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Transcript: Taking Your Faith Private – Part 1

Transcript: Taking Your Faith Private – Part 1
Taking Your Faith Private – Part 1 (Stigma)
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John:  We’re actually starting on our new series tonight which is called Taking Your Faith Private. It’s a play, kind of, on this title, which is Going Public With Your Faith, which is a very popular book and series on evangelism. The reason I kind of picked, Taking Your Faith Private, is I really do feel like we have this pressure to stay silent about our faith that many of us have talked about, we’ve acknowledged, there’s even written books written on it.  But we’ve never really talked about as a group in here.  And I want to be clear: this is not a talk on evangelism per say, because we already did a series on evangelism.  It really is even more personal than that. It’s really more just about, how we are reacting to this pressure to stay silent.

Why Take On This Series? 

John: So, why would we take on the series? Tonight’s our intro, when we begin every series by kind of justifying, why would we take up time to talk about this. I want to put up a couple of reasons on the board, and then we’ll have a little bit of fun.

So, the first reason is:  I believe, as Christians, we’re called to speak about the truth.  Jesus is the truth. I think we’re called the speak truth and speak about the truth.  I think that’s a given.  We would all agree that that’s not something that I need to spend a lot of time defending or putting a lot of versus up there, reading that. I think that’s something we all know.

I also believe, as Christians, that we’re called to live as witnesses to Christ, we’re called to be ambassadors in the world.  We’re called to remain distinct from the culture. I think those are kind of the things that set this up for me. And I think many of us want to do that somewhere, so here’s what I believe also is happening:

I feel like we’re feeling a pressure to stay silent, to live out our faith privately, maybe not to completely surrender our faith, but maybe the best words to remember is: “keep it to yourself.” “Keep your faith for yourself, it’s a private manner.” And I think most of us are unaware of where this pressure is coming from. We might have experienced it, but we’ve never sat down and thought, “Why is this happening?” And I think unless we know why it’s happening or where it’s coming from, we really aren’t going to be able to formulate very much of response, even if it’s just for ourselves. Even if it’s just question like, “Should I keep it private?”

Finally, I think a lot of us have accepted the premises, the ideas that contribute to our silence. This one might catch you a little bit by surprise, but I’m actually going to state that, sometimes we actually agree with the things that tell us to keep up our faith private, and I’m not sure, totally, if we even catch ourselves realizing why it is we agree.  So, I want you to just to remain cognizant of that.  I’m going to talk about a little bit later in the series, just about how this happened.

Alright, so those are reasons we should do this. I actually believe that this is good stewardship of our time to talk about something that’s very important, because it’s personal. You know we just finished a couple of series that were much more theological in nature, they were dealing with struggles that we have about how we think about things like salvation or even learning about the Holy Spirit.  But this to me is very personal, because the pressure actually will impact the way you live our your Christian life. It is about you and your heart, and your relationship to Christ and others, and how you live at your faith.

What I Believe About This Topic

You know a lot of times in this series what I’m accused of is that I hold my opinion till the very end.  Like I’m trying to goad you into making all the classic mistakes, so this time I’m going to flip it entirely on its head.  I’m actually going to take a position right at the beginning.  And what I’m risking is that you’ll hate it. [Laughter] But I’m going to tell you my position so I’m not hiding anything about this topic. I want you to know exactly what it is that I think about this topic, and if you hate it, or if you resist it, that’s okay, hang on for just a moment, because over the next few weeks we’re going to be developing a little bit more about that. So, here it is, pretend this comes from some really, really smart person in a book. Here’s what I believe:

 There’s a growing pressure in society for Christians to remain silent and hide their faith.  While some of us occasionally encounter this pressure, many of us are unaware of just how far it has spread or how deeply it is ingrained in our culture. Some of us have unconsciously bought into the belief that we should keep our faith to ourselves, and most would mistakenly conclude that they came to this belief on their own. This pressure is not accidental nor is it naturally evolving. It is not something new. It is and has been carefully planned and has its roots going back at least six decades. But its greatest effects have yet to be felt. This pressure to take our faith underground will only increase during our lifetime.

And I really mean during our lifetime like while you’re alive I believe that’s going to happen, you’re going to see more and more of it. That’s kind of my summary of what I believe about this and why I’m doing this. Because I can give you a lot of “Why’s” we should do this, but there’s one that just sticks out at me:  this is so important that we at least together discuss what is happening and what it is to come. And I’m not trying to be an alarmist, just somebody who’s wise enough to know that we don’t think about this, and while we’re not thinking about it, six decades of trajectory have already started it, and we’re not really aware — most of us — what’s going on.

Defining Stigma and Prejudice

John: Alright, now I’m going to do something just a little bit heady before we have fun. I’m going to explain to you what social stigma is, and where this comes from. Now in my public policy class, we talk a lot about stigma and social stigma and the control that is put on society and stigma.  I’m going to give you some very simple definitions that we’re going to use, and then that’ll be like the end of the heady stuff.

First, why am I even talking about stigma? Because this pressure that I just referred to is really a form of stigma. There is a stigma against being a Christian, that’s my proposition. There is a stigma that we feel about self-identifying as a Christian in certain circumstances or, for some of us, in most circumstances. So you can tell — and there may be even a stigma to live out the gospel, or to even proclaim the gospel, or to speak about Jesus Christ.  Any of those things may be subject to it.  So I just want to at least put up there what a stigma is.

So, here’s the definition that I’m going to use, it’s fairly simple. I say simple because there’s lots of theories from sociologist on what stigma is, but I’m going to use one that will work for our purposes: It’s an attribute, a behavior or reputation which is socially discrediting, causing an individual to be labeled as a deviant from the norm. If you hold that something that is a belief from some sort of attitude that you’re stigmatized about, you’ll feel like you’re less of a person, or the society is discrediting you, and the idea here is to tell you — you’re not normal. You’re deviating from the norm.

I also want to put up here what a prejudice is. A prejudice is a preconceived judgment, it’s often unfounded. It’s a preconceived judgment towards persons because of gender, race, class, ethnicity, religion, nationality, lots of reasons.

Now, before you get lost in definitions, why did I put these two up here? As I’ve been talking to you about this subject, I’ve heard us already mix them up a little bit. Last week, in just conversations, I heard people say: “Well, I’m sure that many groups feel stigmatized by Christians.” You’ve ever been on one of those blogs where a friendly Christian is starting to write in all caps screaming out against everybody else in the forum? And as you’re reading it, much to your horror, you’re thinking: “Oh, my God, this person is ruining it for the rest of us.” Right? You’ve seen that before? Here’s what I’m want to be careful of: It’s true that there may be Christians who are prejudiced against other people.  That’s not what the series is about.  We’re not talking about all the bad things that we’ve done to other people or the things that we do that ruin our reputation.  What we’re really talking about is something different. Here’s a distinction between these two that I want to keep in mind: Stigma is societally enforced. Why is that important? Because what we’re talking about in this series is an effort by our society to silence. It’s different than a prejudice. We may be prejudiced against others, other may be prejudiced against us — I’m not talking about the individual level of where people’s individual prejudices are. What I’m talking about is, actually you can almost say, an orchestrated effort to try to keep people silent. And that’s a big difference because it’s very tempting when we started these series to say, “Well, don’t we do X?” And it’s, you mean, “we” as in “people,” or “Christians” or other people, then we’re talking about prejudices more often, than trying to apply stigma.


John: Last thing I’m going to put up here before we move on, is what’s called “passing.” That’s the formal term for “keeping it to yourself.” Sociologists will say that you’re “passing” if you’re putting on a cultural performance where a member of a stigmatized group acts in a way to avoid the stigma associated with the group. There’s actual studies of people who pass or engage in passing. What do they end up doing? If you feel like maybe you’re stigmatized in the group, or may be you don’t feel that you want to identify the group, you start to fabricate. Some people just outwardly lie. Maybe you don’t know anybody who does that, maybe you do. Or you’d invent an alternative persona. Maybe concealment is the next thing.  You just actually hide something that you don’t want to talk about. Or maybe the most common one is what’s called “avoidance.” You carefully select facts to let out, almost like distractions, so that nobody is really going for the thing that you need to talk about. Anyone been asked to direct a question about your faith, about your positions, anything, where you kind of like do the magician trick, which is: “Look over here!” Right? While you’re concealing or avoiding the very thing that you’re the most scandalized about? That’s passing.

Just keep those terms in mind because we’ve had to differentiate between the stigmas that are applied societally, versus our individual prejudices, versus passing. Morgan?

Morgan:  Would you, would you make a difference between, let’s say — I think there going to be antagonistic questions that are asked of Christians, specifically to — to let’s say the homosexual issue, or something like.  Do you think there are places in wise stewardship or evangelism of how to speak, where you’re not doing passing because of fear of engaging that issue.  You’re actually saying, “Oh, I’m in this situation where this person’s prompting something and I see that, I think it’s a trap. Actually you don’t think it’s a real thing, so I think may be the best thing to do is to pass in directly answering this,” but may be coming back to it — I mean — would you differentiate between that at all, or…

John: Yeah, because in that case what you’re doing is, you’re literally at a level where you’re trying to determine like, “How do I respond to what’s been put in front of me?” which is different than, “Do I even allow my identity to be known at all?” Right?  So, you might be in a work situation where somebody is saying, “I think it’s crazy that there’re people who don’t believe that all gay people should be allowed to marry,” and all those things, right? And it maybe your personal opinion, or it maybe even more of your group denominational view that, “Well I actually think there are bases why we would not allow that.”  I’m not describing how you engaged, but if you feel the temptation to just bury the fact that you’re a Christian because this person’s voice is so loudly heard, and as soon as you identify as a Christian you actually going be the target of that, that’s the concealment, right? Or, it could be the avoidance, right? Where — or some people actually I’ve seen lately — this should be another one on here, by the way, which is, where you do the offensive.  Like people jump in and go,, “That’s crazy, Christians are crazy! I don’t even…”  You know, they actually go overboard to tell you that, “No, I agree with you,” and they distance themselves in a group in such a way by almost just dislodging their membership to save themselves from being stigmatized publicly.  That’s what I think is the issue. Peter?

Peter:  With your initial comments on stigma, as opposed to prejudice, you’re not saying that there’s never been stigma that’s come from Christians, we’re just focused on this instance of stigma, right, the current one?

John: It actually probably applies to other faiths, but to a lesser degree. So, if somebody says that they’re just Christians that are the subject to it, I’d say Christians are more of the subject to it, because they’re the majority faith and they are a bigger target.  And by the way, there’s a blurring. I mean is stigma and prejudice totally separate from each other? No. There are stigmas that come because of prejudices, and there are prejudices that come from certain — I mean, but I just want to be clear, because I’ve heard in our conversation sometimes somebody said, like if I say, “I think there’s a stigma against Christians,” you can say, “Well if you’re a member of this minority group you must have felt that your whole life.”  It’s like, yes, but often time that’s more prejudice than society try to come up with a way that makes those people feel ostracized or stigmatized.

Examples of Stigma in Everyday Life 

John: Let’s have a little bit of fun.  Think about a situation when you’re in elevator.  I was thinking about this:  like, what are the fun things to do in an elevator? You know the rule when you’re in an elevator, right? Most of the rules are: stay silent, right?  You all have to face a certain way, right?  You have to look up, and as everybody get’s out, everybody readjusts.  There’s like a shuffle that happens whenever somebody leaves the elevator, right? We all know the rules.  But the thing that makes things like this — and this is a low level of stigma — what’s so interesting about this, is these are socially-enforced rules that nobody has to tell you, but if you get them wrong, everybody knows right away.

So, I actually was reading some of these, here’s some: “When entering the elevator, avoid facing the doors, instead start facing those already in the elevator.”  [Laughter]  The only reason that seems strange to us because we all know that’s “breaking the rules,” right?  But nowhere did Congress and acts the rules of elevators, right? These are powerful rules that are not legislated, and yet we all adhere to them. Here’s another one: “Grimace painfully while smacking you forehead and mothering, “Shut up damn it, all of you just shut up.” [Laughter]

Here’s a variation of Katherine’s: when the elevator’s doors open, don’t get inside.  Just speak to the people who are already inside, and say: “I know you’re wondering why I’ve called you here today.”  [Laughter]  “As you’re descending in the elevator look at the numbers and count them all out loud, especially in descending order.”  “Crack open your briefcase, peer inside, and say, `You’ve got enough errand there?’” [Laughter]

Here’s another one: “Simply `meow’ occasionally.”  [Laughter]   “Ask each passenger getting on if you can push the button for them, but then push the wrong one”.  [Laughter] And finally, “Take pictures of other people in the elevator with your cell phone.” [Laughter]

Now, not all socially enforced rules raise a level of stigma, but it is a fun way of starting to understand the difference between legislation and stigma. Those rules aren’t written down anywhere. There’s nothing in the elevator manual that we all get that says this is how you do it.  And yet, there’s this great pressure for us to conform. This pressure is very important to what we are going to be talking about.

Here’s another pressure: Take the stigma against cigarettes. If you go back to the 1930s, ‘40s, ‘50s, it’d be hard to find people who didn’t smoke. Smoking was so wide spread, smoking — cigarette companies were allowed to say that smoking had health benefits –they routinely advertised the health benefits of cigarettes. Doctors smoked, pregnant women smoked, people smoked at hospitals, people smoked giving birth.  There was nothing wrong with smoking, in fact, there was something great about it. It wasn’t until the end of the 1950s and early 1960s that the FDA finally started cracking down and saying, “You can’t say that it has health benefits,” but that’s about as far as they went. “No more saying that is healthy.”

Now, you know today, that there is a great stigma about smoking, isn’t there? We know that probably X number/percent — whatever you want to say, 15, 20% of people who go to our churches, probably smoke. When was the last time you ever saw somebody light up at church? Why? I mean there’s nothing  — I mean, I don’t know that Jesus says this is sinful — I know you can make a health argument, but you can health argument about a lot of th ings.  But we are so stigmatized about smoking, that if you were to actually walk out to the patio of your church and light up, I mean– you know, you might as well be naked. There’s going to be so much horror, people are going to be shocked. I was reading that in 2013, that’s just starting now, the city of Pasadena, not far from here, has now banned smoking not only city-wide, but if you live in a multi-family house — meaning a condo, town hall, apartment — you cannot smoke, anywhere in the public areas, or even in your own house.

Now, if you went back to the 1950s and you said, “There’s going to come a time in the United States that you cannot smoke in the entire city of Pasadena, not in any multi-family home, or inside, no restaurants, no outside, doesn’t matter if you’re sitting on a patio, all of that would be banned, the whole city would be smoke-free, except if you live in your own single family home, [it] will be the only exception — and you said that in the 1950s, people are like, “Only if the Russians take over. Only if we’re communists in the year whatever it is that this happens, because there’s no way in the United States of America that’s going to happen.”  But it’s happened. It’s happened. How did it happen? When we talk about this from a policy perspective, it happened because we stigmatized the behavior. We made it dirty, we made it bad.  We made it so that nobody would stand up for the rights of smokers, not even smokers themselves. What we did was we stigmatized smoking to the point that even smoker won’t stand up for their rights.  They feel ashamed. It’s a disease, it’s something you have to quit, it’s not something you stand up and say, “This is my right to smoke this cigarette.”  You say, “This is bad.”  Now, some of you may agree that it’s bad. Here’s what I’m going to say you need it to think about: Do you agree that is bad because it is really bad?  — most likely, I’ll admit — or is it because you are the subject of the same societal signals that make you believe that it’s bad?

How did we make it bad? We put ads like this all over the place, where a little kid is standing in front of his mom while she smokes.  We invented something that has always existed — I mean, is there’s such a thing as a cigarette that doesn’t put smoke out into the room? No, it’s impossible, right? But that wasn’t enough, so we created something that we called “second hand smoke,” right? “Second hand smoke,” like is there third hand smoke, was there fourth hand smoke? Like how far you have to be to qualify for those categories? But what we did was, we created something bad, we made it worse, and then if it wasn’t bad enough that kids could get this “second hand smoke” and get cancer — some of us don’t care about kids, let’s be honest — they had to come up with another campaign where we’re smoking in front of our dogs and they might get it.

Now, I’m poking fun at this, but this is very serious, because it did something most of us consider hugely positive: it allowed us to come to the place where we said, “We need a curb smoking.” We’re going to curb smoking by not having advertisements to kids, we’re going to banned smoking, we’re going to put taxes on cigarettes — I mean, cigarettes, I don’t know how much they cost to make, but the amount you pay is all taxes, and we’re trying to regulate it all out of the way. Where all the smokers who are going to stand up against these taxes?  Nowhere to be found, because they’re all stigmatized.  Because the societal pressure is so big that if you stand up, and you say, “I think that is time that we take up our streets and allow people to smoke everywhere they want,” who’s going to sign up for that protest?  Nobody.  Would anybody in here, is there anybody in there that would go to that? No, I didn’t think so, because we know that you might as well be doing a dance with the devil to be on the smokers’ side.  And what I’m telling you is, that’s stigma.

When you impose stigma on people it makes it easier to legislate because no one shows up to protest.  If we can legislate something – like back in the 1950s and ‘60s – it’d be so hard to do.  So we had to spend years breaking it down and turning it into just something that nobody would stand up for. You can see where my analogy is starting to go. Yes.

Chris:   When you say that you have to do this for years so that you can make it easier to legislate, it makes it sound like there’s some sort of intent, like it’s designed. Are you inferring that stigma is designed by somebody or someone, or it’s just a fallout of how people interact at a large level?

John: There are times when stigma is grassroots, but I would say most of the times, it’s actually engineered. That’s probably, to some people, controversial, and the reason it’s controversial, is because they’re the ones engineering it. So, as a preview, the reason stigma is different than prejudice is because stigma is engineered by cultural elites — people who are able to determine which way the culture is going to go.  They, almost like releasing stigma into the water source, let it go out, and then they enforce it.  After a while it has a life of its own.  But it’s — in my mind, a lot of times, it’s well thought out, it is not random.  That’s why I said in my thing, “It’s not random, it’s not haphazard, it doesn’t evolve on its own,” it’s actually something that somebody says, “We need to change the way the society is thinking, and we’re going to do it with something like this.” I mean, even in this case, you can see documents of people, how they did it.  Just going down a rabbit hole for a moment:  the tobacco industry is one of the strongest industries in the world, especially back then. It wasn’t just accidental that you were able to beat them in 50 years time. It was unbelievable, right?  It was very well thought out.

Here’s another one, you guys might be aware of, maybe.  How about this:  How many of us, when we were standing around, talking about where we want to go to eat — you know that happens sometimes, like “Where do you want to go,” “I don’t know, where do you want to go,” “I don’t know, I don’t care, I don’t know. ” Next time, if you want to do a little social studies experiment, the next time somebody’s doing that, just go: “How about McDonalds?” And just watch everybody looking at you like, “You’re not supposed to talk about that out loud.”  [Laughter] I mean if you to McDonalds at 11:30 at night, and get some — you know– whatever it is you eat there, I can’t even say it cause I’m stigmatized. [Laughter]  “You keep that to yourself. I mean, there’re certain things you do, just– we don’t want to know about, you know.” How did we get to that point? Because we have issues that we’re trying to do within the society, and because we start facing a health epidemic, an obesity epidemic. We’re starting to face illnesses that we are attribute to this thing right here, the big Mac, right? And this is the lighting rod, right? There’s no worse food — just try it, forget the McDonalds thing, just go: “I’m really craving a Big Mac, right now,” and just watch people looking at you, kind of like: “Ha-ha, what’s going on?” [Laughter]

Here’s what I was thinking about: how many calories are there in a Big Mac, does anyone know?  About 600-550.  I was thinking, like you know, if we are going to go out tonight — forgetting like if we went to like Legends — if we were just going to go out tonight, and somebody said, “Where do you want to go, where do you want to go, where do you want to go?” and somebody goes, “How about Chipotle?” Most of us are like, “Yeah,” it’s okay to say that, right?  It’s okay to say Chipotle.  You’re not going get looked at weird, you’re not going to feel this weird stigma if you say Chipotle — most people are like, yeah — I mean you might not like Chipotle.  I’m not saying that it’s universally endorsed that you must like it.  But no one is going to look at you weird for going to Chipotle.  So, I was think of what I would buy at Chipotle and I was looking at this burrito that they sell.  And online, Chipotle allows you — they have like a calculator for the calories.  So you get to choose all the things you would put in your burrito, and I was just thinking, I’m just going to choose this:  this is a chicken burrito, right?  Just chicken, a little bit of white rice, corn salsa, nothing crazy, no guacamole, none of that, right?

Peter:  Cheese, sour cream?

John:    Little bit of cheese, no sour cream — actually no, I think I put a little sour cream in there, too.  Alright, so how much is this burrito by the way? It’s 1100 calories for this burrito — which, good news for me, I can eat two Big Macs for that, right?  [Laughter]  That’s great.  Um, yes, Rachel is right, the tortilla alone is 300 calories — 290 to be exact. So you can go into McDonalds and eat half a Big Mac, or you could go to Chipotle and go, “I’ll just have the tortilla by itself.”  I’m betting the Big Mac might be tastier.  Yes?

Peter: Well, if you want to talk about maybe changing stigma against, like, unhealthy food, let’s say we do have rising obesity rates as a result of like, just the increasingly sedentary lifestyles Is stigma, maybe, like morally, neutrally the way the society pushes itself to evolve to a accommodate something like that, by eating better?

John: Most of us in this case  — if stigma was engineered in a laboratory, like I was saying to Chris, in some evil way, and Dr. Evil’s in the laboratory, deciding stigma to release — most of us would probably support this one, except that in this case it makes no sense, because we’ve got this positive stigma for Chipotle and this negative stigma for McDonalds, and it has nothing to do with facts in reality.  What it has to do is just, we’ve decided we need an enemy, we’ve decided we need to stigmatize people of certain things — and, of course, if you get into a social science of it, people are like, “Of course, that’s because lower income people go to McDonalds, and all that.”  You could go on this forever.  What I’m trying to point out is, no one has legislated a single thing against McDonalds yet. And yet, if they ever did, if they ever just said, “You know, you can’t have the Big Mac, it’s just going to be out outlawed,” I would bet very few people will show up to fight for it. Yes?

Ben:  Didn’t they try that in New York with soda?

John: They did it in New York with soda, right, because they said, “We’re going to legislate it,” and, there was a backlash, right? But it wasn’t as big as it could’ve been, and I think that in a few years, there probably won’t even be one anymore, right? I mean, how many times are you on the Internet and see news about the bad things that soda brings, right? Those news stories don’t just accidentally get there. I mean, there’s more and more stuff, people are putting out more and more research, so that we can someday just do it.  The most common sense one that I can point out to you is, you know now when you go to restaurants, you see the menu has on there the calories, so that when you go to wherever they sell the Bloomin’ Onion, wherever that restaurant is? Outback? Okay, before you might think, “Oh it’s just onions with a little bit of breading,” now you realize it has 2900 calories in the Bloomin’ Onion.  Do you think the restaurant industry was excited about putting the calories on the menu?  I’m excited.  I’m excited because now when I go out to dinner with my wife and she orders the salad, and I look at the calories, and it’s 1300 calories in that salad!  And I’m thinking, “The burger looks reasonable at this point,” you know?  [Laughter]  Like, get off my case, you know, this is looking pretty good, right? But other than me, all the restaurants were not excited. How did it get passed? Because we made the stigma, which in your minds — and maybe even in mine — is all positive, so that nobody was going to really win if they stood up to protest this.  Most people are like, “Shut up, you guys are cramming calories down our throats.  Tt’s your fault that I’m overweight, and you should put the calories on the menus.”  Joseph?

Joseph:  So, when that whole calorie count on the menus thing came out, originally if you had under 25 restaurants in California, you didn’t have to do it.  So Macaroni Grill closed 12 restaurants in California.  So, interesting enough, is there a way to get around those stigmas and things.

John: We’re going to talk about it when we finally talk about Christianity, as opposed to elevators, smoking, and the Big Mac, but yes, there is, because they’re just trying to get around the law.  But that’s still not addressing the stigma. You’re saying, “Like okay, so I don’t want to be subject of the law.”  It’s okay.  Well, the law will change it will catch up, because over time, you’re going to be a bad restaurant if you don’t put the calories on there.  In fact, I’m not going to even have to legislate it anymore.  You’re going to do it voluntarily, because if you don’t, I mean you might as well just be molesting kids if you don’t have the stuff on there [Laughter] — I’m serious, that’s how stigma works.  It gets to a point where it’s so outrageous to be outside the norm that you have no choice.

Now that we’ve kind of understood how this works, and you can see how legislation becomes easier — it almost is like stigma softens the ground, it breaks it up, so that legislation is easier to plant.  It makes it easier against things that you want to go against, that otherwise you’d think, impossible! to think of a country that couldn’t smoke.  Impossible! to think of them actually banning certain foods, like soda or like a certain kind of meal.  And you might someday sit at yourself — even now — impossible! to think about a country where practicing Christianity becomes just so against the grain, that I feel like I’m risking a lot just to do that – impossible!  Not with all the amendments, First Amendment, all the rights that we have, not with that.  And I’m saying, without trying to be an alarmist, let’s think about that during the series. Rachel?

Rachel:  I think that with smoking and fast food, you can argue that that’s relatively easy stigma to create because it has a very clear message behind it – you can you can die, people can die if you don’t change this. I would wonder like how much more difficult it would be to generate the stigma against something that’s not like life-threatening or not infringing on other people’s dignity and human worth.  I wonder if it would take longer, if it would even be possible to get a stigma that is not based on “it can kill you” or “you’re violating someone else’s basic human rights.”

John:  It would take 60 years, because we are violating someone’s basic human rights.  The human right where violating is the right that, “everyone in society should be tolerated in all things,” must be accepted as true. And if I have any view contrary to that about you, I’m violating your basic human rights by having any beliefs to the contrary, and it’s — it is a little more complicated.  But I believe we’re there. Let me explain to you, why when we talk about stigmas about Christianity — I’m going to stop here when I read this list to you, I’m just going to tell you — I’m going to read some decisions that have come down recently. What we’re going to be doing in the next couple of weeks is we’re going to go backwards and maybe figure out how did we get to this point, what happened, how did some of that stigma get engineered along the way, if that’s what we can find out.  Was it, was it naturally occurring, like was there some intent behind it?  But I’m going to kind of show you how at this point, like you can say: “You can’t smoke in your own home” or “you’re not going to be able to drink this size of a soda anymore,” and most people are like, “Yeah, that seems right,” here’s some things that are going on.  This is just a sample of a couple of things I pulled out.  The Family Research Council and the Liberty Institute just put out something they call “The Survey of Religious Hostility in the U.S,” it’s a 140 pages of case notes, I’ve only read the first 20 pages. I’ve not even selected a third of them, there’s so many of them to choose from, let me just read you a few:

  • A federal judge threatened incarceration to a high school valedictorian unless you remove references to Jesus from a graduation speech.
  • City officials prohibited senior’s citizens from praying over their meals, listening to religious messages or singing gospels songs at the senior activity center.
  • A public school official physically lifted an elementary school student from his seat and reprimanded him in front of his classmates for praying over his lunch.
  • The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs banned the mention of God from veteran funerals overriding the wishes of the deceased families.
  • A public school official prevented a student from hanging out flayers and inviting her classmates to an event at her church.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice argued before The Supreme Court that the Federal government can tell churches and synagogues which pastors and rabbis they can hire or fire.
  • A federal judge held that prayers before a state House of Representatives could be the Allah but not to Jesus.
  • School officials prohibited other children at a school from distributing pencils that stated “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
  • A public school district denied a woman an assistant principal position because she refused to remove her children from a private Christian school.  The U.S. District Court in Dallas — we’re not talking about some, you know, we’re not talking about Portland — Dallas — ruled against her arguing that the right of the parent to choose private education was not a fundamental right.
  • A state law was passed forcing all seminaries in the state of Texas to get approval for their curriculum, their board members and professors. The state fined Tyndale Seminary $173,000 for using the word “Seminary” and issuing theological degrees without government approval.
  • A Vermont resident applied for a vanity license play that had a combination of letters and numbers that could be interpreted to be a Bible verse. The state refused to give them a license play, because of a religious content.
  • A Long standing tradition in the village of Crestwood was a “Touch of Italy” which included an Italian mass as part of the “Touch of Italy.” Citizens filed suit challenging the mass, and the Northern District of Illinois, the Federal court there, said “You cannot do the mass any longer.”
  • Professor Martin Glasgow applied for a position of observatory director at the University of Kentucky, but he was turned away after the hiring committee found out that he was a Christian. Kentucky!
  • The University of Texas and Arlington — seems like Texas has a problem.  You’d think, like, Texas would be like, “Red, white and blue and Jesus too!” You know?  The University of Texas at Arlington fired two women.  These two women were fired for privately praying for an absent coworker after work.
  • A Christian photography company was sued after declining to take a job photographing a same sex couple ceremony. The New Mexico human rights commission ordered the photographer to pay over $6,000 in attorneys’ fees.
  • Doctor Frank Turek, a Cisco employee was fired for his religious views that marriage should be between a man and a woman. He’d never expressed his views at work, but did express it in a book he had authored.
  • Samantha Schultz, an eight year old girl from Port Charlotte, Florida, was bared from singing “Kumbaya” at a Boys and Girls Club talent show because the song included the words “Oh Lord.” The club’s director said, “You have to check your religion at the door.”

I could go on and on and on. Maybe some of you think, “Yeah, they shouldn’t be allowed to do some of that stuff, that’s crazy, that you would think in this day and age that you can sing Kumbaya at a Boys and Girls club, don’t we all know that we’re supposed to leave our religion at the door.” I would challenge you and say: that wasn’t ever really our views in society.  Have you bought into them too? Have we really gotten to the point where these things are going on?  The answer is yes, and it’s not something new. These decisions are the result of a trajectory that’s been going on for 40, 50, 60 years, beginning way back when none of us were paying attention — even before we were born — to decisions that were made that I think we’re just now starting to see the results of.  And there’s plenty, plenty more, which I might bring up in future weeks, but it’s just enough for us to start to identify: “No wonder I often feel the pressure to just stay silent.” It seems like now that government has moved in to start to enforce some of these things — most of these things are courts, and government agencies.  And why, why can they even think to do that? Because the stigma softens the ground.  Rae.

Rachel:  Why do you think the trend has been toward excluding religion, as opposed to being inclusionary of other religions, as opposed to saying, like “You cannot do these things ever because it has to do with religion,” as opposed saying, inviting other religions into these institutions.

John:  The problem with the inclusion is that it doesn’t work, because there’re too many people to include. If you keep looking for the lowest common denominator that allow everybody to be included, at some point you reach at the fact that there’s no common denominator, so you have to exclude. Let me give you a real life example. The city of Santa Monica used to have a creche scene, which is a manger scene, right?  That was like a traditional holiday thing.  Many, many cities across the U.S have the manger scene, and many, many cities get sued all the time, by either other religious groups or atheist groups who say you’re endorsing religion. Well, it is Christmas, and that it is the symbol of Christmas that used to be there before Santa Clause, right?  But that was the issue.  So many cities started to do inclusion, like we’ll allow other symbols. Well after a while there were so many symbols, there were so many things going on, that it was starting to become a circus. So, the city of Santa Monica thought, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do, we’re actually going to make 10 plots, 10 artist spaces, and people would bid for them and we’ll auction 10, and you can put whatever you want it in.  It could be Christmas, it could be Hanukah, it could be Kwanza, it could even be just an artistic thing that has nothing to do with any religion.” Atheist’s groups ran in and bid them up so high, I think they got 8 out of 10 of them one year, and start to putting up all these different things to try to — you know, basically, a little bit of an in your face, like “We’re tired of all this religious stuff.  We’re going to show you that we’re going to buy them all up, and we’re going to bid them all up to highest possible mounts, so that there’s no religious stuff.”  And at some point the city — I think their current stance is — “Forget it, we’re not having anything.” Like this is becoming not just a circus, but now it’s becoming ridiculous. I think in some way that’s just one practical example, but it’s happening all over the place. If you’re going to include everybody and everybody’s ideas, and add on top of it that we think everything is true and tolerate every single thing, at some point you realize: this can’t work. We can’t actually believe that all of this is equally allowed.

My second answer to you, by the way, would be that the people who are driving this would love to see no religion as opposed to all religion. Like if you had a hierarchy, the worst possible thing is Christianity to continue to be a majority religion.  The next worst thing —  although it’s, you know, probably down quite a bit is — everybody’s in.  Best case scenario is, nobody’s in.  We just move on:  “We’ve grown up.  We had an Enlightenment so many years ago.  Haven’t we learned yet?  I can’t believe this religion thing is still stuck around so many years after this Enlightenment. Can’t we just finally move on, and realize that these are all myths, fairytales and ghost stories? That would be the best thing.” And I believe that people who primarily enjoy seeing this spread — are the people who are looking for that. So, they’re not going to try to hard to include — it’s not workable — but they’re not going to even try.  Come back.

Rachel: So, why aren’t angry atheists feeling the same pressure to keep their religious views quiet?

John:  Well, I really don’t know that I buy the arguments that atheism is a religion. I know Christians like to say that, right?  Like, it’s a belief system, but I don’t know that it’s a religion. There are many angry atheists. I mean you’d have to be pretty angry to form groups that try to do away with their religion, or you’d have to feel like this is — maybe you’re not angry, you just feel like this is a huge infringement of constitutional issues.  But I mean, there’re a lot of things I don’t believe in, but I don’t join groups to oppose them.  I mean it takes a lot of energy to join groups, file lawsuits, raise money, just because you don’t like the manger scene.  You know, I just– I don’t have the time for that kind of stuff, like you have to have a big, big chip of some kind, or you just believe you’re freeing people from an evil of some kind, to spend your own money and to join groups and do this kind of stuff.  And I’m sure that if I had an atheist here, he’d probably accuse me for being biased for saying that, but at some point you go, it is really a lot of energy to undo this, so you really must have a reason and it really is a fire in your belly, because some of these things I can’t imagine they’re doing much harm, but you really have a beef. What’s that all about?

Rachael: So, I guess my question better phrased would be, do atheists feel the same pressure to keep their religion as quiet as other religious groups do?

John:  They would say for a long time they did.  The winds have shifted.

Morgan:  The only pushback I’d say is, my dad and my uncle talk about it somewhere, they still don’t see it as possible that a president could be elected who was overtly atheist.  They still argue that there is a lot of pressure against atheists as well.

John:  But we already do have people that are elected as high as the Senate in the House of Republicans — House of Representatives — House of Republicans? House of Representatives.  [Laughter]  That crazy thing called the House of Republicans!  We still have that, and I think the President is often a poor litmus test, I mean that’s a hard one, cause I like think like, there’re so many other places where they’re making the most gains, right?  I mean, people who are not affiliated, making the most gains in society. I think there’re 20% of society now in terms of American religious experience, and I think that’s going to keep going.  I think it’s a matter of time, right? I would also say to you, there’re among the greatest people behind the stigma, so they felt it for a long time to just keep quiet about it, and now it’s different.  I mean, it’s different. I’m not saying that we did the right thing — “we,” and I wasn’t even alive — but I don’t know that was the right response to silence people who didn’t have our faith. But the penalty at this point is that now they’re grabbing a little bit of the positions and they’re keeping them for themselves — hence all of those university’s examples that we could go into for all day long  — to make sure that they do away with them all. Yes, Chris?

Chris:   Could it be like multiple levels, to like, at one level, it’s against Christianity, or is it more to root against, at this day and age people value so highly their personal opinions and values and self, maybe more so than they did previously.  And so, like for example, you can’t say anything that offends anybody because you could be sued.  And it doesn’t matter if it’s against Christians or anybody, and I know there’re a lot of contradictions in that because you point out some that just Christians.  But I mean you have to tolerate everybody and anybody, and anytime someone does something where, like hurts somebody, it’s automatically, I feel like often, you have to just conform — just, you know, be like everybody else, and don’t be different.  So do you think that’s more out of level of Christianity infringes on people’s personal rights, and so therefore it, among everything else — like you said, every religion would be the priority, would be the preference — since that and fringes on other people that, that anything that fringes on everybody has to be eliminated, or…

John:    I believe that’s right.  I believe it’s right for a number of reasons:  One, Christianity seems the most offensive.  I think by its nature it is: it’s exclusive in its claims, right?  It does not leave room for other views.  So by its very teachings, it would be the most offensive to people who want, like you said, to have tolerance — not that Christians have to be intolerant — but “tolerance” the way they have defined it.  I’m going to be spending next week talking about tolerance.  I’ll leave the rest of it for there.  But the way we’ve defined tolerance puts us in this place where Christianity is the worst of all offenders. So, yes, they’d prefer to have all face be gone, maybe some would prefer to just let everybody do whatever they wanted, but Christianity just stands in stark opposition to that.

The second reason Christianity is kind of the enemy is we just have some of the dumbest adherents around, that do and say some of the dumbest things that make us — I mean I don’t think they represent our faith because half of them don’t even know the faith when they’re even saying the things that they’re saying, and yet, we can’t stop that from happening.  Hence, go back to my comment about forums and blogs, and all the things that we say, and you just think: “Oh, my God, I mean, I don’t believe that at all.”  You know, so I think both of those things are operative.

But we should be careful.  Theirs other faiths that have that issue.  I mean look at the trouble that Muslims have had in this country.  So there are extreme versions of that religion that have caused trouble for the whole faith, and most of the people, I’m sure in that faith are like, “No, no, no, no, no! I don’t believe that at all. I don’t want that at all.  And that’s not the way that I practice my faith.  You guy are ruining it for everybody!”  So, I think in response to that, some of the people would like to see our religion go, say “Yeah, alright good, do away with it all.  See none of them are sane.” And that’s unfortunate. Yes?

Abby:   So, do you think that you’d have a better response to someone if they ask you what your religion was and you’re like: “I’m a Christian but I don’t believe in converting other people to my religion?”

Chris: What?

Abby:  Like, do you think that, that would be like more socially acceptable? It seems like the biggest thing they have against, like the religions that are most evangelical, or like the most towards converting.  Like nobody has a problem with religion in no one tries to convert you to that.

John:    Alright, what I would say is, yes, you’d be more socially more accepted.  You’d also be departing from orthodox Christianity.  You’d be representing it to be something that it isn’t.  Now, maybe you don’t want to convert anybody, but it would also be because you’ve brought them into the stigma and you forgotten what the scriptures say, right?  Or you’ve just decided, “I’m just going to ignore that part of the scripture, I want nothing to do with it.”  And I know many Christians that are there.  And I’m not saying that’s good, I’m saying they are proof that the stigma exists, because I hear lots of people who say, “Oh, there must be other ways to God.” Maybe in some other religion, but I don’t read the scriptures that way here at all. Our faith is flexible, there’s lots of people that can disagree theologically about things without departing orthodoxy, and I’m all for that, that’s what this group is for.  But there are people who literally want to define what it is, just to appear socially acceptable, and I think in that, you are so stigmatized, you don’t even know that you’re fabricating at that point.  So you have to be careful.  Joseph?

Joseph: How much of this do you think is politics, because I know I see things all the time,  particularly from Democrats that brand Republicans: “They’re the Christian party and they’re also should be the uneducated party, and that’s why they’re the God-believing party, and we need to educate them, and they’ll come to their senses.”

John: Well, it is politics because you can win by paining the other person as a fool. One of the funny things about this topic is often time in Exodus, we tend to make fun of fundamentalism, conservatism, we get a lot of laughs out of that sometimes in here.  One of the consequences of going to far in that is, we actually are in bet with the very people who are dismantling our faith.  That’s a caution that we have to be careful of.  We’re trying so hard to be open-minded, and all these kinds of things, that we actually talk ourselves into positions — in the name of being open-minded  — that are actually contrary to Scripture and contrary of Christian orthodoxy, and half the time we don’t even realize it.  We’re talking ourselves into thinking we’re “enlightened,” and we’re actually helping the very people whose agenda — if they actually have an agenda, and I believe they do — is to do with all faith, at least ours, if not here everybody else’s.  And so, we hold hands with them, and point fingers at those “other people,” not realizing the person we’re holding their hand is actually the one who’d love to do us in if possible. Yeah?

Peter: So, what are some other examples of selection bias, you know, kind of pushing us towards stigma? You know, in terms of like, “Oh, we’re reporting on this; like this is a story to be recorded, you know?”

John: Yeah, it’s in journalism for sure.  So when I talk about journalism, I talk about like magazines, news, newspapers, all the stuff.  But you see it in — you see it in things that are simple as sitcoms.  So an example would be, if you’re a Hollywood writer — and there’s an author who’s written this book, I wish I could remember his name, I think his name is Ben [Shapiro] but I’m not sure — he’s writing saying: “I’ve sat in the Hollywood’s writer’s room when we write for sitcoms, and we’ve talked together about how we write shows.” And the thing he’s trying to reveal to America is, this is not a benign idea of let’s think of something funny.  What we’re really doing is that we’re realizing that in our hands, we have the power to shape culture, and we’re trying to think, “How do we write the shows in ways that support what we believe to get all those ‘yokels’ — which is everybody who’s not in Hollywood all the way to New York — to think our way.” So, you can take a very intentional decision that he would cite, that every show should include a gay character so that the U.S will get very comfortable with gay characters.  And, not only that, but as you’re writing a duty — that everybody understands — that the gay character on the show must always be the best example of a good person, never the villain, never someone who’s done anything wrong.  They’re the one that you’d think, “Wow, in this whole show called `Modern Family’, everybody else is screwed except them,” right?  And that, that is not accidental, it’s like part of stewarding that power that you have of shaping people’s minds, so that when you notice that state after state after state is starting to legalize gay’s marriage, you could say, “Yeah, it’s about time” or “people are getting more tolerant.”  It’s like, yes, but at least partly — if not mostly — because someone was thinking, “We really need to change minds, so that we can soften the ground and allow this to go through.”

The people who do that would vehemently deny they’re doing that.  But I would tell you from watching how stigma works in business, and policy, and even in media, it cannot be like it just happened organically that fast.  It’s just not possible. That’s what are series are about.  Katherine?

Katherine:  It seems like stigmas are caused by like you, like you were saying earlier, a cause and effect kind of thing, like someone does something and a whole bunch of people have recognized that this reaction comes out of that, when this person does the thing — cause the effect.  And so, it seems like in Christianity we also have done something to make society hate us.  So does that mean we own up to the society, and we maybe need to change the way that we elicit a response.

John:  Sure, the answer, the short answer is, absolutely.  The hardest thing to determine is though what part was something that we did intentionally that should be apologized for, and which part isn’t.  So for example, say we were belligerent to people, we were intolerant of people, we — there were certain parts of Christianity that stood against our civil rights movement, take that, right?  So you could say a well deserved mark, which is what stigma is, it’s Greek for a “mark,” a bad mark, right?  So we have a mark that we need to address.  Their are plenty of people who’ve tried racial reconciliation — maybe we need we keep doing it for another 100 years by the way. I’m not saying we’re done.  That’s one where you could say, “We did that intentionally, and it was deserved and we’re paying for it.”  Or we also preached at places and said, “Jesus is the only way to go to Heaven. There is no other way.  ‘There is no under name under Heaven under which men can be saved.” We did that intentionally too.  I don’t think we’re going to apologize for that.  In fact just the opposite. Yes?

Rachel: I would just say that like, I think that one of the greatest things that stigma presents is forcing us to want to distance ourselves from the faith and say, “Those are other Christians, those other Christians, but I’m not like that,” and trying to prove ourselves better or at a higher level than other Christians.  I really think that that does a lot of damage to the faith.  I think we need to own it, and swallow it, and not change what we call ourselves, and say, “I’m a Christ follower, I’m not a Christian, because I’m distanced from that,” you know?  A wise person once said, “The church is a whore but she is my mother.”

Soren:  I love that.

Rachel:  You have to accept that and say it’s not only a happy place to come from, but the way to fix it and start to exercising changes is not by creating more of “us-them” mentality in the church, but creating a united front, and saying, “Yes, there are things that Christians do that are mistakes, but they are still my people,” and to try and begin to maybe rectify some of those mistakes from within.  Because I have found myself doing that, you know where I say, “Oh, those other Christians.”  And that’ something that I’ve really have to work on, is being unified with other Christians when the instinct is to not be.

John: We abused our majority positions in many ways, so it’s not like we have nothing to do with this, and suddenly somebody just rose up one day and said, “I want to do a way with this.”  But it’s much more complicated than that.  I think there are people who’ve just been waiting for the moment to dethrone Christianity once and for all, for other reasons as well. Not only for other reasons, but “as well.”  Soren, you get the last word, you want to jump in?

Soren: Well, when you were talking about “back in the day” and I was thinking of, I mean, back in Christ’s time, and even if we were sitting around at that point and looking at the things He was doing, and even with — I mean a lot of the Pharisees did, point out all the things He was doing wrong.  Even as I look back at these things that you said, that pushed people away, we could have done this better, um yeah, people had these expectations and thing we’re going to do, and we didn’t do those things. So, I don’t know, it feels like there’s always — there’s always going to be that stigma and part of it is well-earned, and part of it is just inherent in the message itself.

John:  And part of it is useful.  So let me close by saying this: Don’t hear me saying that all stigma is horrible.  Some of you might totally agree, and for good reason, that we shouldn’t be smoking, and anything that would help us to stop people from smoking is good for them and all society. There is a stigma today against racism.  I mean, there is almost no worse thing that you can be called in political discourse, or even in everyday dialogue, than somebody to say to you, “You’re racist.” That’s a conversation stop right there. You win every argument by pulling out the “you’re-a-racist” card.  Those are like trump card words.  Like, you throw that down on the table, conversation is over.  The other person’s like, “Oh, no, non,” they’re trying to defend themselves because you’ve pulled out, you know, the bazooka right in the middle of the knife fight. [Laughter] I think it’s good that we’re eradicate all this racism in the world and all prejudice, so I think stigma helps us many times. I’m just saying in this particular case, we have to at least think, what’s going on, and how is it affecting us. Because I don’t believe that eradicating Christianity from the globe is what we should be doing, I don’t believe that. There are times when stigma’s played a very good role, but I think for us as Christians, if you do believe in your faith, and you do believe in the truth about Jesus Christ, this is probably going beyond where it should go.  And we should probably identify: where is it coming from, what’s happening, what are some of those trump card words like “tolerance” and “intolerance,” and those things.

And I think where Katherine wants to go is where we’ve got to go at the end: Is there a way to respond, personally in your own life and with others, that does not give in to the temptation to just walk away completely, or to redefine it in such a way that it’s not Christianity anymore. Is there a way to remain true to it?  And that’s what we’re trying to do. And I believe it’s not just so that you can talk to your friends about Christianity.  I believe you’ll increasingly feel this pressure, and you’ll increasingly find yourself passing — finding ways to just kind of exist quietly — and I don’t believe that’s the way Christ wanted us to live.  “No one takes a light and puts it under a basket.”  We’re to be a city on a hill, and that’s very hard if we’re stigmatized.  Let’s pray together:

Lord thank you for bringing together all of the elements that have brought us here tonight:  the different ideas, the different experiences, our different thoughts, even the friends that we’ve tried to reach, or that we’ve known, that we’ve pained over. And Lord I pray that that’d continue, and pray that in the wrestling of this room and in the things that your Spirit does in every one of us, we might not only learn about this subject, but Lord that we’d be healed, that we might be helped in the future when this grows and continues, and Lord —  daringly I would say — that you would take the thoughts in this room and begin to formulate them in a way that we’re start to reverse that trend, that we’d give other Christians hope when they hear about this, that we actually came up with something real, that through your Holy Spirit, you would speak through this group and these podcasts.  Pray this in Your Name, Amen.