Our friend Jeff Cook joins us for a new Q&A segment to reflect on our conversation with Rob Schenck (see parts 1 and 2 of that conversation here and here). This is our second installment of what will become a regular bonus segment with Jeff unpacking the content of certain episodes. You can hear the first installment, on LQBTQ affirmation and the church, at our Patreon (free for everyone!) here.
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Content note: this episode contains profanity.
The transcript of this episode can be found here.
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NOTE: This transcript was auto-generated by an artificial intelligence and has not been reviewed by a human. Please forgive and disregard any inaccuracies, misattributions, or misspellings.
All right, so we're starting a new thing on the show, we recently had a conversation with some friends who also run a podcast about the INIA gram. And one of those people is getting Jeff Cook. And he graciously volunteered to be sort of host of questions for us about episodes. And sort of play the role of this is what the listener might be thinking at the end of this. Let's, let's see, get your take on that. Yeah. And also, it's kind of the sense of, we have these conversations, our idea is that we want to host conversations that people friends would have in bar like spaces, where there's honesty, and no judgement, and free flowing booze. But sometimes, we might not quite hit that. And we might come across as a little academic, or just kind of a straight interview with a guest who wrote a book. And so sometimes after we turn the mics off, there is a period of decompression, drinking the rest of the glass that we poured ourselves, and the sort of thing that actually would happen in a bar. And so Jeff's idea is that maybe we can have a segment every few episodes where it's kind of really just that we're trying to aim for that feel of decompressing after an interesting conversation, and getting some more off the cuff thoughts. And so Jeff has prepared some questions about a recent episode that we had. And this time, we're talking about the two parter episode that we recently released, which was an interview with Rob shank. If you hadn't heard that, you should definitely go back and listen to that first. But we're going to be reflecting on that conversation a little bit. And what it sparked in Jeff and Rob was a Washington insider, one of the foremost people at the front of making anti abortion activism, thing that evangelicals cared about and could rally around and literally lobbying to Congress, people and Supreme Court justices about that issue. And then was kind of immediately forced out of the organization he had built and spent decades leading by simply raising the question of is a an obsession with guns, consistent with a pro life ethic, and was forced out and lost all its funding. And so if you haven't heard that episode, definitely go back and listen to it. But we're pretty happy with it. We used it to start our fourth season, and so very interested in what Jeff's take on it was, I
suppose if I was just sitting down after listening to that, I would I would want I'd be furious. And so that's where I would order something strong and get into this, that we often like we talked about the podcast you just did on the history of evangelicalism. evangelicalism and Christian nationalism, in my mind are really going together right now. Do you guys consider yourselves evangelicals?
No, we as a church dropped the evangelical label in 2020. Not that 2020 was a very contentious or partisan moment. But what evangelicalism became and what Trump did to it, we just said we don't want to be associated with that anymore. So no, not Evangelical, and Kyle's way less even.
Yeah, I was only still okay with the label for a while just by affiliation with the church and felt no qualms about letting it go. One of our earliest episodes back in season one was about evangelicalism and our disgust with where it was headed and why we were
Yeah, out. So that was a long answer to say no.
drives towards my own reaction, like on paper, it seems to me like I'm an Evangelical, like, I think that sharing faith about Jesus is really important. I have a high view of Scripture. I believe that the Creed's probably a Protestant, the this places me in that camp. And there's something about the doctrine that feels like it's shifted, I used to think I was just different because I had different views on ethics. One thing that shank brought up, I thought was the most powerful statement of the podcast, he defined Christian nationalism as a Christian nationalism, is a belief in which God attaches his salvific plan to a particular people and national identity. And I thought it was an overstatement. And then I started thinking, you know, I think people actually believe this. For example, I know lots of people who think that if you don't vote Republican, you don't follow Jesus. Yeah. And and that has a clear follow up that if you don't follow Jesus, you are probably damned. Yeah. And, and so I was curious, just to start there is Christian nationalism. Can we categorize it as a heresy at that level? Because that seems like a very severe place to land if you're if you're talking about theology. Yeah.
I don't like using the H word and throwing it around and labeling people with that. But I would say Christian nationalism is a heresy. Yes, it places. It thwarts the gospel. It's antithetical to the Gospel, this idea that Jesus came, lived, died and rose again ascended, for all people to draw all people to God Self. It spits in the face of that, that gospel message. And so to me, it's a it's a heresy. And it's a dangerous one that that, like, really major politicians are now just coming out in the open and saying, I'm a Christian nationalist, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. And I'm not saying that everyone who claims to be Christian nationalist, or everyone who has kind of tendencies towards Christian nationalism is a heretic. I'm just saying, in its pure form, Christian nationalism is a heresy.
Yeah, so I don't believe in any kind of authoritative religious structure that would enable me to pronounce someone or enable anybody to turn down someone a heretic. I think that the ability to make that pronouncement implies a kind of structure that I don't think should exist and isn't actually compatible with Christianity, as I understand it. But I will say there are lots of things I personally believe that straightforwardly make me heretical. From a historical perspective, there's lots of things I'm willing to question. They're totally outside the Creed's things i straightforwardly believe and think are true, that, you know, I could never be fill in the blank, traditional whatever, such that if I existed in the 16th century, some Pope would have excommunicated me. If I had any kind of, you know, platform I could have done at some point, no question about it. And I think none of those things that I believe that make me heretical, admittedly, are anywhere near as important as what Christian nationalists belief about Jesus and about the gospel. So if I'm a heretic, they definitely are.
And we can even take the edges off because I really enjoy Kyle's resistance to labeling anyone a heretic. But we can, I think, to take the edges off, we can just clearly say, white Christian nationalism, I think that white word White is really important when we talk about this, but White Christian nationalism is not Christianity, that we can say,
right? So when I said, you know, I forget what he called it. Ronald Reagan Republican, some, yeah, there's lots of names for it. Jamie Smith, one time called it something like therapeutic moralistic deism, like the American civil religion. Yeah, you know, there's lots of labels that describe it far better than any offshoot of Christianity, but at the same time, we can't disavow it either. And say, it's just not Christianity, because that's just like a, you know, Scotsman fallacy or whatever like, that is like slander. It's like saying, The Mormons aren't Christians, because we don't want to accept them as Christian because I don't believe things that we believe like, these people claim to be Christian. And a lot of there's a lot of them. And a lot of people accept them as Christian. And they act in these ways. And they're not so easy to divorce from the tradition and history of Christianity, except insofar as they do things we don't like. And so we can't just not, you know, refuse to own parts of our tradition that make us uncomfortable.
I disagree with I mean, if you're going to say Mormon, I would say that's a different religion than I know, they don't. And I really have, you know, developed friendships with a number of really wonderful Mormon people. But there's within the creedal Christianity does not include them
as being as someone who rejects cradle Christian cradle aspect of it, right. So you're more willing to fall back on things that might allow you to justify that kind of distinction than I am. But But I still think it would be, if not theologically problematic, to make that move, it would still be morally problematic to make that move. In some instances. For example, I think it's inappropriate to say that, you know, when African Americans or LGBTQ people or Jewish people or fill in the blank, point out the oppressive history of Christians, I think it's disingenuous and problematic, in a moral sense to disavow any ownership of that. Sure. And to say that, that those weren't real Christians, right? I agree. In a sense, that might be true. But in another sense, this is our tradition. And it has been shot through that kind of stuff. And it's more healing to take some kind of ownership of
it. That's fair.
This strikes me as a primary problem for us today. Orthodoxy has some statements, there's Creed's, there's places of general belief where you say this, what makes you a Christian? orthopraxy? What are the practices of a Christian? Those are the ones that seem to be all over the place. So if you're burning people for their beliefs, I'm inclined to think that kicks you off the island. But I, but how do you get there? How do you where is it that you can point to and say this is how Christians behave? Generally it's, well, you, you are seeking to follow Jesus? Yeah, but I don't know if there's a clean answer there. What what How Should Christians behave or what Can you get kicked off the island for your behavior? Your beliefs about behavior, not even just like everybody screws up everybody sins, etc. But if you actually think that, you know, burning people alive to their beliefs is a great good does that kick you off the island? Yeah,
yeah, no, I mean, I think Jesus and philosophers would agree that if anything would get you kicked off the island is how you live. It's your orthopraxy not your orthodoxy. You know, I mean, then there's plenty of parables that we could tell of Jesus saying, there were two brothers, the dead ask them to do this thing. The one said, No, thanks. But he did it anyways, the other said, Yeah, I'll do it. And you never did it, which one did with your father said, there's plenty of examples within the Gospels to say Jesus really cared about what we do, how our faith affects what we do. And that's evidence of whether or not we really have faith. So I'm not going to talk about getting voted off the island or burnt at the stake. But Jesus cared a lot more about orthopraxy than orthodoxy, I think.
Yeah, that's I think that's a helpful distinction, to say the least when you come to the topic. Practice is more important than doctrine. Absolutely. Yeah. I think that's important to argue for. Sorry, did you have thoughts?
My answer involves gossamer and a lot of hermeneutical philosophy. I'm tempted, I'm tempted to say there is no such thing as orthodoxy. It's, it just is orthopraxy all the way down. And then just are so Gautam, or compared the function of method and belief, to something like artistic judgment. So like, the, how do you know a good play from a bad play, there's not like an intrinsic thing that makes a thing a good play objectively. There, there are performances, and some of them are more successful than others, given the standards of the audience. And audience standards differ. But that does not entail on this important part of his take, that does not entail anything goes relativism. They're just, they're standards of taste, as you would would call it. And some things fly, and some things don't. And there isn't anything deeper than the judgment of the consensus of the informed about that. And the consensus of the informed on Christianity is not univocal. But it at least agrees mostly on some things, which is that you can't be a bastard and follow Jesus.
That brings up the primary problem that I've had in swimming in evangelical ours myself ends up being the following of Jesus, in that the word Jesus means a very different thing. To many of my, you know, professional colleagues in pastoral work, like the Jesus you're celebrating, looks nothing like the Jesus I believe in. And so we're using this term for an idea, but your idea is, is 100 Miles way 1000 miles away from when I sat talking about Jesus, you know, you're talking about bloodthirsty tribal deity in my mind, you know, I mean, yep. How do you wrestle with that? Rob Bell,
I think, was the first encounter that was good, good at saying some Jesus's should be left behind. Yeah, really fun idea.
Yeah. The question was,
how do you? How do you wrestle with that in terms of you are my brother in Christ, but you're not really because you're Jesus is really violent?
I don't see any usefulness. Maybe I've had a couple too many bourbons telling you what to think, man, I don't see any usefulness in pretending that they're your brother in Christ, I just don't get the function of that. I don't, I don't find it peacemaking, I don't if it's not truthful, it can't lead to something good. So like, David dark, for example, has made a kind of a reputation on what used to be Twitter for just saying blunt things like that to people in power. And then like, honestly, and earnestly engaging with people, when they came back at him with things like how dare you say such a thing? How dare you question someone's personal faith or religious belief? And he's like, why can't I? Like, yeah, don't we have some kind of metric in the New Testament? Didn't Jesus say certain things and not other things? Can we discern the spirits? Can we tell someone's a good character from a bad character? What? What is it that's so sacrosanct about claiming Christianity that it can't possibly be questioned? I just don't get it. So I think if someone is demonstrably harming others, you have a good case that, you know, that might not be your brother in Christ. That's different from saying, you know, I know your heart or I know your motives. I think you should, you know, approach that kind of conversation with an immense amount of grace. And it probably shouldn't happen on Twitter unless you're David, but I don't see anything like intrinsically off limits about that. But
isn't that contradicting what you just said about? We have to own our tradition, and we have to, you know, that falls under Christianity and all that?
I don't think so. So I'm totally willing to own the dark parts of my tradition and still say there are some moral boundaries that you can select out of, are they I'd at least raise the legitimate question of whether you're really a part of it or not. So I do think there's a through line to Christianity, I just don't think it's Doxastic. I don't think it has to do necessarily with what creed you sent it to, I think it has to do with what kind of character you're forming. And I think that is there's evidence about that there's, you can make a case based on someone's, you know, objective experience that they've demonstrated to the world that they've either lived it or have it. Now, I'm Aristotelian enough to say, that case can't be convincingly made until that person is dead. So we got to be really careful about doing one or two or 100 bad things does not necessarily make someone a bad person or change. Yeah, yeah. So you gotta be careful with all of it. But I think it's totally fine to say, especially to someone in power at this moment, you're not acting like Jesus. So if you're claiming it, you got to back it up with some evidence. Yeah, no, I like it.
Randy, you're a Bible scholar. Nope. would not consider yourself a battle. It's not even
close. But I appreciate that. Bible teacher, that's good.
practical question, given that Jesus is returning soon. I'm curious how many guns? Those revelations say that I should secure. And why is the right answer seven? Multiple,
I'm kind of speechless. Yeah. Great, great. exegesis
was the best I had for a transition into gun conversation. But I've been diving into firearm stats that are so disturbing, recently, and I suppose on the face of it was since we're talking about practice, is there any reason for like it? Can you be a follower of Jesus and a gun?
Yes, okay. Let me answer this, because I was for a long time,
up until just like, a month ago,
really recently, this year,
until, like, you weren't a Christian, not because of your gun, but because of all the heresy that yeah, many
other reasons to not be. Yes, that is absolutely possible. So, you know, what I said to rob, about learning to use a gun implies at least a potential for harm to your character. I really believe that I think that's true. But there are lots of things that harm your character that don't prevent you from following Jesus. We don't want to go down that road, right? If if being a morally compromised person prevents your ability to at least begin following the Christ, we're all fucked. There's no, that goes, the EU can't just say this is the sin, right, that we preach against that thing kind of consistently. Guns can't be an exception to that, as far as I'm concerned, that does not remove any of the problems. But I just want to go on the record saying this cannot be disqualifying.
Yeah, I mean, I think, for me, similarly, it's an easy, yes, you can be a Christian and own a gun. However, I think it's a really loaded and important question to ask, personally, and communally of what does that mean. And so let's go all the way back. I rip on people for making too much of the early church. And when I do the same, I'd make too much of the early church. But, you know, when Roman soldiers would come to Jesus and be baptized into this new community, following the way of Jesus in the early church, they were expected to lay down their arms, it was just a given. If you're following Jesus of the way of Jesus, you're no longer going to be slugging people willing to kill people, you're willing to lay down your life for your enemy, for Christ's sake. So that just tells me we need to reflect like, Why do I own this gun? Here? Here's where I would go back to a Jim Jeffries. I don't know if any of you know Jim Jefferies. But he's a comedian, Australian, not
a blanket endorsement of Jinja for his content. Yeah. This one's just this
one skit. That's about guns, and everyone has to go to YouTube. It's two parts, go find them both. And it's worth it. But he says there's one reason and one reason only, that's a legitimate reason for owning a gun. And that is, I like guns. I just think they're cool. Like, I like shooting at Target, doing target practice. And I think this thing feels cool. In my hand. I think it's just badass. That's the only real reason I think for owning a gun. Everything else is, you know, defending my family. It's just it's just data tells us all of those reasons for owning a gun. Besides, I like guns is just false. It's not a real reason. And it goes against the way of Jesus. That's just very, very clear. But yes, you can own a gun and follow Jesus. I just hope you're wrestling with that the idea of owning a gun.
I also by the way, I do not think it's disqualifying. I just wanted to Yes.
I wish I wish more people would ask that question
on, like on the on the flip side, I generally find a lot of sympathy with what I'm seeing in Ukraine right now. And I don't know how to wrestle with self defense and my vision of what new creation is my vision of what Jesus teaches as the way A lot of radical social change these, these strike me as the hardest of, you know, topics really jump into. And the easy answer, I think is well, you just defend yourself. And stockpiling ammunition is a great way to do that.
Excellent. It isn't. Right, rather Jim Jeffords quote from that skit is like, you know they have drones, right? You're not gonna be successful against
the government, the militia thing ain't gonna work. But
pushing into this philosophically, Kyle, do you have thoughts on the ethics of self defense? And I'm like where your mind would go, Yeah,
I'm really torn on this. And the Ukraine situation made it worse. I was already ambivalent about it. And then, you know, I was obsessively following Twitter feeds of local Ukrainians for six months when that started, and I don't I don't have convictions anymore. I used to have convictions about pacifism, I would say I still lean that direction. Interesting. But I also know that I wouldn't behave that way. Like if I'm really honest with myself, I wouldn't. I wouldn't act on that conviction. We talked to Stanley Hauerwas. A while back, and we asked him that bluntly. And he said, One, it's Ukraine's too far gone. That situation, there is no non violent solution to that situation. So it was a realist about it. But also, we, you know, we put it bluntly to him, what do you do? Which I know I fully understand I've been a pacifist long enough to fully understand that is a really annoying question for a pacifist. What would you do if fill in the blank, but it's necessary because it totally misses the point of most pacifist thought. At the same time, it's a necessary moral quandary. And, you know, I think it has to be answered individually. But his answer was, yeah, you die. And you let your friends die. And you TRUST JESUS? Yeah, I don't know. I don't know. It's a consistent ethic, you know, and it's an ethic I have to respect because of the people who have borne it. And I think Jesus is one of those people. And that's where the rubber meets the road for me. But I don't think I'd do it. And it's honestly, it's one of the things that makes me wonder if I am a Christian, frankly, one of the many things
interesting. Yeah, I, I will try to be as close to a pacifist as possible. In this conversation is one of the things that keeps me from going full, full bore. I mean, it's funny, I was a boxer, I grew up in a boxing family, I was taught that you never start a fight. But if someone starts a fight with you, you finish it. And I was really taught the value of standing up for my sister if she was ever picked on all this stuff. And last, I'm a father of a 16 year old daughter, and she has a friend who was basically harassed by her boyfriend. And I remember saying last year when this ridiculous stuff was going down, and police were involved, I remember just saying she needs a dad that just is willing to just this is not happening anymore. You're not going to abuse traumatize manipulate all of that with my daughter. And that's where the pacifism just goes out the door for me, I can't. There's there's not a bit of me that would let my children or wife or loved ones be harmed by somebody trying to do harm to them. And that that would let that happen. And just watch it happen and pray to Jesus like I'm making it sound kind of pathetic. And I don't mean to but but that's kind of the gist I get in. I just don't feel like that's
yeah. And I will say, and we've been meaning to have a whole episode on pacifism, I definitely still want to do that. Because there are reasonable responses to that, that a lot of pacifists have made sure that I think reframe the debate in a healthy way. And, you know, I don't want to leave the listener thinking that's all there is to pacifism, I still hold the view even while agreeing with everything Randy just said. So there's more to say. But yeah, to answer your straightforward question, I don't think either of us would practice. No,
I need to, I need for every pacifist, every true pacifist, you have to be a parent in order to like really make me believe that you're a true pacifist.
But you know, even then, though, the the pacifist heroes, of all, many of them, not just parents, but yeah, they've sacrificed a great deal. Yeah. And I respect them highly. Yeah. Consistently lived their ethics. So
the the best spin I have on this on the pro non violent side is you have to be incredibly aggressive. And it has to be very visual. And that's where King succeeds. We're running the six. Yes, exactly. Do you see the end of the movie, the mission, there's a great image of we're getting the kids and we are marching like an army at people with with guns. So this is how it's
so bad. Yes. We can leave anybody with anything about pacifism. It's that it's spelled with a C and not an S. This is the constant refrain of pacifist theologians and scholars as it is it is an activist orientation. It is not passive. It is not refusing something. It's trying to build something Like, and it's very interested in building social structures where violence is not necessary.
Yeah, I love it. It's, it's, we're in control you're not. And in fact, we will provoke you to,
it's why my past was hero who had to have my pacifist hero. So I named my kid after both named Desmond. One was does, yeah, the only pacifist Medal of Honor recipient, the only guy that won a medal of honor who used to carry a gun hacksaw rich. Yeah, yeah. And then, of course, Desmond Tutu, also, who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whole long story there in South Africa, if you can be a pacifist, and if you can be consistently non violent in the face of the stuff that that guy had to hear testimony about day in and day out, right? Anybody can, yep.
The last thing that hit me, just as I was listening, and wasn't necessarily addressed, is really the problem with men in our culture. And I've started to really get into a lot of literature about where men are struggling. And if I were to tell you that there was an active shooter, and you know, in somewhere in Florida, you already know who that shooter is, before you know who that shooter is. And you could probably describe 90% of their story in their details. And the thing about men in our culture is, you know, men are four times more likely to kill themselves, they're three times more likely to be addicts, or 12 times more likely to be incarcerated. And there is something about men who just aren't succeeding in the ways that we might, you know, define that term of success. That is, you know, kind of paralleled, with with, with a fascination towards white nationalism and gun ownership. And I don't know what to do there, aside from to name it that this that I want to say that the guns just need to be eliminated. But I really think that it's there's something about being a man in our culture, and the fear and anger is experienced by people who just aren't, you know, you know, making it and that's a general, I don't have a question there. I was hoping for thoughts. Wisdom on that.
Yeah. I'll say I'm not qualified to answer the question. This is an, we've gotten this question before, from listeners who have requested an episode on it specifically, I think it's a legitimate request. And I want to, I want to have somebody on who's actually studied it. I'll point people to an episode of my favorite podcast, which is the Ezra Klein show, who had an episode called something like, the the men and boys are not alright. And I'll say this, it, you can run into problems with this topic by even taking it seriously in some quarters. Oh, yeah. Because by by paying attention to this, it's like, we're not giving our emotional and intellectual attention to what we should be, which is the plight of all the minorities. Um, so to even raise the question of, how can we care for white men. Quarters, can get you into some trouble. And they discuss that in that episode in a reasonable and thoughtful and careful way and come down on the side of where I am, which is the caring for people is not a zero sum. And there is a real problem here. And it's being currently filled by people like Jordan Peterson, and fill in the blank, Ben Shapiro, and whatever, all these nut bags who just, you know, give an appearance of fatherlessness and wisdom to a lot of really hokey and unfounded and counter evidential views, that often smuggle in a lot of straightforward misogyny, and irrationalism. So we can do better than that. A lot of a lot of people are doing better than that a lot of Christian ministers are doing better than that. They just don't have the platforms on YouTube. And the algorithm doesn't push you to them. But I definitely want to talk somebody who knows more about this. That's my
I want to throw that challenge out to Randy and maybe we can wrap here. That's just it like a lot of thoughtful, dare we say progressive folks have just seeded the ground of defining healthy masculinity in our culture, and is known as a passer. Do you find that there is that that category of being a man is important? Is there anything to point to, in your tradition that you're like, here's, here's where health and strengthen would be found?
Yeah, I mean, that's a really complex question. And I'm not a psychologist or, you know, specialists in gender studies. But two things. One is, I think routing this historically is important. You know, it feels like with mass shootings happening left and right. We are like it's always met. And it's true. It's a hunt. I don't know if it's 100% True. It's very close to 100% True, but men have you know, we like to blink Christianity or religion. are destroying their the world. But I want to say most of that belongs to men, like men have done some really seedy shit throughout the history of humanity, all the wars, all the battles, all the conflict, all the much of the tribalism, all that stuff, I think is squarely on, you know, masculine shoulders. So it's nothing new. What we're seeing is what I'm trying to say. And I'm glad that we're having conversations like this that might be new. I'm not sure that would be historically illiterate, because I don't know if it's true or not. But we're having these discussions, which I think is like the beginning of getting somewhere good. As a pastor, I hear what you're saying about like, you know, progressive pastors or church leaders or leaders have seated the ground of gender, but I don't think so for me, in my perspective, I come from a tradition that really emphasizes you know, Men's Ministry and what it means to be a man and the Promise Keepers and no regrets and all this stuff, you know, and it's just like all this manly chest thumping and chest bumping. And then also emphasizes the Joyce Meyer, Beth Moore, women's studies. And I've got, you know, everything's about these gender specific ministries and books and studies and all this stuff. And that's where I've, I've just retreated from that. I just want to talk about what it means to be human. I think it is important to talk about what it means to be a woman in the world, I think it's important to talk about what it means to be a man in the world in healthy, beautiful ways. But for me, there's been such a focus on gender specific ministries that I've just been like, Nope, we're just all people. And we're going to learn how to learn side by side as men and women and maybe that something in that idea of coming shoulder to shoulder coming together, learning together, growing and understanding together now I'm a guy who loves I love my dude, weekends. I love my times away with guys. I love my friendships with dudes. But I think the church is overdone it, particularly in the last century, last particularly last 40 years, where everything's just like, masculinity looks like watching football, burping drinking beer and doing things you know. So I think most of us have just felt like I just want to stop talking about all that shit. And really just talking about being human.