A blog for Christian men "going their own way."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Problem with Boundless.org

Recently, Ted Slater posted a flippant piece on Boundless' blog about the Obama family and some lodging accommodations they were seeking prior to the presidential inauguration:
To my knowledge, no politician since Truman has stayed 15 consecutive days at the Blair House. Doing so would be highly unusual. And so we shouldn't be surprised when such an unprecedented request is denied. Certainly we shouldn't be outraged.

The fervor over this situation makes me wonder how long will it be before someone makes the correlation between it and that experienced by the Messiah, whose family was also told that there was no room in the inn for them.
One reader wrote the following in response to Ted's comments ...
Ted, what does this have to do with anything this blog is supposed to be about? This is a political post that does not have a clear connection to church, family, young people, or marriage. I read Boundless for biblical-based viewpoints, not Republican-party-based rants against the liberal media.

I'm surprised you chose this controversy to comment on rather than the controversy over Rick Warren's invitation to pray at the inauguration. I'm not asking you to add to the uproar over who's praying where, but it would be more in line with your mission statement, as I understand it, if you had chosen a topic like the Warren issue.
This reader's observation got me thinking about what Boundless is supposed to be. For the last couple of years, the Boundless website has been a target-rich environment for my criticism. Somebody might assume that I have a personal ax to grind against its staff members. I really don't, however. The folks at Boundless are not the only the ones who have been the subject of my criticisms. Moreover, Boundless has indeed presented some material that I can heartily agree with as a Christian. So, what is the problem?

The problem is that even though a stopped clock is right twice a day, it's still a stopped clock. The problem is that in North America, there is some confusion about what the word "Christian" conveys. For people such as myself, "Christian" conveys an adherence to God's will as revealed in his inspired word (we might call this "Biblical Christianity"). To others, the connotation is arguably more political or social in nature (we might call "cultural Christianity"). The concept of "a Christian nation" comes to mind as something indicative of "cultural Christianity" (though the idea is unbiblical, at best). In bringing up this matter, I am reminded of what Os Guinness (along with John Yates) wrote about the Episcopal church:
The "sola scriptura" ("by the scriptures alone") doctrine of the Reformation church has been abandoned for the "sola cultura" (by the culture alone) way of the modern church. No longer under authority, the Episcopal Church today is either its own authority or finds its authority in the shifting winds of intellectual and social fashion -- which is to say it has no authority.
Truer words have never been spoken about the religious left. Now, let me ask some questions. Do we really believe that social conservatives are any less immune to the all-too-human temptation to refashion spiritual truths according to their taste? Is there a conservative analog to the "sola cultura" of the left that is just as spiritually suspect? If not, how do we, for instance, explain the shameful legacy of overt racism among socially conservative faith traditions? If there is a "sola cultura" that can be found among conservatives, does it become legitimate simply on the basis of passing lip service given to Biblical authority (Mark 7:6-7)?

This gets me back to Boundless. Boundless' stated goals are as follows ...
The mission of Boundless is to build strong foundations for marriage, parenting and Christian service by providing young adults with a Biblical vision for the single years rooted in sexual purity, Christian community, and stewardship of gifts and talents.
Yet what have readers actually encountered? Extra-biblical, legalistic, reactionary ideas about dating, sexuality, marriage, childbirth, gender roles, etc. That in addition to the following ...
  • reflexive anti-environmentalism (such as panning green bibles, while giving a free pass to other topical bibles - women's bibles, bibles for military personal, etc.)
  • pro-Israel sentimentality
  • support of neocon interventionism (the war in Iraq)
  • unapologetic support for the concept of one-issue voting (contrary to James 2:10; Rom. 3:8)
  • .... and the "such like," being hallmark traits of right-wing religiosity.
Granted, I personally of know Christians that embrace some or all of these attitudes. Let me say, however, that it's one thing to parade these attitudes on a personal blog or a blog that is focused on social and political issues. It's quite another to do it under the auspices of a "ministry" to young adults. In the latter case, I believe the spiritually responsible thing to do would be to avoid polarizing, divisive themes that have nothing to do with one's stated pastoral objectives.

I submit that "ministries" such as Boundless have no real value except for a segment of Christendom that has grown up in a certain sociocultural context. Others who come to Christ from a different background and who have little or no use for the Southern-fried, Americanized, suburbanized Churchianity that passes for Christianity in the Anglosphere are not going to have much use for Boundless or similar outfits. To be blunt, the heavily politicized modus operandi of Boundless and its parent organization, Focus on the Family, could easily be underwritten by a conservative think tank in Washington (such as the American Enterprise Institute). Discerning believers who eschew the intellectual sinkhole of modern conservatism would do well to look to other alternatives for spiritual advice for their daily living. Really, if I wanted to hear the rantings of misguided Republicans, I could read the Weekly Standard or National Review Online, not a website supposedly targeted towards single Christians.

Now that the economy is in the doldrums, the bread-and-circus crowd must worry about their next paycheck and not so much about blowing up "dem Ayrabs." All the palace prophets that enjoyed their strut across the public stage for the last eight years or so have been sidelined to a considerable degree. People may have voted for marriage (Proposition 8), but they didn't vote for Dr. Dobson's handpicked neocon (and no, dear readers, I didn't vote for any race horse in the corrupt two-party system).

What can we say to all of this? I can say that I find many of my fellow believers to be hopelessly insular and out of touch with what the Gospel is really about (I say this is as a soul that has come from a non-churched background and who has in many ways been on the outside looking in). What should we expect when the Gospel is politicized, perverted, and prostituted by people with a desire for political and cultural hegemony? I could tolerate the intellectual hypocrisy of the Religious Right a little bit better if they didn't try to pass off so much of their views as the "Biblical" or "Christian" way. I could tolerate them a little bit better if they didn't demonize their opponents as being "liberal," "secular" "unspiritual," etc.

There are souls out there such as myself who cannot be categorized as politically, culturally, or even theologically liberal who nonetheless have no use for the Mighty Wurlitzer of Red State values. People such as myself cannot be ignored any longer. We refuse the facile pigeonholing of the culture wars. The culture warriors tell us the fundamental issue is about "worldviews." They're right about that; I'm just not so certain theirs is all that Biblical.


Adam T. said...

Anakin, I agree that Republican =! Christian (in fact I would argue that many American Protestants have made an idol out of nationalism in a very grave way), but I think you are overstating the extent to which Boundless comments on political issues.

I submit that "ministries" such as Boundless have no real value

I have found Boundless to be of very great value to me personally. My family are not Christian; I don't make close friends easily and thus have no strong male Christian influences; and my fiancee's father has passed away. Boundless has therefore played a huge (even primary) role in shaping my thoughts on Christian relationships and marriage, and in particular it has helped me immeasurably in figuring what I believe my role as a man is supposed to be, and what I think my wife' role is meant to be.

I don't exaggerate when I say that my relationship wouldn't be nearly, nearly as healthy (or even existent) as it is without Boundless.

Others who come to Christ from a different background and who have little or no use for the Southern-fried, Americanized, suburbanized Churchianity that passes for Christianity in the Anglosphere are not going to have much use for Boundless or similar outfits.

You're going to have to be much more specific before I'll agree with this.

Elusive Wapiti said...

My problem with Boundless and other organs of the Evangelical Establishment is that I perceive them to have supinated themselves on the marriage bed of Mammon.

They covet the influence that comes with having "their man" at the levers of power. Even when "their man" has demonstrated hostility to Christian values in the past and only pays any attention to them because of the hordes of xtian voters that subscribe to the red-state politics as well.

The Republican party no more cares about biblical issues than the Democrat one does.

A similar situation applies to the faithful in black churches...they are the doolies of the left-wing establishment that seeks only to use them as a tool to achieve political power while keeping them on the plantation.

Adam T. said...

They covet the influence that comes with having "their man" at the levers of power.

I don't disagree that much of Evangelicalism in general is like this, but where has Boundless made such a habit of this?? I don't see that very much with them.

Christina said...

I'm in agreement with Adam T. on this one.

As to Boundless's purpose, I always thought it was helping/encouraging singles bring a Christian perspective when looking at the world, society, and culture.

Regardless of whether they are right or not, I think they do a good job of fulfilling that particular purpose.

And whether you agree or not, singles do like a diverse amount of topics to be able to discuss. The idea that there IS discussion is so incredibly wonderful, as I've never had that in a Bible study. And sometimes, how to deal with world events from a biblical perspective isn't always clear.

The post you point out has to do with not giving into the mania that the media stirs up over anything.

Their main political drag is whether abortion should be worth single-voting or not. Regardless of whether you AGREE with their perspective, how many christians have you seen on Boundless who think a Christian perspective is not necessary or desirable in American politics? I've seen a lot. And those people maybe should question that thought... And Boundless serves its purpose by challenging that opinion...even IF they ARE wrong.

You may not agree with headship theology or their stance on politics, or the party that you know they vote for and their parent org supports...but don't be swayed to think that a Biblical perspective isn't necessary in cultural discussions, societal trends, and political debate.

At least they challenge us to question ourselves enough to come up with good retorts. You don't need to convince them that THEY are wrong so much as you need to convince yourself that YOU really are right.

And that's only when you believe they are wrong =p

And if you don't think that's a worthy enough goal, then what IS the point of the church? To agree with eachother on every tidbit, no discussion on anything about the world we live in, leading to no growth on any subject matter?

Triton said...

If not, how do we, for instance, explain the shameful legacy of overt racism among socially conservative faith traditions?

I don't see that this needs to be explained at all. There's plenty of "overt racism" in the Bible, including commands to commit genocide against ethnic groups the Lord was angry with.

Perhaps what you really meant was "government-mandated segregation" and its Christian supporters. The government shouldn't be telling any of us who we can or cannot associate with. Both government-mandated segregation and government-mandated integration are violations of our freedom of association.

reflexive anti-environmentalism

This is because the environmental movement of today has little to do with the environment and more to do with the government confiscating property without compensation. Environmentalism as we know it is simply a red herring for the elimination of private property. When this changes, then we can get back to talking about proper Christian stewardship of the land. But until then, we must recognize this tyrannical movement for what it is.

pro-Israel sentimentality

Agreed. Philo-semitism is one thing, but unconscious support for the government of secular (and quasi-socialist) Israel is something entirely different.

interventionism (the war in Iraq)

Agreed. It is immoral to attack a country that as not attacked us. I can't believe so many people disagree with this, preferring instead this "pre-emptive war" crap that is simply another term for aggression and empire.

unapologetic support for the concept of one-issue voting (contrary to James 2:10; Rom. 3:8)

Agreed, though I don't think I would have used those verses to support this, especially James 2:10. I think a better verse would be Rev. 18:4.

As to the point at hand, I think it's only natural for this cultural stuff to occur. Every denomination has such quirks; the trick is to find one that sticks to the Bible better than the others, not one that sticks to the Bible perfectly.

Or one can simply not belong to a denomination at all, preferring ad hoc Bible study instead of traditional church attendance. Then, the only thing between the Bible and you is your own conscience.

catwoman said...

Fine post, Anakin. Very little in there that I'd take issue with. I hate "package deal" politics.

Adam T. said...

What do you mean by "package politics"?

catwoman said...

The assumption that if you agree with X, then you must also agree with Y.

Anonymous said...

instead of attacking a ministry that is doing good and not teaching doctrinal error, you should focus your fervor on evangelizing the lost.

Amir Larijani said...

Anonymous says: instead of attacking a ministry that is doing good and not teaching doctrinal error, you should focus your fervor on evangelizing the lost.

Actually, the post gets to a very critical matter that involves outreach to the lost.

It's all well and good to take a stand for the truth, and one ought not worry about the resultant opposition that materializes. After all, any time you take a stand for the truth, you are going to have opposition.

On the other hand, we do need to ensure that we are endorsing the truth, and not merely a cheap substitute for it.

Sadly, political endorsements by religious organizations--left and right leaning--usually fall into the "cheap substitute" category.

Personally, I agree with most of what the FotF/Boundless folks say on these matters: (a) I'm pro-life, (b) I oppose homosexuality, (c) I'm a skeptic of anthropogenic global warming, (d) I find the media obsession with Obama quite amusing.

On the other hand, on some of the issues, there is room for substantial latitude with respect to their political resolutions.

On abortion, pro-lifers often disagree as to whether we need (a) states rights, (b) a federal law, or (c) a Constitutional Amendment. It gets even dicier when one discusses contraception, as pro-lifers are hardly unanimous on (a) the legitimacy of contraception or (b) among those who support it, whether state or federal government ought to fund its availability.

Which one is the more "Christian" response? I'm probably to the right of Anakin on contraception; still, as a libertarian, I oppose all federal funding for it, as it ought to be a personal matter.

Even on the matter of homosexuality, the politics is not as cut-and-dry as we'd like to admit. Opposing homosexual behavior, for example, ought to be a no-brainer for the Christian.

Still, the larger issue is where homosexual behavior ought to fall with respect to state, local, and federal law. Some Christians--in their zeal for a Christian society--support bringing back anti-sodomy laws, and prosecuting homosexuals.

And we cannot deny that there is a Biblical case for that position.

Personally, I believe what consenting adults--straight, gay, or otherwise--do among themselves ought to be no concern of the State. That's because the enforcement apparatus required, and technology available for enforcement, for anti-sodomy laws would give us a State powerful enough and intrusive enough that we would end up with Orwell on steroids.

Is there a Biblical case for my position? Yes. Trouble is, it would involve exposition beyond the number of words I'd like to type tonight.

Back to the point: I mention all of this to point out that there are legitimate cases, regarding the hot-button issues, for latitude in resolution--even among conservative Christians.

That poses a risk to Boundless: they can unwittingly alienate many conservatives by focusing on some matters that are, at best, petty. Examples include the minutiae of Obama's pre-inaugural actions.

The Scott said...

My problems with boudless is this...Challenging youth to wait until they are an adult before having sexual activity is one thing. Scaring the heck out of them, and telling them a condom is a provision for sin is irresponsible. Did you know the Lovers in the Song of Solomon have sex in Chapter 2, but don't get married until Chapter 3? The kind of ignorance Church leaders have about this sort of in-your-face premarital sex in the Bible has gone on too long. If you want to know more, go to my website. It's cheaper than a Purity Ring and a lot more fun than abstinence.

-The Scott


Blogger said...

Searching for the Best Dating Site? Create an account and find your perfect match.