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Land, McLaren ‘diavlog’ on religion, politics

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An innovative Internet video technology provided a venue Aug. 20 for a real-time “diavlog” between Brian McLaren, an author and leader in the Emerging Church movement, and Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The two men, usually considered to be on opposite ends of the political spectrum, conducted a town-hall discussion on the proper role of religion in modern politics.

The technology featured on bloggingheads.tv allows speakers to interact before an Internet audience in a split-screen video format. Dan Gilgoff, politics editor for beliefnet.com, tapped Land and McLaren for the event because they already are blogging separately on beliefnet.com.

McLaren and Land, both of whom are listed on Time Magazine’s Most Influential Evangelicals list, seemed to agree on several points, including the media’s lack of understanding about evangelical Christians and unhelpful stereotypes rooted in “liberal/conservative” and “left/right” labels.

Because the meaning of terms like “progressive,” “conservative” and “liberal” vary from person to person, McLaren and Land began their dialogue with a discussion of those terms.

McLaren defined “conservative” as wanting to conserve things from the past that are worth saving and “liberal” as wanting to free people from bad ideas, backward thinking and injustice, but he condemned the “Left vs. Right” ideological battle going on in American politics, saying, “There’s value on both sides.” He encouraged evangelicals to not allow labels to hinder peacemaking.

Land said he has been accused of being too conservative for the liberals and too liberal for the conservatives and noted that there are different kinds of liberals and different kinds of conservatives.

Both agreed that news stories focused on religious controversy may make for good television, but they are not good for conversations that promote understanding. They also don’t “help us in being good followers of Christ,” McLaren commented.

Land agreed, saying, “I think it actually does a disservice to the country because … it] leads the country to think that we are more divided than we actually are … Most of the media doesn’t understand us. They don’t understand evangelicals … or religion.”

Land challenged not only evangelicals, but all Americans to register and vote. “You need to be registered to vote. You need to be an informed voter,” he said. “You need to vote … and you need to vote your values, your beliefs and your convictions.”

Christian leaders have a responsibility to help their people engage politics in a thoughtful, conscientious manner, McLaren added. “One of my favorite moments as a pastor … [was] … sending people out … to go forth to love and serve the Lord,” he said. “As Christians we have a high calling. As Christian leaders, we have to challenge people to deeper and more careful thinking and not just give them a shortcut.”

McLaren posed the question, “[What can] … progressives learn from conservatives and vice versa?”

Land commented that conservatives too often assume God is on their side, or on America’s side, which he condemned as idolatry. Liberals, on the other hand, assume God doesn’t have a side, he said.

“I’m suspicious of anybody who’s unaccountable” — government or business, McLaren said.

Government can help empower people to make decisions, Land argued. He warned against allowing political parties to have too much power. “I look upon political parties as a necessary evil … [and] government as a divinely mandated institution,” he said.
Andrea Frankenfeld is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

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