Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Cornerstone Festival 2006 and the Fundamentalists

As a main director of "Cornerstone yoU" -- the seminar tents offered at our yearly Cornerstone Festival -- I had a wonderful time this year. Fantastic speakers, great Q and A, and much edification, exhortation, and encouragement. On that I'll post shortly. But first let me get a little of the sad, though unintentionally humorous at points, part of the program out of the way.

It seems two groups of folks this year felt the need to protest Cornerstone Festival.

The first, Pilgrims Covenant Church of Wisconsin, has no affiliation whatever with the Evangelical Covenant Church (a denomination which Cornerstone Festival's parent organization, Jesus People USA, belongs). Apparently, the PCC folk objected to us on various levels, including our dress, music, tattoos, and choice of movie topics. Or as they picturesquely put it in the flier they handed out, "Cornerstone Festival is represented as a Christian event, but in reality, it is a profane, worldly carnival which promotes false doctrines and dishonors God." There's an entire sermon against us on their website; if someone else has the inclination to listen to it they can let me know what it says. Briefly.

The PCC folks showed up on July 4 to protest outside the front gate of Cornerstone. We did attempt to take water to them (which was refused), and a few hardy souls also tried a dialogue with them, also to no avail. Apparently, the PCC is a "King James Only" church, as exhibited by articles on their website. KJV Only folks believe that the King Jimmy is the only authorative, accurate, translation, and that the rest of the English translations are pretty much Satanic. I'm an NRSV-only kinda guy myself, so I probably am doomed to hellfire.

One comment made on the PCC site, if true, was sin on whosever part did it. "During our six hours at the front gates of Cornerstone, we had things thrown at us and obscene gestures directed our way. We were called 'fagots' [sic] and 'fascists.'" I know for a fact that our staff took water to the PCC protestors, who were exposed in the hot sun and dust. They rejected the offer of water, unfortunately.

The use of hate language is flat-out wrong, as Jesus clearly indicates when he equates calling a man a fool with murdering that man. Man's anger doesn't work the righteousness of God (though there is a righteous anger I'm going to post some ruminations on soon; it will have little to nothing to do with this silliness, however). Finally, if someone called these folks a 'faggot,' he/she was committing a double sin of hatred, both against the PCC folk caught in the sin of legalism and against any individuals caught in homosexual sin. Dunno, but sometimes sin is never closer to us than when we feel the most self-righteous. I try to regularly remind my own arrogant self of this fact. Again, from my limited personal observations, all the people who attempted dialogue with the PCC were in fact very respectful and were trying hard to exhibit the patient love of Christ.

I'd go ahead and talk about more of what the PCC complained about regarding Cornerstone Festival, except that the same topics came up with a second group as well, one which unlike the PCC folks' forthright, upfront protest chose instead to play a sort of absurd spy game.

Ms. Dwayna Litz, whom I've written about before, continues repeating the same untruths about others' beliefs. But this time, the whole thing took on the air of bad comedy as she donned a wig for a disguise and brought a crew of others (wigged or not, I don't know) to "infiltrate" Cornerstone with fliers aimed at our Gender Revolution Tent, co-sponsored by Christians for Biblical Equality. I just can't explain how truly wierd this incognito thing was. Cornerstone is about the most wide-open, no-questions-barred, place there is for intellectual discussions on anything. If Dwayna had so desired, she could have engaged any of the folks at the CBE/Gender Revolution Tent, or at the Imaginarium Tent, with her doubts. As long as she exercised the spirit of Eph. 5:21, of course: "Defer one to another out of reverence for Christ." But there must be some sort of pychological pay-off for acting out this way, approaching fellow Christians not openly but rather deceptively.

This spying business inspires me to quote Galatians 2:4,5:

"But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us--we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you."

Paul is riffing there on the legalists who want to make circumcision necessary for new Christians, and his point is that if this were to occur, it basically negates salvation by faith. The parallels to the two situations -- Paul's and ours -- seem obvious. I'm not suggesting Dwaya and her friends are not believers -- that's God's business, not mine. In fact, I'll step out on faith and state I do think she believes, even if her practice of agape seems to me highly deficient at present. (So, too often, is mine!) But I do think, regardless of Dwayna's own understanding, that she and her friends came to steal away our freedom in Christ and attempt to replace it with legalism and literalism, the dead letter of the law. It makes me sad for Dwayna, truthfully. She attended a celebration of Christ's creativity, His redemptive power, and his love, and went home with nothing. It was as though she'd placed a lid on her heart and blinders over her eyes. So her heart remained untouched and her eyes saw nothing -- nothing, that is, except what her vision, distorted by her own misbeliefs and preconceptions, expected to see.

Particularly bothersome to her was our "Day of the Dead" celebration which took place in the Imaginarium Tent. I wasn't there myself during the actual festival, as the Gender Revolution and Project12 Tents demanded more of my time, but did get a few cool pics before the fest's official start. In a nutshell, I'd say that Mike Hertenstein and his fellow Imaginarium staffers were trying to discuss death, mortality, suffering, lives of the past Christians who mean so much to each of us yet living, and much, much more. The symbolic use of skulls, bones, and even a (gasp!) coffin came it for much critique from Dwayna, who apparently failed to grasp the symbolic significance behind any of this. She, for instance, thought we were actually praying to the dead. Nope.

For further riffs on the Day of the Dead, I'd direct you to Mike Hertenstein's write-up on the Imaginarium site, and also co-participant John Morehead's riff on his blog (linked to later on).

There must be tremendous pain involved behind the anger and desire to define for others what orthodoxy is. I'm not saying, by the way, that orthodoxy does not need some defining. But it is a task best done together with others rather than alone, and with a tremendous, humbled grasp of our universal failure to be "perfect" in either our beliefs or our practice. Taking a larger view, fundamentalism itself seems to be rooted in anger, but an anger which covers the tremendous anxieties and fears which only love perfected can deal with. "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love." 1 John 4:18 (NRSV).

All I can say or do is to keep doing and saying what I've done and said all along, relying on God's chastisement through the Word and other believers whom I can trust.

Cornerstone Festival, Cornerstone magazine, and Jesus People USA remain essentially rooted in the gospel story. Our mistakes have been many, and will likely number many more. But our allegiance to the gospel itself -- the "Good News" of Jesus Christ so painfully, beautifully rendered in Phillipians 2 as well as the gospels and even in our own lives -- remains. This allegiance has been questioned not only by Dwayna but by some of her respondents.

I think, again, that the real issue here is one of exclusion vs. inclusion. That is, as John Morehead (who spoke at the Imaginarium on these very issues) put it:

In our knee-jerk Reformation reaction against ritual and symbolism we are missing important aspects of expression, not to mention a lot of fun. In the process we end up missing out on participating in the fullest dimensions of the human experience, and we deny the full implications of the incarnation. The Word came in the flesh to live among us and to participate in culture, including its ritual and symbolism. Evangelical overemphasis on the rational and the textual ends up denying the fulness of the incarnation that also embraces the imagination.

As an experiment, imagine having someone looking at someone else through a thick piece of frosted and distorted glass. Then imagine your task is to explain to them what that person really looks like. Now imagine that you have to explain this to someone who has been looking through that glass all their lives, and who is very afraid that if they put down the glass, they will be lost in the dark forever. Your assurances that in fact they will finally be able to see things more clearly than they've ever seen is met with wild-eyed fear.

I'm not sure there's more to be said about all this at present. If some others -- including Dwayna and friends -- wish to dialogue, I promise to engage for at least a little while. But some sort of cyberwar will remind me too much of what's going on in the Middle East. Lots of chest-beating, lobbing of bombs, and destruction of innocent civilians... all to what end?!

An addendum as of July 19... if folks really want to get an idea of what goes on at that nefarious Imaginarium year in and year out, check out the archives pages, newly updated by Mr. Hertenstein. Various links to speakers presentations and/or books are also listed. And make sure to listen to the 1999 version of "Gopher Guts" recorded at the Imaginarium that year; I expect some theological dissections of both GGuts and "My Dog Rover," also included in the same clip.


Glenn Kaiser said...

Jon, great writing and points here!

I think that most all you name are like we at JPUSA, seeking to follow the Lord to the best of their understanding. There are so many people, teachings and issues that bring us to the positions we are currently taking that it's just too complex to address in detail. Yet I'll say that fundamentalism, a hardcore Calvinist position and the concept that "we know what YOU obviously don't and NEED TO" rises to the surface.

Fact is, all believers truly do not agree on all points "we see through a glass darkly" at present. But oh how it's tempting to speak, act and demonstrate as if we see face-to-face! Not so.

We really do not agree with King James as the only translation of the Word of God. We don't agree that tattoos are sinful, nor piercings nor many (not all) of the subcultural expressions that these folks condemn. We aren't going to agree that symbolism and ritual is all "of the flesh" or "demonic" as such. We really do not agree and so I'd expect some folks to pronounce condemnation on our positions if not on us, personally. It IS a free country and God Bless them and America for at least exercising a bit of free speech!

On the matter of love (though we will not agree re. what is/isn't edifying) of course, we all must grow up and consider how to best love one another regardless of the positions we assume as followers of Jesus Christ.

That's really what you're getting at here, and Lord knows we all need to love all people- including our detractors- more. God help us to do it!

I'm SO blessed to serve with you and all others in Cstone/JPUSA and this growing movement of multi-cultural voyagers, artists -and- realists. God help us to love Jesus and His Word above all else, and to truly be patient and forgiving toward those who consider us lost, carnal or demonized! Jesus suffered far worse- and He IS perfect and sinless!

In Amazing Grace! -Glenn

Whisky Prajer said...

Some excellent links here, Jon - thank you. I'd very much like to partake of the full C-stone experience at some point. In the meantime, I guess I'll just dust off my ancient copy of Leibowitz...

Anias Nin said...

How strange that people felt the need to sneak into C-stone in disguise. As if one, after awhile, could not discern the meaning of their actions and words. I've been to C-stone twice and never have seen anything like that.
People do have the right to say what they want; to actively express their opinions, but one has to wonder how true to Christ someone's motivation is if they feel the need to sneak into a gathering which has openly admitted itself to be genuinely accepting of all people, no matter what.
At least the people at the gate were open about their protests. It's too bad that the Body of Christ is divided as it is.
I had a vision (Please don't think I'm stroking my spiritual ego here. I've only ever had one other.) once of the Body of Christ as a whole being and working as one. It nearly made my heart burst. Ever since, that has been something that I've prayed for every day.
Wish I could've gone to C-stone this year. I would have liked to hear the speakers at the Gender Revolution tent.

-B said...

Hey Jon,

Good stuff. You know, wouldn't this all be a heck of a lot easier if Ms. Dwayna Litz took the time to speak to Cornerstone leadership and reps? I mean...really. I don't think she does this once! Everything on her blog is talking ABOUT CS but never TO CS. I feel sorry for her man. I do.