We interviewed Jeff Sharlet, the author of The Family, on God Complex Radio yesterday (as usual, you can click on the right to hear the interview). It was pretty fascinating. He was a part of Ivanwald, a home for men, who are the chosen ones. They were men from affluent households, who were being groomed, through hard work, close mentorships, and prayer meetings for leadership. Ivanwald also has a connection to C Street, a home for congressmen who are connected to the Family and have been highlighted in a number of scandals lately. The Family is a secretive, and extremely powerful fundamentalist group.
It was actually a pretty emotional experience for me, reading the book. I don’t want to over-play my relationship to the Religious Right—I left it before I turned twenty-one. But it answered a lot of questions for me.
It also reminded me of many of the differences between my Conservative roots and my Progressive present. Most of the shifts are wonderful, and I embrace them, but reading this haunting history reminded me that there are some things that we can… well… I’m groping for words here… learn from Conservatives? Things that I’m thankful for?
One of the most shocking realizations as I read this book is the lack of mentoring that happens in Progressive circles. I always hear people who lived through the 60s, decrying the fact that there are no good young leaders. We have a leadership vacuum. There is no respected, loud and clear voice, speaking out for progressive values.
It always confused me, because I’m surrounded by smart, young progressive leaders. To me, it seemed like they were speaking clearly, but no one was listening.
Yet, as I work more and more within our progressive faith tradition, I realize that there is almost an undercurrent of hostility toward the young. I feel it often. Working with generational issues, all across the country, I am always hitting on some raw wound. It often comes up when I point out sociological research that says that Generation X is the most innovative generation in our country’s history. We have more entrepreneurs, we’ve started more companies, fueled the tech boom, etc.
People often get furious.
And let me be clear. I brought up Gen X because their span still includes people in their 20s. But I’m not talking about people like me. I’m not so young any more. I’m talking about those who are younger than me. For instance, I have also been startled by attitudes toward Campus Ministry.
I have been working with college students, in one way or another, ever since I became a pastor, because it’s important. I know that we are overshadowed by the phenomenal success of Campus Crusade for Christ (which always makes me wonder… what college student wants to be a part of a “crusade”? What organization would embrace that name? The crusades were a dark and terrible blot for Christians…), Intervarsity, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Even on George Washington University’s campus, where most of the students are politically progressive, why would CCC’s ministry be so robust?
Well, I’m not sure how many full-time staff that CCC has on George Washington University campus, but I know it’s at least two. At least 80 hours a week dedicated to developing young Christian leaders. In comparison, I work ten hours a week, and I am in a constant struggle for funding to hold on to the ten hours.
Most of our Campus Ministers, in Mainline Denominations across the country, spend most of their time trying to justify their jobs, and trying to fundraise in the midst of denominations who question our existence. Denominational funding has been slashed, governing bodies don’t understand the point, the local church feels to strapped to reach out. There is always something more pressing than Campus Ministry.
There would never be a question in a conservative church. Never. If the ministry was struggling, they would fire the person and put someone effective in. Why? Because they are just much more focused on young leadership. They don’t wait for young leaders to kick down the doors, they open the doors for young leaders. And if there is no door to open, they build a door for them.
It seems that we have lost our vision in Mainline Christianity for mentoring, challenging, developing, and loving young leadership. There are exceptions (thank God) to this overarching theme. Will Willimon spoke about his frustrations on this issue quite clearly. But, it still remains as the most startling difference between the two cultures.