Fiona (left) is a 21-year old aerospace engineer living in Texas, and Ellen (right) is a 22-year old program manager living in Seattle.
The two met in middle school and have remained friends since. Fiona is a practicing Catholic, and Ellen considers herself an atheist.
To summarize our Jonah Project conversation in one sentence, I would say this: our differing religious views impact the lens we look at the world through, but in many cases don’t impact the way we live our lives. In addition, we agreed that religion is only good if it’s truly understood and lived out by an individual and not used as a qualification or a way to belong to something. It should be a personal reflection and journey, regardless of the faith or lack thereof. More…
Matthew (left) and Justin (right) met while they were students at a Catholic university in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
During college, Justin – who was Matthew’s RA at the time – came out of the closet. Matthew, a self-described evangelical Christian, has been “unsure about how to integrate my faith in conversations and actions with him” ever since.
They chatted over Skype about Biblical infallibility, creationism, homosexuality, and salvation, and even managed to find some common ground.
Their (slightly abridged conversation) is after the jump: More…
Their family was not always secular. In 1911, in a small eight-sided tabernacle he built some years earlier, their great-grandfather Julius Culbreth helped found a new denomination, the International Pentecostal Holiness Church. Though Ewan and Andrew were not raised Pentecostal, they grew up with an admiration for the faith and leadership Grandpa Julius had shown.
So the two brothers decided to meet at the “Octagon Tabernacle” in the little town of Falcon, N.C. to discuss their reactions to The Unlikely Disciple.
I loved this video. I was especially glad that Andrew, the secular brother, found the Liberty students in the book somewhat sympathetic. That discussion begins at around 5:00 in the video, but the whole thing is worth watching. Thanks to Ewan and Andrew (whose website is here) for pulling it off.
Bryce (left) is a recent graduate of Calvary Bible College, and a self-described conservative Christian.
Cory is a Christian, too, but considers himself politically and religiously moderate. (He voted for Obama.)
The two have never met, but they’ve been having religion-themed discussions online for several years, culminating in the Facebook group they started in order to document their Jonah Project. (The group can be found here.)
Frank and Bob have been friends for more than 25 years.
Frank (left) is a 45 year-old literature professor at a community college. He is a married Evangelical Christian living in the largely secular northeast.
Bob (right) is a 49 year-old retail manager. He is single, a confirmed atheist, a member of the ACLU, and lives in the largely Evangelical Christian south.
They applied for the Jonah Project with one question: “Can two spiritually dissonant men share a reading experience without driving each other crazy?”
Their discussion of The Unlikely Disciple ran to more than 5,000 words – a Harper’s-sized exploration of cultural difference – so I decided to print an abridged version below and make their full discussion available as a PDF, which you can download here.
Trust me, it’s worth 10 minutes of your time.
In the full exchange, you’ll get to see Frank and Bob discuss “X,” “Y,” and “Z,” friends of theirs who are particularly zealous about their faith. And you’ll get to read the genuine, candid musings of two longtime friends who haven’t let political and religious disagreements get in the way of their relationship. It’s a great example for the rest of us.
Here are two excerpts from their e-mail exchange:
After reading The Unlikely Disciple, I guess the foremost thoughts in my mind are my deep distrust of the institution and an equally ambivalent opinion of the students that go there. I do not agree with Falwell’s attempts (all too successful) to politicize the evangelical movement. Allying with Conservative Republicans has helped to create the current poisonous political atmosphere and to political paralysis, but it hasn’t attained any of the goals that Evangelicals had hoped that involvement in the political process would advance. Abortion is still legal and likely to remain so, homosexuals are gaining more rights, and Darwinism is still taught in schools (although Creationism is being given more attention, public schools are still secular). Political power for Evangelicals has not led to social change and hasn’t even brought converts to the faith.
Daniel and Ben went to high school together in West Virginia. They both went to Christian colleges – Daniel to Taylor University in Indiana, and Ben to the infamous Bob Jones University.
Daniel (left) has since become a secular humanist who aligns himself with the political far-left. ”I see the world as filled with a dramatic secular struggle for survival,” he writes.
Ben (right) remained an evangelical and now lives in Detroit, where he attends a conservative seminary and works as a pastoral assistant. ”[Ben] is one of the most intelligent and well spoken people that I know, which is part of my frustration with his continued choices in life,” writes Daniel.
The two signed up for the Jonah Project together hoping to have an “open conversation in a moderated environment” and discussed their experiences in a series of e-mails, summarized here.
Our discussion through the emails has been wonderful and refreshing.
We have touched on topics such as historical evangelicalism versus modern and post-modern developments in the church and Christianity. We have discussed changes in my life and the role of logic and emotion in life. I think we have both found significant common ground but also perhaps realized more dramatically then I expect that we can honestly and deeply disagree and still continue to speak respectfully and with love to one another.
Andy and Karl were unlikely roommates at Valparaiso University.
Andy’s an engineer who works for the military, Karl studies philosophy and espouses pacifism. On the Myers-Briggs test, Andy is an ISTJ and Karl is an ENFP [ed. – I don't know what that means, but I'm sure it's important.]
Perhaps most importantly, Andy is a conservative Christian while Karl is a liberal theologian.
“We fought a lot, but somehow survived our disagreements,” wrote Karl in their Jonah Project application. As they talked about The Unlikely Disciple, they found themselves arguing respectfully – once again – about the book’s philosophical assumptions.
As you probably know by now, the main goal of Kevin Roose’s semester at Liberty University was to gain a better understanding of evangelical Christians and their worldview. Insofar as he had a *better* understanding of their worldview when he finished, he clearly succeeded. But I could tell by reading the book that he never really managed to put himself into the appropriate point of view to truly understand them.
The problem is that he never really spent much time thinking about epistemology (the study of how we know what we know). His epistemological beliefs are standard secular 20th century beliefs – essentially, stuff about the physical world we live in is known to be true because it was determined in accordance with the scientific method, and he has also embraced axiomatically the political/philosophical positions that are fairly standard for a left-of-center crowd (exact equality of the sexes, “all men created equal,” homosexuality is just a lifestyle choice, etc).
One can tell by reading the book that the thought of embracing a worldview where instead of scientific and political “truths” being axiomatic, religious “truths” are given that status. This is revealed most clearly when he (finally) allows himself to be critical of Liberty University.
In their Jonah Project application, Matt and Leah warned us: “This is going to be interesting.”
Leah is a liberal, feminist vegan who doesn’t vote. Matt is a ”conservative, patriarchal meat-eater” (Leah’s words) who rocks a McCain/Palin bumper sticker. She’s a follower of Christ (but (“not religious”) and he’s a fundamentalist Baptist.
Matt and Leah met up at a local coffeehouse to share their thoughts. Leah summarized the results topic-by-topic.
Going To The Chapel and We’re Gonna Get Married (Gay Marriage)
Surprisingly, Matt is not opposed to gay marriage, though he thinks homosexuality is a sin. We had this exchange:
Matt: “As long as it doesn’t affect me personally, then I don’t have a problem with it. I don’t see how homosexuality affects me.”
Me: “Oh, really?” (smirk)
Matt: “Well… I mean, except for all of the gay sex I’m having…”
Me: (laughs) “Of course. Except for that.”
Dancin’ in the Streets (Evangelism)
After cringing at the tragic evangelism techniques Kevin learned on his spring break mission trip – like “The Way of the Master” – we both agreed that we’d just wind up partying with the spring breakers. We also decided that Mardi Gras beads would make great evangelism tracts – scripture verse tags could double as nipple pasties. Genius, right?
Michelle and Jen have known each other for about 9 years.
Michelle is a formerly devout Christian conservative who recently morphed into a self-described “uber-liberal professing Atheist.”
Jen is her evangelical Christian friend.
The two sat down over frappucinos at Barnes & Noble (and continued the discussion at Buffalo Wild Wings) to talk about their differences of opinion on the major socio-political issues of our time.
Michelle’s Jonah Project recap breaks down their conversation by topic, beginning with:
In my [Michelle's] opinion, Christians are too hung up on what happens in other peoples’ relationships and sex lives. The male-female model in the Bible was just prototype, and should not be treated as protocol now. The Declaration of Independence said that all people were created equal. Therefore, if straight people have the right to marry, use their marriage status on taxes and insurance, and are able to see their spouse in the hospital and have medial information released to them, so should people in the LGBT community. Also, homosexuality is not a choice. No one would willingly choose a life of rejection and pain for themselves. Straight people didn’t choose to be straight and gay people didn’t choose to be gay. Reparative “ex-gay” therapy does NOT work. It just causes even more hurt and confusion for the person receiving it. In the end, whether it seems it helped or not, that person is still gay.
Jen thinks that acts of homosexuality are wrong – though homosexual feelings in and of themselves are not – and that marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples. She believes there should be civil unions and that gay people should have the same rights that straight married couples have (insurance, medical release, etc.). As for ex-gay reparative therapy, she believes it can only work if the person attending is willing or wanting to change, not if they’ve been forced to attend. More…