by Aaron Ban, Pastor, St. John’s United Church of Christ, Chesterton, Indiana
I am guilty of a mild form of celebrity worship. I grew up watching The PBS Newshour, and so I have gotten to know David Brooks on my TV screen for years. After meeting him at our March session of WPLP, I told church members and family all about it. If you have heard of him, it is easy to talk about him. “Oh—you got to talk with a nationally renowned journalist?” It is the nationally renowned that impresses everyone, whether they know his work a lot or a little, and whatever opinion they may have of him.
The complexity of Brooks’s thinking and writing has earned him a reputation for free thinking that is not easy to come by in our polarized times. My opinion of him was positive. What Brooks had to say was interesting and valuable, and when he responded to my comment about the Iraq War by saying “I was wrong,” I knew hard and fast that he is a person of integrity.
Clay Robbins, CEO of the Lilly Endowment, described the endowment as “conservatively progressive.” This characterization also fits Brooks, who is hard to pin down politically or religiously. The other fellows and I were curious about his religious identity, and he said that he is influenced both by his Jewish upbringing and his wife’s charismatic church. It was unclear to me whether he professes faith or has made either Judaism or Christianity his own. As someone who already lives on the border between political camps, perhaps he feels comfortable on a religious border as well.
I am a Christian pastor living as part of a secular generation. Many of my congregants lament their adult children’s lack of piety. I do not believe that God spurns those who have not committed to a church, who do not profess faith. I believe, like David Brooks, it is possible to live a life that is ethical and purposeful without organized religion. In a sense, this is liberating: I do not pastor a church because it is God’s only way—I pastor a church because God has made it my way.
Surely, the church is swimming in uncharted water in this country, and I do occasionally get nervous about all the changes that are coming. Yet I believe in a God that can use these changes to bless us. It is important, then, for Christian leaders to become comfortable conversing with secular thought leaders, and with secular people generally. Perhaps when speaking to broader audiences, we will make a similar impression as Brooks, and our audience will not be able to pin us down as any one particular thing.