Then this book comes along like an answer to prayer: CROSS PURPOSES: ONE BELIEVER'S STRUGGLE TO RECONCILE THE PEACE OF CHRIST WITH THE RAGE OF THE FAR RIGHT: A MEMOIR written by Bob Welch. Bob is a friend of my sister and an acquaintance of mine. In fact, over the years I've read several of his books, usually received as gifts from my sister. I knew Bob was a Christian but I didn't know he thought himself of the evangelical variety. In his prologue Bob says he felt very uncomfortable with Trump right from the get-go and questioned how people of faith could want to vote for him.
"By now, contrasting Trump's ways with Christ's ways has become the stuff of cliches. But I had come to believe that deeper things were at work, that our evangelical faith was not only at cross-purposes with him, but with the Far Right in general; at cross-purposes with America that bordered on idolatry; indeed at cross-purposes with the very essence of Christianity as defined by Scripture: how we treat our neighbor. Try as I might, I couldn't reconcile the peace of Christ with the hard-edged politics of the Far Right."
Bob decided to write this book for himself and hoped he would not offend any of his friends, many of whom voted for Trump. He describes the book as a four-course meal: part personal memoir, part historical review, part political analysis, and part spiritual encouragement. This was exactly the book I needed to read and I imagine many people would feel the same way. Bob's analysis of the issue at hand is so scrupulously researched and so thoughtfully laid out it seems like he was divinely directed. The book is organized into chapters by years 2016-2021. Within each chapter is a "Hope for the Future" insert leaving the reader reason to feel some hope rather than wallowing in the awfulness of the facts. There are ten of these hope inserts: Remember our mission; Love one another; Replace pride with humility; Live without fear; Welcome in, don't wall off; Choose character over comfort; Dedicate ourselves to the truth; See ourselves not as victims; Not bow down to celebrity 'leaders; and Find the courage to change. Even as I type out these titles, I am tempted to go back and reread them. While I was busy reading through the text of each chapter I don't think I appreciated what Bob was doing with these nuggets. Now I see they are vital to helping us see the need for God, outside of politics. As he points out, we all need to stand for Christ, who endorses neither Republicans nor Democrats but transcends both.
Another aspect of the book for which I was super grateful was how Bob always brought every point he made back to scripture. As you've probably noticed, many Christians will quote scripture taken out of context (or phrases that are not even scripture but stated as such) to make their arguments. But Bob pulls in a lot of scripture not to merely justify his point of view but to point us to God and God's precepts. For example, Bob refers to many Christians as following tribal thinking...doing everything "The Tribe" does. If one attends a church where the tribe votes for Trump, as a tribe member you do too.
The most transformational thing we can do as believers is making our faith, not our politics, the priority. Not worrying about the success of the Tribe but committing to the glory of God. Our identity needs to be in Christ, not a political party or political leaders, or political ideas whose essence and aims aren't always particularly godly. How can we expect the world to be attracted to Him, if we, as his supposed image-bearers, don't reflect His love and grace to that world? "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of the faith" says Hebrews 12:2.
The book not only addresses the differences in theological topics, it also looks at the contrasts in social issues around racism, women in ministry, truth vs. lies, COVID-related health practices, and empathy for others. Bob didn't shy away from any tough social issue and he did his homework on each topic.
After reading only a few chapters I recommended we read Cross Purposes as a book club selection.We are a church-sponsored book club after all. It seemed like a great idea and many gals agreed. But we have encountered a few problems and I worry that our discussion this coming Tuesday will be less than enthusiastic. (I'll circle back after the discussion.)
- For one thing, our club usually reads books from the library book club kits so no one has to buy their books. I'm aware that a few gals did go out and buy their own copies, but not many. I purchased a copy for our church library and have shared copies loaned to me by both my mother and my sister and started them all in circulation to our members. We'll soon see how many gals actually read the book.
- Secondly, one gal shared with the group that reading the book made her feel like she had a bad case of PTSD. Having survived the awful Trump years she didn't enjoy going back and reliving those years on the pages. I hope her comments don't put off others from reading the book, though I appreciate where she is coming from. The books did bring back some very painful memories.
- Thirdly, the discussion questions in the back of the book are super specific and require a physical book to answer. If we are sharing three or four copies among us, all these questions will likely flummox us. So I decided to write my own questions for our discussion, or rework the publisher's questions.
Discussion questions for Cross Purposes
1. What do you make of the title: Cross Purposes? Can you recall any of the ways the author wove the title into his text and his arguments? What do think of the cover illustration?
2. What did you appreciate/not appreciate about how the book is organized?
3. The author interspersed ten inserts called "Hopes for the Future". Which do you think are necessary for helping to refocus evangelicals? Which one spoke to you loudest in your own life? List of these hopes are: Remember our mission; Love one another; Replace pride with humility; Live without fear; Welcome in, don't wall off; Choose character over comfort; Dedicate ourselves to the truth; See ourselves not as victims; Not bow down to celebrity 'leaders; and Find the courage to change.
4. As the author was conducting research for the book he discovered two false narratives: 'Trump is the problem' and 'Evangelicals' undying loyalty to the Far Right is the problem'. Explain what he means. (Page 15)
5. As a Christian who attends a mainline denomination, what did you learn about evangelicals that you didn't understand before? Do you have any friends or family members who identify as evangelical? How do you think they'd react to this book/topic?
6. Welch refers to two incidents which caused him to stop and think about himself as a Christian: the college administrator who told him, "I didn't realize you were one of us" and his own reaction to the little girl in the library who was singing. What incidents have you had in your life where you've had to face yourself and your own hypocrisy in your faith and your life?
7. What do you think of the way the leaders of several evangelical churches have treated Beth Moore? Women in church leadership? (Chapter 12)
8. After George Floyd was killed by the police and the Black Lives Matter movement geared up, evangelical churches began targeting BLM not racism (227) in their sermons. "I found it interesting that of the many ways a pastor could have approached the race issue -- an innocent man had been murdered before their eyes -- they chose the one that protected The Tribe. The one that required no introspection or obligation on our parts" (228). Explain what Welch means by The Tribe? Do you agree that many white church goers don't want to face racial troubles because it moves them out of the comfort zone or causes them to address their own biases? [Keep reading down page 228 for more examples of this.]
9. The language choices we use when describing racial issues can be incendiary -- not leading toward an open discussion, but closing it off. A pastor friend of Welch's says he much prefers the term 'white advantage' instead of 'white privilege'. (231) Do you agree that terminology can be a problem? What are some other examples you can think of?
10. In Chapter 16 Welch talks about his decision to speak up, to write this book, to shine a light on what was happening in the evangelical world with their support for Trump and their lack of support for people of different life circumstances than their own, even how they'd attack people who expressed the need for social justice based on Micah 6:8. "Why were some evangelicals unable or unwilling to see that the values of Trump and the values of Jesus were polar opposites?" (235) Look through the chapter for examples of what he means.
11. What did you learn about evangelicals looking through the lens of COVID and COVID vaccines/social distancing mandates? (Chapter 17 & 18) How do your beliefs advise your community actions? How does fear factor into your decisions?
12. "Truth... is the first casualty of tyranny." Do you agree with this statement? Give some examples from history or from our current past. (Chapter 20)
13. React to this statement: "It is not the church's job to make America great again, it's the church's job to glorify God." (301) Change is hard, what do you think of Welch's four steps toward change in his Hope for the Future? (300-310) Would you add anything?
14. As a librarian I was totally impressed by the end notes, books for further reading, index, and acknowledgments at the end of the book, 32 pages worth. What went through your head when you saw this?
15. Welch hoped the book would generate good conversations with his family and friends. If you could give this book to someone who identifies as evangelical, do you think they'd read it? What points would you make in your discussion if you had a chance?
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