Putting a New Face on Church and Politics

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PORTLAND, Ore. - One interesting difference about this year's election campaign is how much the Democratic Party is reaching out to Evangelicals.

What's giving it hope? Well, a new type of church is filling up with thousands of young Evangelicals who don't look, live, or vote like your stereotypical Christian.

It's called the Emerging Church and you can often find members living and worshipping in more liberal leaning cities like San Francisco, Seattle or Portland, Oregon.

The Emerging Church

Portland writer Tom Krattenmaker has written about the Emerging Church for USA Today.

He said its members often identify with the "post-modern" outlook, which he said is characterized by, "Ambiguity, decentralized authority, not being super-sure about everything all the time."

Krattenmaker quoted a fan of the Emerging Church who described its typical members as, ".backpack-lugging, Birkenstock-wearing, vegetarian, left-leaning Christians."

But there's no organized Emerging Church movement, so congregations who might be identified as part of the Emerging Church aren't always sure they are or aren't.

Jason Simmonds, an associate pastor at Portland's Mosaic Church, reflects that uncertainty:

"We're seeing people in Portland who resist maybe the more traditional church who are becoming a part of our community and are finding Jesus here. So if that makes us Emerging, then yeah, okay."

A documentary from Dr. Charles Stanley's Family Net Television explored the post-modern outlook that can often be found in those who might be attracted to the Emerging Church.

In the film The Changing Face of Worship: The Church in a Postmodern World, Christian pop singer Rebecca James narrated and said, "We live in an age where many people no longer believe in absolute truth."

And they have a problem with authoritarian, establishment churches.

In the documentary, Pastor Mark Driscoll of Seattle's Mars Hill Church, an Emerging Church, reflected that attitude, saying, "It's important to understand religion, but apart from Jesus, religion is silly and a waste of time. The most important thing is Jesus."

In Portland, Pastor Simmonds told CBN News, "We need to be Jesus' representatives outside the Church and not just expect people to come to us, because the Church doesn't have that sort of credibility."

All Are Welcome

Simmonds believes the Body of Christ has to be much more open to all sorts of people.

He said of Mosaic, "Hopefully if you come in with big tattoos and stuff you feel like you can have a home here."

"We don't put up any expectations that you get cleaned up and you dress in a certain way and you get your life together and then come check out what we're about," Mosaic's lead pastor, Tim Osborn, said.

The Emerging Church tries to make it particularly easy for outsiders to fit in. Rather than just offering Bible studies and church services, Mosaic has a number of what they call "Connect Groups," just centered on fun activities, like the Young Ladies Group that gathers for Happy Hour on Fridays.

Kellen Jordan came to Portland and Mosaic alone and wanted to get to know other young women, so she organized the group. "The agenda is simply to get to know each other and hang out and have fun."

Jordan talked about other Connect Groups: "There's a biking group. There's a knitting group. There's a swing dance group."

An outdoors Connect group was heading off to snowshoe in the nearby snowy Cascade Mountains when CBN News visited Mosaic.

Knocking Down Stereotypes

But the Emerging Church is about much more than just fun and games.

It's serious about showing a different face to the world than that of the stereotypical conservative church.

Writer Tom Krattenmaker said, "They'll tell you that they believe that this wonderful faith of Christianity has been hijacked by a political movement they think that is wrong, and they're trying to model the faith in a different way."

Like Emerging Church members who've moved out of their homes into poor neighborhoods to be living witnesses there. One couple who did this in a Texas town told Krattenmaker that's part of "the ethos of downward mobility."

In Portland, Pastor Osborn had high praise for two Mosaic couples who moved from comfy middle class homes into a poor part of Portland: "They're giving up a lot to be there, but they're being missionaries in their community."

And while they put a high premium on serving the poor, Krattenmaker said Emerging Churches place very little emphasis on social issues that many other churches consider high priority: "You won't hear them saying a lot about abortion and homosexuality."

They say concentrating on such divisive issues doesn't cut it in the 21st century. Because for post-moderns, it's hard to judge people, cut them off for being wrong or dismiss them as sinners.

Simmonds said, "To emerging generations, I think relationships trump a lot of other things, including truth sometimes."

Krattenmaker said that leads some conservative Christian leaders to blast Emerging Churches, accusing them of, ".sacrificing truth for the sake of being relevant and hip and palatable and popular."

But is It Biblical?

Perhaps with its emphasis on the young and the hip and the trendy, the Emerging Church movement has found a way to take the Body of Christ into the 21st century. But is it biblical?

Christian radio's John MacArthur doesn't think so.

The conservative pastor said on a broadcast titled What's so Dangerous about the Emerging Church? that the post-moderns' outlook, embrace of ambiguity and refusal to sometimes take hard stands gives license to sin.

MacArthur stated in that broadcast, "Then you can be a member of the church if you're a homosexual, if you're overweight or if you like chocolate, and it's all the same. You can live anyway you want to live. Ambiguity is wonderful if you want to sin without any guilt."

But Mosaic's Jordan says at least the Emerging Churches she knows adhere to high biblical standards. For instance, she said Mosaic believes "the Bible is the Word of God. It is the truth. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life."

Pastor Simmonds agreed, saying, "We do believe the Bible's true and those kinds of things."

And Jordan said of her pastors, "Everything that they teach and put out there for their congregation is very much Bible-based and it's not 'choose your own way.'"

So in many ways, these emerging Evangelicals share many characteristics with their more conservative fellow Christians.

But many are different politically. And that could lead to some interesting election results in the ranks of Evangelicals this year.

*Originally aired on October 24, 2008.

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Paul Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

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