I was having coffee with an old school friend yesterday. He was in the local Charismatic church back then, I was in the local Dutch Reformed church back then. He is still in the same congregation, but even back then they were slowly moving away from the charismatic label and rather adopting the label evangelical, and I have been moving closer to… I’m not always sure what, but I like much of the emerging conversation.

He bemoans the fact that Americans have annexed the evangelical terminology, and complains about the way people misunderstands evangelicalism. So I asked him what exactly evangelical means. Without any hesitation he went on to tell me that there is no central creed. Not Lausanne. Not the Westminster confession (although, according to him, that one is the most common in the world where he moves around).

He continues to tell me that being evangelical is mainly about shared relationships. It’s people who journey together.

Sound familiar? Same thing those who associate with emerging thoughts would say.

Maybe there is more of a realization that we don’t have a common theology than we might think. Maybe many continue in the tradition they are not because they agree, but because they find community, friendship, in this tradition. So they’d rather disagree and remain in community.

Evangelicals would probably consider my friend to be in line with evangelical theology, but he wouldn’t make that a prerequisite to be part of the evangelical community, if I understand him correctly.

I’ve been listening to the 2007 Emergent Theological Conversation with Jack Caputo and Richard Kearney over the past few days, and the story of Derrida and Riccoeur, and how their personal relationship impacted they way they talked philosophy really touched me. This provides for true ecumenical conversations, where the relationship gets priority over the idea.

Not so easy, I agree. Peter Rollins points to this in second paragraph of this post, but maybe what we should be looking for is the idea which would give relationships priority over ideology or theology. Caputo’s love of God in chapter 1 of On Religion maybe?

Went to see Juno on Tuesday and I cried laughing while still getting the feeling that this film is getting me to think, is spreading a message, that the story is opening a window onto real-life questions. Things I seldom seem to find in typical comedies. The film tell the story of a 16 year old girl that become pregnant, consider abortion, but then decide to carry the child through pregnancy and give it up for adoption. Although some have critiqued this as pro-life, Ellen Page, playing the role of Juno, deny this. Nonetheless, I think the film do open up the conversation, and also open up the possibility that teenagers can carry on with a pregnancy.

I grew up with the concept that abortion was wrong, and that was the beginning and the end of the conversation. A lot of my ideas on things have changed over the years, but in general I am still very much against it. A few weeks ago I did an exercise with some of the Engineering students in my class: After giving them a certain moral dilemma, I asked them what their gutt-feel is about how we should think about this. This was at about week 3 or 4 of an introductory course in ethics. I then let them argue their point, but they had to use utilitarianism or deontology, with the various sub-forms we taught them to make the case. The purpose of the exercise was to shoe them how they actually are using certain ways of thinking unconsciously already, and how their gutt-feel fit into the approach they would choose in the end. I guess what I’m writing is a similar exercise.

Somehow the pro-life/pro-choice argument don’t seem to work for me. Also, it seems to be an American conversation, since I haven’t found these categories working that strongly in South Africa, and we’ve also been through the whole process of legalizing abortion. Furthermore, and for once in my life I need to protect the conservatives, I’ve found it strange how documentaries such as Jesus Camp or Baby Bible Bashers portray the fight against abortion as one of the worst things Evangelicals can do. Am I missing something? What’s the big deal? OK, I don’t like the whole “you’re sinning and going the hell because the Bible tell us so” language that sometimes get used myself, but is it so wrong to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves? Isn’t that something we find with the historical Jesus as well? Isn’t one of the most outstanding features of the historical Jesus his approach to children (see for example Andries van Aarde’s Fatherless in Galilee – not for the faint of heart)? On Parchment and Pen a while ago. Micheal Paton wrote this post on a theological understanding of abortion, also saying that we cannot defend abortion theologically in any way.

Back to Juno. This movie paints a beautiful picture of teenage sex. It paints a picture of teenagers going into casual sex, but also of teenage relations that can actually be really serious. I’m not going into this controversial question today, but rather, I think the movie does something that Christians need to do to get past the pro-life/pro-choice argument. Juno opens up possibilities for pregnant teenagers. It open up the possibility that there is teenage life after pregnancy, while still living with the reality that people at school will be looking weirdly at you. It open up the possibility that there is good adoption parents out there, even if they do have mistakes and get divorced and are somewhat weird.

I guess the question is not an easy one. What do we make of a girl that gets pregnant because of rape? And with rape being such a reality in South Africa, this is the problematic part of the conversation we are being confronted with. And from a pastoral perspective, I can really understand some girls choice for abortion. The task of the church is also to fight for the defenseless parts of creation. This would also include the unborn baby. But we also have the task of fighting for the mothers who cannot see light in the dark tunnel of pregnancy, to point out new possibilities, and help them to carry it through. Hopefully this would be a little different than those standing outside abortions clinics with posters with guilt-laden messages.

I leave you with some questions:

Why is abortion considered pro-choice? Is it not more pro-adult? Saying that the needs of the adult human being are more important than that of the infant human being?

Shouldn’t the church maybe be blamed for abortion being so popular, since we have made it so difficult for girls who got pregnant, and helped create a society that really give pregnant teenagers little hope and a lot of despair?

One of the things in life which I was introduced to much too late, was Cinema Nouveau. But as of late, I’m becoming a fan. I first saw the preview for Jesus Camp while watching 11th hour. Jesus Camp is a documentary on a

You will find very little critique on what is going on in the film, and are left to figure out your thoughts on the stuff by yourself, a good thing I think. It portrays kids “talking in languages”, point out how these people put the kids on extreme guilt trips regarding sin(1), also the believe that America is the chosen nation of God, and in one interview the senior pastor claim that when the Evangelicals vote, they determine the election. Actually, a major theme in the film is the fundamentalist reaction to American politics, and the Bush administration(2). They are portrayed as supporting the war(3), creationism, against public schools, animal rights movements, and considering global warming to be just a political issue.

What got me is that you get to see how much these ideas have infiltrated the thinking in our own churches. See for example the magical approach used to prayer before they start the camp, where every chair and piece of equipment are prayed for individually, as if this will give more credibility to your prayer, God will be forced to listen, of the devil to stay away? (I have previously written some thoughts on this here).

Or what about the concept of sin being some form of supernatural cause of evil, especially when believers are not faithful. This is not the idea that our sin cause evil (that when we do bad things, we cause bad things to happen, when I don’t feed the poor, they remain hungry), rather that when sinning it opens some supernatural door for evil to enter the country.

The film has caused some controversy after being released (it’s been some time before it hit South Africa), many evangelicals not liking it, saying that Pentecostalism is portrayed in a negative light. Personally, although I have seen forms of evangelicalism with which I am much more comfortable, I’ve also seen things much worse than what get portrayed. And I personally wonder how big the difference in the end will be between Muslim and Christian fundamentalism, do we really want Christians willing to kill those they differ with?  Maybe we already have that in certain parts of the fundamentalist movement?

If you haven’t seen the documentary yet, take the time, see it, and think about it.

Maybe a last thing. I have used fundamentalism, evangelicalism and Pentecostalism in a way that it might sound as if these terms are synonymous, which they are not. Maybe it’s when all these terms come together that you find what is portrayed in the film, since each of them occur in other forms as well.

(1) see the one scene where the kids are crying, and the pastor say stuff like staying in the boiling pot a little longer etc

(2) especially the supreme judge theme running throughout the film, and the prayer for the election of a conservative supreme judge

(3) see for example the one kid shown wearing a “my dad is in the army” shirt, not that this is that big a deal, but a number of small detail are pointed to throughout the film.