Dear Answers In Genesis,
Happy New Year. I hope you had a good Christmas season. I mean this sincerely and despite anything I’m about to say to the contrary. Because, in case you’re wondering, my New Year’s Eve didn’t go so well. And it’s your fault.
Well, okay. It’s only partially your fault. Some of the blame goes towards a nagging sinus infection (Nyquil isn’t as festive as champagne, FYI) and the, albeit, ill-advised decision to eat discounted deep dish pizza. None of that was your fault.
But what is your fault is an article that popped up on my newsfeed. It was one of your articles. And it proudly proclaimed that Answers in Genesis (AiG) had purchased space on a billboard during the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration. Here’s the advertisement:
And with that advertisement, you really ruined my night.
Because I am a Christian. And, although we have a few ideological differences, I think we have the following in common: we’re both passionate about proclaiming the gospel message- the story of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection as revealed in the biblical witness- to American culture.
Which is why I’m frustrated with you. Because though we have similar goals, I am perplexed by the tactics with which you insist on engaging the culture. And with your recent advertisement you made the task of conversing with culture infinitely more difficult. You touted the gospel message in a manner that makes Christians look petty, ridiculous and downright absurd. This is the kind of reputation Christians are desperately trying to shake. But you played right into the stereotype.
Let’s start with the opening line:
“To all of our intolerant liberal friends…”
Let me be blunt: this comes across as ridiculously passive-aggressive at best and childlike at worst. It sounds like an interaction between Emily and Lorelai on Gilmore Girls:
In case that reference was lost on you, please understand: it’s not a compliment.
Are there members of the ‘liberal’ community that are intolerant? Yes, of course. Are there members of the scientific secular community that reek of a hypocrisy in their advocation for so-called ‘tolerance’? Absolutely.
But Christ’s command to ‘turn the other cheek’ wasn’t solely literal. Rather I want to propose that it was a figurative way of Jesus commanding his followers to take the high road. If that’s the case then you definitely dropped the ball (pun intended) when you broke the bank on New Years Eve to send the following message (in your words):
“Those who are proclaiming tolerance in our culture (i.e., typically liberals) are often some of the most intolerant of people. And their intolerance is usually directed at biblical Christianity.”
With that agenda you shattered the first rule of evangelism/imitating Christ/basic rhetorical common-sense: you began a conversation by passing judgement on the opposing viewpoint. In your defense, you actually (claim to) believe this method would somehow work. Again, I quote:
“Indeed, the words ‘intolerant liberal’ on the billboards are meant to engage secularists head on.”
But if you really want to engage secular culture, it doesn’t help to begin by labeling (i.e. passing judgement) on their misdemeanors. Jesus didn’t begin his conversation with the woman at the well by calling her “you adulterous whore” (John 4); he didn’t begin his chat with Nicodemus by saying “you cowardly intellectual” (John 3); and he didn’t start his interaction with the man at the pool by telling him “quit playing the victim” (John 5). He could have but he didn’t. Because it is neither biblical nor culturally advisable to begin an interaction with condemnation. Christians who point the finger at everyone else for their inability to engage in crucial conversations do not mimic Christ, they mimic culture.
Next your advertisement goes on to say “Thank God For Freedom.”
Okay, see…that’s ironic.
Because the brunt of my frustration with your organization’s agenda is the false dichotomy that it creates. I have read copious amounts of your literature. And while your informed and academic defense of a young earth creation theory is inspiring, freedom is hardly a word I would attribute to your version of the gospel message.
Because what I consistently find in your articles, interviews and (now) billboard advertisements is the message that if my science doesn’t match your (nuanced, methodized, biased) biblical interpretation, then I must lose my science. The consistent agenda of AiG is that my perceptions and intuitions, derived from scientific theory, are only valid if it agrees with AiG’s interpretation of scripture. In other words: get with the program or accept our condemnation (in the form of billboard campaigns).
And the aforementioned program is a very particular, highly debatable, interpretation of scripture. Again, I fully believe that scripture ought to be viewed as authoritative. But I also believe that interpretation is rarely (if ever) black and white. And everyone’s personal biblical interpretation ought to be taken with a grain of salt, especially when held up against God’s general revelation granted through scientific endeavors.
But your approach to this discussion doesn’t acknowledge the potential legitimacy of any viewpoint but your own. And increasing numbers of young Evangelicals are departing from the church because they find themselves presented with the choice between your perception of God and their perception of science; there’s no leniency and no flexibility.
That’s not freedom.
Freedom in the Gospel is freedom to approach the cross of Christ with whatever burdens, theories, perspectives and viewpoints we each may have. The role of Christians is to clear the pathway to the cross, proclaim the message of Christ and invite people towards it. But AiG’s agenda erects walls of issues and build entrances armed with metal detectors of biblical translation, padding down people as they enter to make sure their ideological ducks are all in a row. AiG’s message is not one of freedom but one of bondage to a specific biblical interpretation. Any viewpoint that builds itself upon rigid adherence to the letter of the law inhibits true gospel work in daily conversation with the skeptics, cynics, scientists and earnest individuals to whom your modus operandi for conversational engagement is combative and irrational.
Again, my intention here is not attack views espoused by AiG; young earth creationism is an understandable, historically precedented interpretation with ample biblical support. But it’s not the only such interpretation; there are many sincere, intellectual, biblical and dedicated Christians who hold opposing viewpoints and can support their position with sound biblical support. To present the gospel message with stipulations and interpretive requirements is like early Jewish Christians demanding that converts be circumcised, an approach to the gospel that Paul readily condemned in his letter to the Galatian church.
And so I’m writing this to you because I want to see us working together. I want to see our American culture engaged with the message of Christ in a way that entices intellect, peaks curiosity, excites imagination and draws people into a conversation rather than shutting down the possibility of a dialogue in rhetoric only slightly deviated from a “I’m right, you’re wrong na na nah nah nah!” approach. I don’t want scientific viewpoints to be a stumbling block to anyone as they approach the cross. After all, we all bring our separate idols, and we all spend our lives in the process of smashing them. But to tell one group of people that theirs are too big to bring to Christ’s table isn’t just intolerant, it’s an abuse of the gospel message itself.
In other words, this simply isn’t helpful:
I hope you had a happy New Year. Seriously, I mean that. But please, take down your billboards or at least adjust the tone. Because right now they are neither helpful nor complimentary to your viewpoint or the gospel message as a whole.
I hope someday you see that.
P.S. Yes, I actually watch Gilmore Girls