Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Together 2016

The youth group at our church is planning to take a trip next Saturday to Washington, D.C., to attend Together 2016.

What is Together 2016? I'm glad you asked, because it took me a while to find anything approaching a useful description! The event's web site invites you to "Fill the mall! Be one of a million standing for Jesus on 7.16.16." It also notes that 315,976 have "joined the movement," as of 10:53 p.m. July 6. What movement is that? I'm really not sure. I only heard of the movement a week ago, and have not been able to find any identifiable goals.

There are a lot of amazing things that movements have accomplished, based on the life and teachings of Jesus. The Society of Friends, a christocentric movement also known as the Quakers, is legendary worldwide for its commitment to peace, to the abolition of slavery, and to the advancement of civil rights and women's suffrage. Susan B. Anthony and Clara Barton are two well-known Quakers. The Civil Rights movement also drew heavily on the teachings of Christ, and on theologians who influenced Martin Luther King Jr,, such as Richard Niebuhr.

What social issues is Together 2016 going to tackle? Maybe there's something about income inequality, gun violence, or the current issue of police brutality disproportionately affecting the black community. Maybe there's something about the xenophobia and white nationalism whipped up by presumed Republican nominee Donald Trump. If so, you can't tell by reading the web site. It says nothing.

"Our generation is the most cause-driven in history. But our causes are pulling us apart. Even religion doesn’t unite. We believe only Jesus can bring us together," the site declares on its About page. "July 16, 2016, is the day our generation will meet on the National Mall to come together around Jesus in unified prayer, worship, and a call for catalytic change."

Change sounds exciting, especially with an unfamiliar word like "catalytic" in front of it. But change can mean different things to different people. Stepping up regulation of abortion would be exciting to some Christians and perfectly alarming to others. The same is true for gay rights and same-sex marriage. Is it part of a concerted assault on marriage, or is it welcoming our gay friends and relatives into community with us, and recognizing the importance of belonging with another person?

The site doesn't take a position. It doesn't even acknowledge the subject.

Together 2016 isn't like Burning Man or a trip to a popular Christian music festival like Creation or Cornerstone, in that you know more or less what to expect. It's being called a worship gathering, with speakers and worship leaders, which is fine; but it's being held at the Mall, in D.C.

I've scoured the web looking for more information, but the most I can find, even after reading all the free articles I could find at Christianity Today is that organizers say there is no agenda, just "resetting the country for Jesus." That sounds nonthreatening enough, but we all have different ideas on what that means, don't we?

To many of our nation's older evangelical leaders, that would mean resetting America to a time like the 1950s, much like Donald Trump does when he says he wants to "make America great again." I doubt many blacks would like a return to the days of legalized segregation, or that women would want to give up their careers for a June Ward existence, or that gays and lesbians would want to return to the terror of the closet. And no one from a religious minority is going to want to return to the days when a civic Judeo-Christian religion was expected.

I read about a half-dozen articles on Together 2016 today, and one of them noted that speakers will avoid entirely hot-button issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. A friend of mine summarized her thoughts for me: "Just looks like a big dumb prayer meeting," she wrote. "Big. Dumb. See You At The Pole X 20k. It's an excuse to go to D.C. and hang out with other teens/have over-the-clothes groping on the bus." (It sounds like her youth group had more fun than mine.)

In all fairness, the leaders of the movement probably do mean it to be exactly like a giant Meet You at the Pole event. But if that's the case, they really should have picked somewhether other than Washington, D.C., to host their event. As soon as you've set something in the capital, you've just guaranteed that it has agenda, if for no other reason than the eyes it has decided to attract.

And that often is the whole point of these gatherings. It's to send a message to the community, to the nation, to our leaders: "We are here. We are many. Don't ignore us when you vote." Expect the message to be co-opted as soon as you start to gather. There are people lined up right now to tell politicians that all those Christians support greater trade with China, oppose environmental regulation of America's rivers, and think the color green should have a little more yellow in it.

If that's what you want, that's fine. Feel free to knock yourselves out. But don't expect the gathering to reset America for Jesus. He talked about public declarations of faith, and by and large he wasn't impressed.

"When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

In the end I started to wonder why I was bothering trying to figure out what the goal of Together 2016 is. My kids are probably going to have zero interest in attending.

Copyright © 2016 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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