Thirty years of running Sojourners and he finally has a book tour that's taking the mickey out of the right. Strange.
He led with a story of his first conversion "since evangelicals often have multiple conversion stories" (shared with his mostly Catholic audience). He told of being six years old and in his parents' church when an evangelist came to save souls. He was seated in the front row with the other little unsaved six year old kids who'd already performed enough evil deeds to send them to hell for eternity.
The evangelist pointed a bony finger at Jim's chest, looked directly into his eyes and said, "Son, tonight if the rapture were to occur, your mommy and daddy would be taken to heaven and you'd be left behind. Do you want that?" The Catholics laughed uncomfortably, but I sat with jaw dropped open. Isn't this what children of alcoholics do? They make jokes that are meant to minimize the sucky childhoods they've endured when all around can't laugh... it's too ugly! I hung my head in shame for evangelicals.
Gee, Jim, nice tradition we come out of...
His delivery shouldn't have surprised me, but it did! He went into full tilt evangelical rhetoric to deliver a mostly vague message about the need to become involved with social justice (easy sell to this crowd). I'm all for social justice, but I'm not all for smug self-righteousness disguised as reading the will of God.
If he had substituted missions language into his talk, it would have been the same one that drove me to the mission field in 1983. That's right - there was no substantial difference in the delivery or the shaming/motivating tactics he used to reach this audience. The only real difference is that he had the wrong audience. The Catholics weren't challenged by his talk - they were relieved of the burden of understanding their evangelical brethren. By the end of the night, they could feel smug and justified in their contempt for the religious right and their historical interest in social justice.
So how did he do it?
Well, he used these kinds of phrases:
I want to commission this generation to seek a vocation, not a career.
The faith based communities are the ones who have invariably led movements. It takes the religious to lead a movement of real change. Secular people won't do it.
God has a purpose and plan for your life and it's your job to figure out what that is.
This is the generation that can change things. We are waiting for you.
Get in on what Jesus is doing, on what God is doing and what he cares about.
Blah, blah, blah.
Uh, this is the message of evangelicals everywhere you go. The religious people are the best people, they are the ones who know what God is up to, they are on the cutting edge walking forward with vocations, not just ugly self-serving careers, the 20 somethings will save the world because hey, this is a different generation than the ones sitting next to you who botched it and missed the message back in the day...
Bitter much? Yes!
I could have stood it more if he hadn't name-dropped every ten minutes showing off how many Big Stars he had chatted with and the wonderful life-changing impact about to sweep the world as a result of his insight and vocation!
Now here's the deal... I'm won over to the social justice agenda. I liked when Jim said "political, not partisan." I liked it when he talked about how the right has focused on saving the unborn and forgets about the born... and how to help them. He had some great word pairs that I jotted down and then lost. :) It was the overall tone and style of the thing that upset me.
Get me away from the tactics of leaders who believe they know what I ought to do (or what I didn't do) and who shout it to me. I'm utterly allergic. If I could find one person who is self-deprecating, who knows what needs to be done, but appeals to our own weaknesses, our repeated distractibility and yet finds a glimmer of hope in us anyway, who admits to the scale of the issues and gives me a practical, realistic step I can take today (rather than committing to saving the whole fucking world), I'd join up...
Oh wait! I do know someone like that: He's right here.