My Response to the New York Times article on The Crossing and True/False

Last weekend the New York Times published an article about The Crossing’s partnership with the Truth/False Film Festival. It was printed in the Sunday edition in the Arts & Leisure section, page 29.

The online version was published on Friday, 2/21/14. You can view it online here:

When the New York Times reporter contacted me for an interview, my initial suspicion was that this was not going to be an article having a favorable view of The Crossing. The reporter, Lauren Sandler, had previously written other pieces and even published a book critical of evangelical Christians (sometimes fairly, but sometimes unfairly).

When she did interview me, I found her to be very friendly and personable and intelligent. I liked her immediately, and I still like her now after the article.

Having said that, it does seem as if she may have had some personal stereotypes through which she viewed me and presented me in her article, either intentionally or simply because she could not perceive me outside of them.

After the article came out, a friend of mine who teaches at Mizzou sent me this text:
“Just read the NYT article. Thick-necked, Dave: Biblical literalist who doesn’t include redemption in his narrative of Christianity’s three acts. Ha! On the whole, not terrible.”

That pretty much summed up my feelings as well. The New York Times basically quoted me as saying the Bible’s three-act narrative is Creation, Fall, and Fall. How hopeless and dreary that would be. Obviously what I said and even repeated several times was Creation, Fall, and Redemption. And that you can see that storyline somewhere in every intellectually honest human artwork, especially film.

Of course, whether or not I have a “thick neck” is open for debate (OK, maybe I kinda do). But I certainly am not a “biblical literalist” in the sense that that term is used today. For example, I am not a literal six-day creationist, and I in fact preached on that very subject more than once at The Crossing (listen to my sermon in the Genesis sermon series, #5, “The Six Days of Creation,” preached 10/17/10).

To go out of her way to describe me as a “thick-necked,” “shaved-headed” “biblical literalist” with an “intolerance of homosexuals” only served to paint/confirm the same repeated narrative into which the New York Times often squeezes evangelical Christians.

Perhaps she did that to create a kind of tension in the article, and I can understand her desire to do that as a journalist. It helps the story be more interesting, I agree. But it’s simply not true. And my guess is the reporter and even the New York Times editors were fundamentally unable to perceive or imagine me or The Crossing outside the tight box of their own stereotypical narrative.

Of course, even beyond all that, there were a lot of incomplete quotes and sometimes misquotes in the article, both attributed to me as well as to David Wilson.

The New York Times implied that David Wilson said our church had an “intolerance of homosexuals.” I was surprised when I read that because David and I have had a very honest discussion regarding my/our stance on homosexuality/homosexuals after our initial screening of “Bully.” And we have had a few more discussions about it since. So I immediately sent David Wilson a text after reading the article on Friday.

With his permission I will share our text exchange here:

Me: “You really think I’m actually ‘intolerant of homosexuals’?”
David: “Nope. And I definitely didn’t say that. Anymore than I suggested that my house was 100 yards from the crossing. We’ve been spotting the inaccuracies all day. But overall, I think it’s a good article.”
Me: “Ha ha. She got a lot of things wrong that I said. Oh well. I was going to reply to you that, ‘Some of my best friends used to be homosexual.””
David: “Hahahaha.”
Me: “Very much just kidding of course about the used to be part.”
David: “Of course. Maybe I should know better, but I was genuinely surprised by how many errors there were. And, that said, the chatter on Facebook that I’ve seen has been really positive towards both our organizations.”
Me: “I agree. By and large I’m pretty happy with it. I thought your last quote at the end of the article was really funny.”
David: “Yeah, I wasn’t sure what she’d do with that, but it read exactly as I meant it — more playful than serious.”
Me: “That’s how I read it.”

It’s true. As a whole, I’m not unhappy with the article. In fact, it actually came out better then I thought it might.

When it comes to being unable to see through stereotypes and preconceived narratives, we all share that problem. We all have our blind spots. We all cram people who are different than us into a little box that fits our presuppositions.

That’s another reason why I love The Crossing’s partnership with True/False. It challenges others’ prejudiced stereotypes of Christians, and it challenges our stereotypes as Christians of those who don’t share our beliefs.

But I honestly think the New York Times got the wrong story. What makes our partnership between The Crossing and True/False interesting isn’t the conflict, but the common ground.

The day the New York Times article came out online, someone screen captured and emailed me this comment exchange that took place on the ether world of Facebook that I found very interesting. I’ll change their names in case you might know them.

Linking to the New York Times article, “Alice” writes on her Facebook page:

“I have to admit that when I first learned of the connection between my favorite film festival and a local church I was concerned. That said, I’ve mostly put those concerns to rest. This is a great piece that explores the dynamic between the organizations and that illuminates the good that comes from this unlikely partnership.”
Brad: “Isn’t the Crossing one of those fancy, hipster-Christian mega-churches?”
Alice: “Yes.”
Brad: “They creep me out.”
Alice: “A lot of things creep me out. Mega-churches, included. The point I’m making here is that even if my politics and beliefs don’t match this church’s politics and beliefs this is a good example of differences being set aside to learn, explore others’ experiences and, ultimately, to help. That’s the brand of Christianity/life/belief I can get behind.”
Connor: “Religion in general creeps me out, but a lot of people are religious… So you deal with it. I’ve always respected religious folks that are willing to do that on the other side.”
Alice: “Also, having an aversion to something is a queue to examine that thing more closely in my book. Finding the good, the bad, the true, the false (see what I did there?) in things to which I have knee-jerk antipathy is part of being a conscientious person. I try not to let arguments based on repugnance hold too much weight in my thought process. It definitely doesn’t always (or even often) work.”

As an aside, let me admit that most mega-churches creep me out too by the way.

Of course, I don’t know any of these people on Facebook, but it seems to me that “Alice” is pretty sharp. And she’s absolutely right. We should all think that way. We all end up becoming prejudicial bigots of one form or another unless we learn to live in a pluralistic culture without demanding uniformity of thought. Unfortunately, most people today are for diversity in everything but thought.

And this is why I’m glad The Crossing is part of True/False. Yes, we are a large financial sponsor, but also many of our members serve as hard-working volunteers, and an increasing number are participating in the film festival by buying passes and enjoying the films and the festival. And in the process, the films and the festival as a whole challenge our thinking.

We learn to respect diversity of thought. We learn to treat everyone with grace and love and respect and to be genuinely curious what they believe and why they believe it. We learn to be challenged by those beliefs. We learn that we always have something more to learn. We learn to see our own cultural blind spots. We learn that we want to have friends who actually have diversity of thought.

So thank you to Lauren Sandler and the New York Times for doing this story and for making all of us talk about this more. But perhaps the New York Times would also do well to learn from this new narrative we’re building together at the True/False Film Festival. That’s the better story.

Follow me on Twitter @DaveCover

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