Jim Daly + Gabe Lyons
The Next Christians
Jim Daly Daly is president of Focus on the Family. He's also a Christian radio broadcaster and author of several books, including ReFocus: Living a Life that Reflects God's Heart.
Gabe Lyons Lyons is founder of Q: Ideas for Common Good and author of The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World and unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters.
September 20, 2012
GABE LYONS: We’re trying to get back to some of these basics of loving people, of caring for people, of being kind and compassionate. And from there, letting the perception of what it means to be Christian play itself out. Because we can’t control that — but what we can control are our actions and how we’re choosing to engage in a new moment.
KRISTA TIPPETT, HOST: That’s Gabe Lyons. He grew up in Jerry Falwell’s church, then went out into the world to discover that the word “Christian” had become a frightening term in places in American culture. He’s now a 30-something thought leader for many young Christians and evangelicals who are reimagining their part in common life, common good — something much bigger than politics. And I spoke with Gabe Lyons in a public event at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs together with another unlikely agent of change on the conservative Christian spectrum. Jim Daly is the president of Focus on the Family.
JIM DALY: I think when Christian leaders, the older Christian leadership says, “Where are those future leaders? They’re just not there.” They want gladiators. They want culture warriors. And the amazing thing is I think God is answering their question and they don’t even see it.
MS. TIPPETT: The next Christians, an untold story of our time and a dialogue of the Civil Conversations Project. I’m Krista Tippett. This is On Being — from APM, American Public Media.
MS. TIPPETT: So as I said to Jim and Gabe, something I’ve been very aware of in recent election seasons is how religious voices and perspectives, Christians in particular, evangelicals in particular, get discussed in very narrow terms as a voting block. So very quick history lesson: About a century ago, the people we now know as evangelicals really withdrew from public life and political life. This voice re-emerged in American public life in the last 30 or 40 years most vigorously represented by figures like Jerry Falwell, whose church Gabe Lyons attended in his childhood, and James Dobson who preceded Jim Daly as the founding president of Focus on the Family.
And then in the past decade, there’s been a real ongoing self-searching reassessment by emerging leaders in this world of evangelical Christianity. I think that’s a story that hasn’t really been told, and I think we’re going to experience it tonight. Gabe Lyons founded his fascinating learning community, Q, out of his experience as part of a generation of young Christians who expressed themselves as disheartened by the harsh and very politicized associations that the word “Christian” had come to hold in many ears. And since Jim Daly has become president of, what, as I was doing this research, I routinely found this referred to as a right-wing evangelical powerhouse. [laugh]
MR. DALY: Powerhouse?
MS. TIPPETT: Yes. He — he’s also been on a private and public journey asking what’s the strategy of intense political engagement has affected, and also I really hear you asking how to be convicted and truthful an gracious and loving, right? How to balance your words, your rhetoric, your fervor for truth with these tenets of your faith.
So I want to start with you, Jim. You know, to say that your childhood was difficult is really an understatement. Both of your parents were alcoholic. They were divorced when you were very young. Your mother died when you were nine, your father, when you were 12. It can’t be a stretch to suggest that, if someone had told you at the age of 12 or 15, that you would one day head an organization called Focus on the Family, it would have seemed a bit unimaginable.
MR. DALY: Well, walking down the hall with Don Hodel who came in to be the temporary president of Focus on the Family, really helping Dr. Dobson in the initial transition, and he turned to me and said, “We think you’re the guy.” I laughed. The irony, the humor of it, you know, I lived in just about every family type. I had a normal dysfunctional mom and dad and then I had a single-parent mom that really worked hard. I was born in the ’60s. She worked three jobs at times to take care of five kids. Then my mom remarried a really difficult stepfather, Hank, and they were married about a year and a half and then my mom died of cancer and Hank walked out the door the day of her funeral. I remember to this day him just leaving the house.
Then we moved into foster care, so I had that experience. Then I moved back with my biological father and he died within a year and then I lived during junior high and high school with my brother who was only seven years older than me. I used to say, “What time you want me to come home Friday night after the football game?” He’d say, “Well, try to get home by two or three in the morning.” I remember thinking I’ll try to stay out that late [laugh].
But it is a very different background than Dr. Dobson. He was born in the ’30s and had a loving mother and father. But when I struggled with that, it was more like God — what I felt God saying in my heart is that represents so much more of the culture today. And when I speak about it, so many teens and college-age kids, they’ve lived a portion of that life and that’s where I connect and that’s what I’m enjoying is being there to let people know you can overcome these things.
MS. TIPPETT: And, Gabe, you grew up in Virginia and you went to Jerry Falwell’s church and you went to Liberty University.
MR. LYONS: Yep. Yep. My whole experience growing up in the small town, Lynchburg, Virginia, was going to the church, going to the Christian school. I went on to Liberty University. So until I was about age 22, I had pretty sufficiently grown up in what I now would describe as a bubble of kind of evangelical Christianity. And it’s not to say that was a bad bubble. I had amazing experiences and wouldn’t really change anything about it.
But it was when I was 22, graduated from college, moved to San Diego to kind of begin my career and my life that it was a really cold awakening to realize how much of a bubble I had grown up in. There was a huge adjustment that I had to go through over those next few years to kind of recalibrate to how do you relate to people who really don’t respect your faith and have a lot of good reasons for why they don’t respect your faith that they’re bringing at you all the time. So that recalibration for me was a key part of my journey and story to lead to, you know, the journey that I’m on today.
MS. TIPPETT: And then it seems to me that the way you approached your curiosity about that and your confusion about that was really to face it head on. You ended up embarking on this study, which resulted in a book called Unchristian, which really laid out — well, what were the five top words? Sixteen- to 29-year-olds, the five top words associated with the word “Christian” was anti-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, too political, and boring.
MR. LYONS: Yeah.
MR. DALY: Wonderful adjectives, huh?
MR. LYONS: Not bad, huh? So that was my cold awakening was, wow, this is who I am to the rest of the world. This is who our faith represents, this is who they perceived Jesus to be. These are the things they believe Jesus cares about, this is the way they believe Jesus thinks we ought to be operating in the world, and it was embarrassing. I was ashamed to call myself a Christian. I didn’t want to make that pronouncement about myself because I knew what it meant to people. And I knew it wasn’t true of what it meant to follow Jesus, but I …
MS. TIPPETT: Right. That wasn’t your experience, but it was your experience of how people perceived this faith that still meant a great deal to you, that still meant everything to you.
MR. LYONS: Correct. Yeah, well — well, I will say as Christian growing up, I mean, I think I’ve become a pretty judgmental Christian. I mean, definitely my view of the world was those who disagree with my point of view are wrong; I’ve got it all figured out, a very self-righteousness about what I believed. And all of that had to be broken down in me. I mean, there was a moment of just total repentance when I recognized how much I was a part of the problem.
And I think that’s a key part for so many of my generation is recognizing and acknowledging how much we have contributed to the pain that people feel in American culture when they think about the Church, when they think about Christians. And so it became really important to me that I bring together people who were thinking similarly as I was thinking about this and start to create something that would give voice to Christians who were not satisfied with this being the reputation of Jesus. And so Q became an event that we do once a year. Online qideas.org is our website, where we constantly have articles and content that we’re trying to put out that start to give people maybe a bigger picture of how Christians are thinking about everything in the world today.
MS. TIPPETT: And it seems to me you’re also giving Christians a bigger picture of everything that’s happening in the world, right? It’s a TED-like gathering where you bring people who are in science and the arts and politics. I want to say I’ve been following it for a long time and I always wondered what the Q stood for. And I thought it probably stood for Quelle, a Q, which in New Testament studies it’s a lost source of the Gospels. And then at a stretch, I thought maybe it was the great supernatural character in Star Trek: The Next Generation. [laugh]
MR. DALY: That’s where I was going.
MS. TIPPETT: But that was just me. But then, I learned it stands for “questions,” which is more simple, but also very refreshing.
MR. LYONS: Yeah. I think — I think I’d realized that for too long we’d had all the answers to everybody’s problems and to even the questions nobody was asking. And so Q becomes a place where it’s not just presentations, but conversations around the table. What we’re finding now after six Q’s and having done this for six years, that people are leaving and going back in their communities and doing things differently and embodying a different way of being Christian than many of their neighbors maybe had ever experienced. It’s been — it seems to have been refreshing not only for them, but for their communities.
MS. TIPPETT: And you say that the word that’s absolutely critical for you or anybody trying to understand this is “restore.” Restoration, restore, what does that word hold for you?
MR. LYONS: Well, I use term “restores” because I think it just gives us a picture. I mean, most of us have gone through the experience of taking something old that was broken down and the hard work of trying to get it back to what its original design was, and I think that best describes how Christians are thinking today. They’re looking at a world that has tons of brokenness not only in their own lives, but even in society and in our structures, our business systems, our governments, all around us, and we’re part of those problems. But they have an attitude about it that says, look, part of what God’s mission in the world is to renew all things. We’re pretty excited that we get to be a part of partnering with people not who all agree with us, but have different beliefs or no belief at all to say, look, we’re part of the mission of God to see things renewed, to see things broken down restored. And we need to embody that, we need to live that and express that.
MS. TIPPETT: So your word is “restore” and, Jim, your word is “refocus.” [laugh] You have a book coming out right now that’s on the presses as we speak — soon. What does that word hold for you?
MR. DALY: Well, I think for me, it’s not looking back and being sour or doubting that strategy. You know, I wasn’t born in the ’30s. A lot of those figures you talk about, Jerry Falwell, Dr. Dobson, they were born in the ’30s, ’40s. They lived in a different country than we live in today. You know, Judeo-Christian values were commonly agreed upon. I mean, this is what we do and generally the culture embraces those things. To have those things slip away, I can understand in part why they engage vigorously in that area. But when you look at the way forward, if we’re just building a fortress, we’re failing at the very call of Christianity. So in that context, refocus for me is really finding a way that’s more New Testament-rooted, that we speak kindly, we speak gently to the world. I think one of the mistakes that we’ve made is we tend to speak harshly toward the world and gently toward our own. [laugh] It’s not what the Scripture teaches, you know. Let’s hold each other accountable as Christians as believers, but when we’re engaging the world, let’s show compassion.
MS. TIPPETT: So in concrete terms, you know, what — how does this affect you? What does this change? Because I don’t think that the core values or the essential mission of Focus on the Family has shifted. Maybe I’m wrong about that or I don’t know if you would say it that way. But tell me what this works in you. What difference does that make?
MR. DALY: I think the one thing that it does bring about in terms of change is just tone. Principles, we can’t abandon those. I mean, as Christians, we want to follow those. We need to follow those and those are some big issues and we may talk about some of those tonight, whether it’s marriage or life, whatever it might be. But the irony is, when I’ve engaged people that don’t agree with me, as long as I’m sincere and respectful, we can have a discussion.
MS. TIPPETT: You know, what I said a minute ago is maybe not — you have evolved things in some ways, right? I mean, Focus on the Family has been working to overturn Roe vs. Wade, has been in the forefront of that. But I see you also saying that hasn’t happened and wanting to be engaged with people on the other side of that politically to say how do we save lives? How do we care for children? You’re working on things like foster care, which is a system that you know personally. I mean, is that also growing out of — you know, because when you say “tone,” that might just be the surface, but I sense that it’s much deeper than that.
MR. DALY: No, I appreciate that. I think that’s true. You know, I know people that have good hearts and good intentions that don’t agree with me in these areas. I think that is a majority of people. I think that, when you look at the issue of abortion in this country, more than 50 percent now consider it immoral, that we need to do better. I think it would be wonderful if we could find solutions. Although there is a choice, can we choose life more often? I’m willing to talk to people and I’ve had meetings behind the scenes with people that would not agree with us on the life position, but they acknowledge that that would be a good thing. And if we can find a way to allow more children to come in this world, I think everybody wins. And I’m willing to sacrifice our reputation for the sake of those kids, and I think that’s worthy.
MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, “The Next Christians.” Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family, and Gabe Lyons is founder of Q, which stands for questions.
There’s an interesting piece in the Colorado Springs Independent. I think Colorado Springs is an interesting place, isn’t it?
MR. DALY: It is. Have you been there a few times?
MS. TIPPETT: I haven’t. But it has all these — I have all these different associations with Colorado Springs from yoga capital of the world to Focus on the Family, and they don’t quite go together. So, I mean, this little publication had actually given you, or Focus on the Family, something called the “Shame Award,” had been very critical of Focus on the Family.
MR. DALY: You’ve done your research.
MS. TIPPETT: Yes, I have. [laugh] Then there’s this interesting piece that comes out at some point because you engaged, right? Did you accept the invitation to the Shame Award?
MR. DALY: Well, it was funny. Actually, Gary Schneeberger, to his credit — he’s here in the audience tonight. So Gary came to me and said, “You know, I think we should accept the award. And I said, “I think you’re right.” So the problem it created for them is they had over the years nobody had ever shown up to accept this award. [laugh] So it kind of put them a little on their heels.
MS. TIPPETT: They weren’t even looking for your RSVP.
MR. DALY: Yeah, but, you know, I’ve got to say, John Weiss, who is the owner of the Independent, is a classic example of what we’re talking about. He’s a Berkeley-Harvard guy, worked on Henry Waxman’s campaign. He would be self-described as a pretty strong liberal. I remember the first time we sat and talked. He said about our orphan care work, he said, “I never knew anything that good would come out of Focus on the Family.”
MS. TIPPETT: What you’re doing is you’re committed to completely eliminating those waiting lists, right, or for foster care.
MR. DALY: Well, that would be a goal.
MS. TIPPETT: Or is that something else?
MR. DALY: Yeah. I mean, that’s one of our goals.
MS. TIPPETT: It’s really practical.
MR. DALY: In Colorado, we began working on, I think, we had 850 kids in the foster care system available for adoption. If you know church history, that is one of the things the early church engaged. We were known for taking care of the orphan, and it’s in part what the early church was built upon.
And so for us in this country, with all that we have, particularly the Christian community, to be able to engage that, so over a couple of years, we were able to get that number down from 850 kids waiting to about 300. That was the most progress that had been made on that issue in the state for a long time. So that’s why John wanted to meet with me and that’s why he said, “I didn’t know anything that good would come out of Focus.” So John, it just evolved into a wonderful relationship and I remember what he said to me. He said, “For 17 years, we’ve been carpet bombing you. We’re going to wipe the slate clean and start writing more favorable articles.” So I was thankful he finally admitted that.
MS. TIPPETT: So here’s what he wrote. He wrote, “Here’s something you need to know.” This is to his readers. “The Independent is involved in a community-based partnership with Focus. No, here has not frozen over. [laugh] Here is what happened. Our publisher, John Weiss, realized that there was at least one issue on which Focus and the Indy can agree. We want all kids to grow up in a loving home.”
MR. DALY: Yeah, and I appreciate John. I think John’s got a great heart, and once again it’s that example where we can come together. And, with the recent fires we had this summer in Colorado, 347 homes burnt down, we were able to call John and say, “Would you like to co-sponsor an event.” And I think that event in total raised about a million dollars for those victims. But the news of it was Focus on the Family and the Independentworking together. [laugh]
MS. TIPPETT: Right.
MR. DALY: So, you know, I think we can do some things to come together. That’s the point.
MR. LYONS: I’ll just jump in here. I mean, I think to the point of these conversations we’re having tonight — and I commend you, your team, for hosting it — this is how we break down the problems I think we’re all feeling and experiencing is when we disagree with people who recognize that labels are not an appropriate way to try to identify people, that we need to come together, meet face to face, talk to those who have a challenge with us, try to hear one another out. It’s amazing once you just sit down for five minutes how much you really do find common ground, find that the person you had perceived to be a certain way was not. And I think you’re speaking to the fear-based mentality that drives not just Christians, but a lot of our culture. Politicians use it, media uses it, it’s entertaining, but we really try to stir up fear and we try to make people afraid of an imagined future that really isn’t true that nobody’s really pursuing and we do it because it’s good ratings, it raises money, it engenders a spirit behind you and the momentum behind a crowd to be behind you and for you. And I think that slowly we’re going to have to break that down and it’s going to take more conversations like this, but examples like I think what Jim described to John.
MS. TIPPETT: You know, Gabe, I want to talk about some of the interesting ways you have talked about another one of these hot button issues, which is gay marriage. You know, you talk about internal discussions among younger evangelicals, that the question gets framed like this, how to remain biblically faithful yet credible in a post-Christian culture. How can Christians who care deeply about traditional marriage — and would you describe yourself that way — move forward in this new era?
And so you lay that out there and you also said this pretty provocative thing. If a recent New York law — this was, I don’t know, 2011 — becomes the impetus for Christians to stop reacting and start leading in these ways and these ways was really working on what you say, what we can control, the health of heterosexual marriage, of families, of creating community for marriages in trouble, of supporting healthy sexuality. You said, “If this kind of law becomes the impetus for Christians to start leading in these ways, it may be the best thing that’s happened to traditional marriage in more than a generation.”
MR. LYONS: Yeah. I mean, I think we all have obviously heard so many conversations about marriage and it’s constantly framed as this debate about gay marriage. We have to look back to our own marriages, to our own communities, to our own faith communities, and say what are we doing about marriage amongst ourselves?
You know, I’m encouraged to think about pastors I’m talking to now who are thinking about how do we raise the level of commitment in our marriage and have more covenant marriages taking place within our communities where it goes beyond even what the state might require, but that challenges couples to commit, to not doing a no-fault divorce, to seeking two years’ worth of counseling before they would get a divorce, and to do things where the Christian energy is propelled forward in making our own marriages healthier, requiring people that are going to be a part of a church to once a year participate in some kind of a marriage retreat? I mean, little practical steps that we can be taking that puts the emphasis back on our own marriages and back on families, I think, is critical.
MS. TIPPETT: You know, I think a lot about a conversation I had with — he’s actually a global conflict resolution. He’s a mediator. He’s Mennonite, which they have this great tradition of peacemaking. He talked about how we tend these days to think about social change coming in terms of mass movements, but in fact, he said movements, critical mass, often helps societies move beyond some injustice, but it doesn’t point the way forward. And that where transformative change happens that really changes the way people live and makes that conflict unimaginable in the future, it’s not critical mass, but critical yeast and it’s about unlikely groups of people coming together.
You both in your books, both of you tell stories of pivotal encounters you’ve had and I think they both are in this category of unlikely encounters, but you really describe them as spiritual high points with people who I think outsiders would not associate your movement with embracing. And Jim, the story that you tell in your new book is with a prominent gay activist. You don’t name this person.
MR. DALY: Unnamed.
MS. TIPPETT: Unnamed, that’s right, unnamed.
MR. DALY: On purpose. Yeah, you know, for months actually, this gentleman’s name was on my heart and I kept moving his phone number around my desk, a bit embarrassing. We have a woman that comes in to clean the offices, and she kept moving the number next to my phone. [laugh] And I took that as a sign. But I ended up talking and agreeing that we’d meet at Starbucks. No note takers, just the two of us. And it was profound. I mean, again, to Gabe’s point, when you can sit down and actually just be human with each other and talk, it’s amazing what comes out of that.
And, you know, we talked about the differences and they’re plenty and we all know them. But at the end, I remember I just said to him, I said, “I think the reason I felt compelled to call you and meet with you is just to let you know I know God loves you as much as he loves me.” And he started to cry. Then I said, what do I do now? But it was human.
There was — he told me a beautiful story about being raised in a Catholic family and his dad being 85 going to Mass every day. Two weeks prior to our meeting, he was with his dad and the priest was preaching against homosexuality, and his dad just reached over and took his hand and said, “I’m so glad you’re here with me today.” And I started to cry because it’s just the love of a father’s heart. To me, that’s the picture of God.
God is in our corner, no matter what is going on in our lives, whether you’re straight, gay, whatever. That was just one of the high points. But I do remember coming back to Focus and I had a colleague who stopped me and said, “How could you meet with that man? That’ll be an embarrassment.” I got to tell you, that was one of the low points of my time at Focus. And I think that in a nutshell describes what Gabe and I are talking about. If you don’t have a heart for people, then you don’t have the heart of God.
MS. TIPPETT: And that encounter didn’t bring either one of you to a different place on the issue?
MR. DALY: No, no. That’s a big issue. You don’t want me to go further, do you?
MS. TIPPETT: But, you know, we’re so results-oriented in this culture, right?
MR. DALY: Aren’t we?
MS. TIPPETT: And I think there is a result clearly, but how do you talk about this?
MR. DALY: Yeah, I mean, it’s difficult. This is probably one of the most difficult topics in the culture today. It is very volatile. We just believe — and it’s very simple — that family, that the design — God’s design in human sexuality is male and female and that we will do harm — and I know that many in this room is “Can you being say that?” — but we think there’s harm in opening that Pandora’s Box. We know it exists. I think there’s less energy about same-sex marriage today within the Christian community, certainly under 35: 65 percent of those under 35 in the Christian community will support same-sex marriage.
If that is not change, then that debate’s pretty much over. But as we move forward, how can we address these issues in a way that’s constructive, that’s helpful, that’s not mean-spirited? I’ll tell you, there is an apology in this because I believe that the Christian community has not handled this well. There’s a video on YouTube. It’s a little boy in a church — and this angers me, to be quite honest. This little four- or five-year-old boy is singing a song in church, which is Romans 1:26, 27, “Ain’t No Homo Gonna Get Into Heaven.” The pastor on the platform is going, “Yeah, boy!” That’s the problem, that’s the problem. That is not the God that Gabe and I know. And somehow we have got to address that.
MS. TIPPETT: You can watch, listen and download this conversation between Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly and Q founder Gabe Lyons. That’s at onbeing.org/ccp. This is the first of four Civil Conversations we’re holding to speak to deep divides in American life, which only become more polarizing in an election season. A great group of policy centers are joining us: the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, and the Brookings Institution. Learn more and please add your voice, your questions, and your ideas. Again, that’s onbeing.org/CCP. On Twitter, use hashtag CCP2012. and I’m on Twitter now too: @kristatippett. This program comes to you from APM, American Public Media.
MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, “The Next Christians.” I’m with two leaders in an undertold story of our time — the evolution of young and conservative Christians working for common good beyond politics and polarization. Focus on the Family president Jim Daly is less high profile — and less of a lightening rod — than his predecessor James Dobson. Gabe Lyons is a 30-something thought leader and activist. He’s the founder of Q, a learning network and TED-like annual gathering that exposes young Christians to cutting edges of culture.
MS. TIPPETT: Gabe, there’s this line, you wrote: “The longer I live, the more I am inspired by the life of Jesus, the way he sat down with people who were unlike Him.” So, Gabe, your experience of sticking your neck out and also taking some heat for it was inviting Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to a Q gathering where you interviewed him. That was around the time when the Islamic Cultural Center in Lower Manhattan was a really big heated issue. Tell me about that. Again, do you describe yourself as evangelical?
MR. LYONS: I don’t really use that word. I’m definitely positioned that way. That’s how media would describe me because of how I grew up and what I believe. I just don’t find those terms helpful. I find most people don’t even know what that means or the perception that they have of it certainly doesn’t identify with who I am. I tend to think of myself as a Christian, somebody who’s trying to follow Jesus and not attach too many more labels to it.
MS. TIPPETT: OK. So I think that even for Q, that felt risky to people.
MR. LYONS: Yeah. Well, I think partly, you know, the media climate was certainly heated around that moment. And what was important, again, with Q is we want to engage ideas and questions and we want Christian leaders to understand better how to engage with our neighbors. I mean, this is the principal point of what Jesus tells us matters most next to loving him is to love our neighbor.
So it was important for me. I live in Lower Manhattan now and to be able to have a conversation with a neighbor that people actually really hated, I mean, a lot of Americans just thought that this cultural center, as he would describe it, should not exist and that it was something that our laws and Constitution basically should stamp out. And yet we all know and we understand religious liberty, that there’s really no case for that legally.
And so I wanted to have a conversation with a Muslim to say, “Let’s hear your views. I want you to sit in front of 700 Christian leaders and I want a dialogue and I want to better understand what you not just were proposing for this cultural center, but more your views on this relationship between Muslims and Christians because over 2,000 years it’s been pretty bad, and as we look forward in our culture today, it’s likely headed towards a really bad place.”
MS. TIPPETT: Right, and tell me what was so meaningful for you about that experience.
MR. LYONS: Well, for me, it was a friendship beginning. I mean, personally for me. I mean, I literally was with him yesterday and we were continuing our ongoing conversation about finding common ground and finding ways where, as he would put it, moderate voices within Islam are not heard. They’re drowned out by extremists and it’s not just in the Islamic world. It’s in the Christian world, that the extremists get the airtime and they’re the ones that will fight harder for their position, whereas the moderates have a really hard time getting airtime.
So part of our relationship, he’s introducing me to younger Muslims in New York that I can get to know, where our friendships can start to flourish in a city where I think in many cases it’s gotten beyond, maybe in some context in American culture, it’s not where New York is. I mean, a lot of New Yorkers have good relationships with people of multiple faiths. I found as a Christian in New York, I can talk about my faith more openly than I could in Atlanta, Georgia, which might be shocking. But people are more open-minded, they want to hear your story. There’s opportunities to dialogue with respect because so many people are different. You can’t exist without that, and I think there’s something we all can learn from that experience.
MS. TIPPETT: Are we ready to do some questions? OK. I’m going to invite Larry Jacobs to the microphone.
PROFESSOR LARRY JACOBS: We’ve got some great questions here both from online, from folks in the audience. We hear of the weaknesses of the American evangelical movement. What are the strengths?
MR. DALY: I appreciate that. I think, you know, we at Focus on the Family, we see that. For example, we know divorce happens. I was with a Supreme Court justice, not one that you would probably associate with Focus on the Family, but we were talking about poverty and I said to this Supreme Court justice, “Do you know the interesting thing for Focus, the number one predictor of poverty is divorce? A woman and her children will fall below the poverty line after divorce.” So in essence, at Focus as we try to keep families together, we’re fighting the number one contributor to poverty. And I’ll never forget. He sat back and said, “I’d never thought of it that way.” That’s important.
Family is important and I guess it breaks my heart that we’ve kind of accepted the fragmentation of family and we’ve got to do all we can to maintain healthy family structure because it’s what will stabilize the culture. And social science is right there in agreement with that. So that’s where you find common grace, common ground, where you can work together to that end.
MR. LYONS: The other positives, I mean, I would just say and add to that, compassion clearly which aligns with that, but especially in the next generation, a real sense of volunteerism, desire to not just talk about faith, but to roll up their sleeves and go to work on it in their communities. Maybe they’d get criticized in some cases for not being as evangelistic, so maybe not proclaiming why they’re doing it or asking a bunch of people to commit to Christ as they’re doing it, but they’ve moved beyond that to just say, “Look, part of what I have to do is make sure my actions show what I believe versus just my words.”
I would say Christians are, you know, the some of the most generous people in terms of giving and giving when our country’s in calamity and crisis. I think of Tad Agoglia who runs something called First Response, motivated by his faith. And he’s the first to show up after a tornado with all the heavy equipment, going into that community, working to get peoples’ lights and power back on, but then working to make sure they have water. I mean, on and on. I think these are some of the stories over the last decade we’re seeing as Christians tend to be some of the first to show up with their wallet and with their time when our communities are in crisis. I hope over the next decade that continues in our economic situation as the church probably becomes even more critical to trying to supply for those who need it.
MS. TIPPETT: I believe that was true in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina as well. It was the Christians who were there and who stayed.
MR. LYONS: Exactly right.
MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm. I’m Krista Tippett with On Being. Today, “The Next Christians.” I’m in a public discussion with Focus on the Family president Jim Daly and Q founder Gabe Lyons.
MR. LYONS: You’ve talked about politics not being the dominant thrust of your organizations and your efforts. But when you do think about politics, are there ways in which the political involvement goes beyond party and the partisan polarization? For instance, the evangelical movement’s been associated with conservative social issues. Are there conversations about supporting, for instance, higher taxes to show mercy for the poor, the ill needing health care and for single mothers heading homes?
MR. DALY: I’ll give you one example. One for me was the White House. President Obama invited me to come and talk about the issue of fatherlessness. He held a Town Hall meeting basically. And I had to really think about that because, OK, does this provide political fodder? But, you know, I came down to the conclusion that, with this president, he didn’t have a dad just like me and he has a concern about fatherlessness. And if I can’t go to that meeting and participate, I lack integrity. That’s the bottom line.
I do think on the taxation issue, the church — it’s interesting because I think the church, when we tax and redistribute wealth for the purpose of taking care of the poor, the church always saw that as its responsibility. I don’t think it did a very good job taking care of the poor, unfortunately, especially in these most recent years. So, but I would think that we need to rethink that. A lot of state budgets are going bankrupt. We had a situation in Colorado where the school lunch program was running out of money. And it actually was humorous because Gary and I talked about it and we thought, well, the budget wasn’t huge to finish the years, like $160,000. I said, “Let’s cover it.” It created turmoil [laugh] in the state capital because we can’t let Focus do that.
MS. TIPPETT: Was politically charged?
MR. DALY: So the Republicans said, “Hey, why not? Private sector probably could do something” and the Democrats in the State House said, “No, no, no, we don’t want religious or nonprofit organizations doing that,” which is unfortunate because, like orphan and foster care 80 years ago was taken care of by the church with all its mess. I get that. But the state took that over about 80 years ago and guess what? There’s a lot of mess. So I think as states become more strapped for dollars, it’s a great opportunity for the church to once again draw close to its core call and do some of these things.
MR. LYONS: Yeah, and I found — we just did our most recent Q gathering in Washington kind of for the point of saying, look, we need to realize that the way we get along isn’t by being just one party or the other, but through relationships. So we had multiple presenters that represented different views participate in our gathering and share with us their points of view and lots of conversations happening all over D.C. from the State Department to the White House on and on where Christians were saying, “I want to roll up our sleeves and get engaged in the issues I care about,” whether that’s the environment and getting better educated on that or a movement like human trafficking where the Christian Church has been behind that for the last seven years really driving that and it’s become such a forefront social issue. It does remind me of what the church ought to be like.
Not that we’re trying to represent one party or the other or be seen as a voting block that can be won by one party or the other, but I’m encouraged that today evangelicals aren’t seen that way. I mean, I would say in the last two elections, you’ve seen that completely change. The evangelicals, you know, we don’t even have a candidate in the race right now, so it’s not something that’s just going to be won that easily.
MS. TIPPETT: There’s hardly a Protestant in the race.
MR. DALY: There actually is one.
MS. TIPPETT: There is one.
MR. DALY: It’s President Obama. [laugh]
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah.
MR. DALY: Just to add to what Gabe has said there, the interesting thing with this is there’s two terms in the church lexicon. One is orthodoxy, the truth of God’s word, and then orthopraxy, the doing of the word. And I think one of the problems we’re facing now is that, for many years and it’s really played out in the political arena, the drive for orthodoxy. We need to maintain orthodoxy, and I think we have lost our way and I’m so excited about Gabe and the younger generation because I think what God is doing through them and the vision and the heart and the passion is to revive orthopraxy, the doing of the word.
And, you know, orthodoxy should be the foundation of the building. You don’t really see it, you know it’s there and you’re glad it’s there because it keeps the building up, but the building is actually the orthopraxy, the things that we’ve talked about: taking care of the poor, being engaged, talking life, talking about the right things and doing the right things.
MS. TIPPETT: I want to close by circling back to the word “fear.” I think, Jim, you used that word early on. Because it’s so clear, when we can be clear-eyed and calm about these things, that behind our attacks on each other, that fear looks like anger and fear looks like violence. And you talked about a lot of Christians being fearful and not necessarily even fearful. There are a lot of specific things to be fearful about and then there’s the fact that we live in this moment of huge change. I mean, if you took technology alone, but it’s bigger than that.
And as human beings, one of the things we’re learning from science, change is stressful and it sends us back to our lizard brains, right? So there’s some aspect of all of this incivility, which is not a big enough word for what we’re talking about, that is just about being human. And I wonder if the two of you would think about people in this room, people who are listening, you know, what can anybody here do to calm that fear of people who are different from them and so make new relationships? You know, make kindness more possible on both sides.
MR. LYONS: Mm. Well, I think it starts with addressing the fear and trying to understand in our own life where’s that fear coming from? What am I really afraid of? Likely what you’re afraid of doesn’t exist in just another person. It’s some idea. It’s some imagination you’ve been taught. It’s some way you’re seeing the world that’s driving this anxiety about what could happen or why somebody disagrees with you and why that’s so bad for the world. And we have to work through that and then decide to engage with people.
And I — and I — to me, a first step is engaging with somebody who you think you disagree with or you maybe like but maybe you’ve never had a conversation with because you think you guys just don’t get along or they look different than you or you prejudge them in some ways that I used to do when I was a Christian who thought anybody who looked different than me was not believing the right things.
And I think when we reach out and just start to engage and have conversations with people, we find on the human level people want community, especially in this technology-saturated world. People want eye-to-eye contact, human-to-human relationships, and I think that’s one of the call as Christians. I mean, we have a story that’s essentially the story that we believe, is God sends Jesus to be fully embodied in a human culture to give people a new experience that was very different than what they had seen the religious leaders represent to them. And — and Jesus has to come fully embodied to do that.
And it’s our call, today, one of the most counter-cultural things we can do, but refreshing things we can do is to be fully present, fully embodied, with other human beings and listen to them, look them in the eyes, ask them how they’re doing, have these conversations not just with strangers, but with your parents, with your children, with your spouse. We need it and it’s something desperately missing in our society. And if we don’t work on that — being human, having conversations — I think 10 to 20 years from now, we’re going to see incredible suffering in our world as a result.
MR. DALY: I would only add, you know, the Scripture is pretty clear. The Lord says, “I do not give you a spirit of fear.” It’s pretty straightforward. And for us to run around fearful is the antithesis of what God’s character is. So it’s very easy for me in the Book of Galatians, the fruit of the spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, longsuffering. Then you look at the other part of Galatians, the ugly fruit — jealousy, strife, envy, anger. If you’re seeing that fruit, you’re not seeing God’s heart. So it doesn’t mean we live that perfectly. I think sometimes the non-Christian community, if we become human [laugh] and we can’t live perfectly, they point that out, so you’re a hypocrite. Well, no, we’re not Jesus. You can’t live it perfectly every day. And my point there is simply to say that that’s common grace. We are striving to do these things, to live by the spirit of God. Sometimes we fall short, and we need to be accountable to each other in that context.
MS. TIPPETT: You know, I didn’t set this up as — it’s not like the two of you are on opposing sides of something, but you represent nuance and diversity within a large sector. So I wonder if you could just say a little bit in closing, you know, what you’ve learned from each other.
MR. DALY: [laugh] Well, Gabe? Well, I’ll go first because it’ll be easier. No, I think, again, what I see in Gabe and Lou Giglio and Brad Lomenick and others that have really gone out on a limb, they have led the way. And it’s important for older Christians at 51 [laugh] …
MS. TIPPETT: You are not old.
MR. DALY: … to say, you know, that’s great. I’m learning a lot from them in terms of that orthopraxy, courage to line themselves up with Scripture and go for it and take the knives both in the back and in the chest both from those that oppose you and your friends. I’ve seen that with Gabe, you know, when he was talking to religious leaders. And it’s refreshing. And I think when people and the older Christian leaderships says, “Where are those future leaders? They’re just not there,” because they want gladiators. They want culture warriors and the amazing thing is I think God is answering their question and they don’t even see it.
MR. LYONS: That’s very kind of you, Jim. And I think what I’ve learned from Jim is the courage it takes to stay with an institution that he could never talk about it like this, but in my opinion, Focus on the Family did represent so much of what was wrong with Christian life in American culture. Brand-wise, I think we all recognized the brand that it had as you read, you know, kind of this religious right powerhouse.
And for Jim to be able to go into that environment and be faithful, into an institution, not just go start something new. It’s easy for me. I went to just start something new, but Jim went in and has been a part of reforming really an institution — which is a much harder thing to do — and has stuck with it, I know, through probably really tough conversations and people who have probably left supporting Focus on the Family or have given up on more focuses because it’s not carrying that gladiator mindset. But they’re actually getting back to what the big critique was, if you recall over the last decade ago, as why don’t you just focus on your own d-a-m-n family, right?
MR. DALY: That was a bumper sticker.
MS. TIPPETT: It was? [laugh]
MR. DALY: Big John Weiss did that bumper sticker. [laugh] I’m serious, I’m serious.
MR. LYONS: I feel like Jim has done that and he’s doing that, and it’s giving Focus on the Family in many ways a new life and a new generation that’s moved beyond its founder. It gives me great hope that institutions can continue to grow, continue to transform with the times, with the moment, and we need Focus on the Family. I know in my own family my kids listen to “Adventures in Odyssey,” this resource that Focus on the Family has put out for years helping children understand character qualities and values. I mean, these are the kind of things that families need and they might not want to admit it, but anybody who is a parent and has kids and they’re trying to figure this out, knows they need these kind of resources. So it’s big gift not just to the body of Christ and to the Church, but I think to our culture at large.
MS. TIPPETT: Well, I think this is a fine beginning to this Civil Conversations Project and I want to thank all of you for coming and everybody out there listening, and so much gratitude to Jim Daly and Gabe Lyons.
MR. DALY: Well, thank you, Krista.
MR. LYONS: Thank you, Krista.
MS. TIPPETT: Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family. He’s the author of the new book Refocus: Living a Life that Reflects God’s Heart.
Gabe Lyons is founder of Q. His books include UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters and The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World.
MS. TIPPETT: Watch my entire public discussion with Jim Daly and Gabe Lyons at onbeing.org. It included more audience questions and other topics, including Jim Daly’s framing of immigration as a family values issue.
The next event in our Civil Conversations Project is Wednesday September 26th: “Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Pro-Dialogue.” We’ll be with activists who are forming real relationship with their political opposites. And we want you to be involved, join us online and watch our live video stream at onbeing.org/CCP. We’ll also be live-tweeting this public discussion, follow us @Beingtweets and I tweet with the handle @KristaTippett.
On Being on air and online is produced by Chris Heagle, Nancy Rosenbaum, Stefni Bell, and Susan Leem.
Special thanks this week to Larry Jacobs, Kate Cimino, and their colleagues at the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Our senior producer is Dave McGuire. Trent Gilliss is our senior editor. And I’m Krista Tippett.