fact, I think an argument can be made that it is infinitely worse, merely because the subject it is trying to address is unimaginably deeper and more ancient than anything the secular world has invented.
Jennifer Knapp’s announcement and subsequent interview in Christianity Today is really important for this reason. She was a figurehead of young Evangelicals 7 years ago, a rising CCM star alongside DC Talk and Rebecca St. James. She was an American Idol of Evangelical pop-culture. And then she disappeared.
As modern Christians we are all too often putting band-aids on the gushing wounds that come from the battle between self-identity and spirituality. You’ve got a problem with your desires, longings, beliefs, doubts, fears? Well, if you’ve got a public role to play in Christian pop culture, you better paint a pretty picture and deal with it in secret. There has been no room for people like Knapp to work out their faith where they are. There was no room for Ted Haggard, so he kept up the right façade until someone else toppled it for him (and after seeing him on some talk shows of late, I’m not convinced he’s given his up yet). There was no room for Amy Grant when she divorced her husband. No room for Billy Graham’s children to rebel. And these are just the public examples through which the message became clear to the rest of the world. Evangelicals have to fake it until they just can’t take it anymore. We somehow became an entire religion that appears to be publically judging the world for what we do in secret.
I understand how important our morality is to us, but when did it become a stumbling block to seeking God? It may sound strange, but I believe there are people (especially young people) who are dying in our morality because they haven’t seen God in it yet, which is especially true for people who don’t know enough Christians in their real life to counteract the images they see in the news. Where is the place where hurting and sinful people can express to God and to man, “This, whatever this is, is who I am. God help me.”
I don’t care that much about Knapp’s sexuality. I am interested in her honesty. As a prominent member of a fairly small group of famous Evangelicals, she “came out” without mocking or dismissing Christianity. Through her public, thoughtful interview, she is opening a door for homosexual people (at the least) to begin to wrestle with a faith they thought they had to give up. I can only hope that the reaction to her won’t slam it shut again.
Christians believe that God meets us where we are, that holiness is a life-long, hard-won pursuit. I think this means that we would rather provide the space for people to honestly and openly approach God the Redeemer, whatever else they are up to, then tell them there is no room in our inn (I couldn’t resist). But it’s hard to put the nuances that message entails in a sound bite, a catchy song lyric, or on the back of a blasted T-shirt. It’s nearly impossible for a public figure who has been a part of the Christian subculture machine to express anything more than moral pride or shame. She did.
Our God is more vast than the universe. Our faith is an attempt at finding Him in a world that has been made blind and shallow. How did we allow this faith and our message to get so abbreviated that we have nothing else to say, nothing else to believe, but that which can be encapsulated on a license plate frame or a verse from Leviticus? God has never spoken that way to us. Perhaps it’s time to stop speaking that way to everyone else.