June 15, 2019

By Fred Koenig

You could write a book about what people had to say about the special session of General Conference held in St. Louis in February. Kevin Slimp has done just that. 

Actually, he didn’t really write it. Instead he got people who are currently in the thick of the fallout to each write a chapter, and then get it to him immediately, so he could compile them into a book that would be published before annual conference season. That’s quick turnaround in the book publishing business. 

One of the voices in Where Do We Go From Here? is Slimp’s longtime friend and recent publishing client, Missouri Bishop Bob Farr. His chapter, entitled “A Methodist Dumpster Fire,” discusses the implications of the current predicament the church is in and also candidly discloses his own positions relating to same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy. 

But Bishop Farr also takes pains to point out that he doesn’t feel his own take on the matter is really all that important – what is important is finding a way to fix a church that has been deeply broken. 

Bishop Farr is joined in the book by half a dozen seminary professors, a couple of other Bishops, two leaders of General Boards and Commissions, a couple of commentators and several pastors on with various takes on the issue. 

The diversity of ideas, their various approaches to the problems at hand and an overall lack of agreement as to what root of the disagreement is essentially paints a picture that looks like the conversation hasn’t changed much since the final gavel dropped at the special session. The diversity of perspectives in one book is refreshing, even if it is unsettling to read how most of the essays in the collection are talking right past each other rather than to each other. 

It is easy to forget how compartmentalized the world we live in is. We’re striving to get on the same page, but being on the same page isn’t helpful when we’re not reading the same book. 

Rachel Held Evans was a famous Christian author and commentator – remarkably so considering her age. She died May 4 after being hospitalized for an infection stemming from the flu. She was 37 and had two children under the age of three. 

My social media feeds were overwhelmed with people who were distraught with the tragic news. But when I tried to bring it up with friends outside of work, no one had heard of her. This didn’t surprise me with my friends who are unchurched and take no interest in religion, but it was kind of surprising with some of my friends who are very religious – the kind of people who are at church three or four times a week. They tend to be more evangelical and had no idea who Evans was, even though she had books on The New York Times bestseller list. 

Evans had quite a few critical things to say of evangelical circles, so I didn’t expect them to be a fan, but they didn’t know she existed. These are leaders of small groups for young adults – the exact group that Evans was mostly aiming at. Her passing was big enough to make the secular news – albeit the progressive secular news like NPR and The New Yorker. I didn’t see anything about her death on more conservative news outlets. Rightfully so – why would they report on the passing of someone who was unknown to their readers? 

Perhaps one of the keys to the way forward is for more people to read books that challenge their ideas, rather than simply reinforce them. Where Do We go From Here? will certainly do that at times, regardless of where you are on the issues before us.