The 707

So, back during the first week of school, I’m walking to my office, and someone passing out little business card-sized promotional flyers hands me this:

Friday, September 20, 2013

Upon first glance, I see “PSY 125” and think this must be an unusually elaborate attempt by a professor to get last-minute enrollments into their class. Then I see “follow Jesus” and think: Oh… This is one of those emerging-churchy, “look, we’re evangelical but cool” kind of student groups.

I finally got a chance today to visit the group’s Facebook page, out of curiosity. A few random observations:

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1. This is their Facebook cover photo. Let’s think about the iconography of gender and race. Notice that the group, as represented here, is mostly female–standard for American religion. Notice that their non-white member is literally foregrounded. And notice that while the women are cheerfully but modestly smiling, the two men (I think the one farthest to the left is a man) are doing that wide-mouthed, aggressive “Hooah!” to show that, yes, they’re Christian but they’re still bad-ass dudes. Muscular Christianity with a Jackass twist.

2. The group is associated with The Bridge Church, led by “Pastor Chad.” (I realize it’s just Episcopal-snooty of me to consider “Mother Lisa” a perfectly normal form of address while finding “Pastor Chad” affected.) The Bridge Church informs visitors to its website that “The Bridge is a Baptist Church but do not hold that against us.” An intriguing rhetorical move. Discuss.

3. After reading the above, I was intrigued to take a gander at their statement of faith–which I had to download, evidently because members are supposed to sign it, witnessed by the pastor. Huh. So that’s what the Baptist tradition of “soul liberty” looks like in practice. Two lines into the document, I realized this thing had been written during the 18th or 19th century, which surprised me: I had expected to see a contemporary-language statement of faith given the hip-contemporary tenor of the website.

I don’t know enough about Baptist history to recognize the statement, so I Googled the opening lines and found copies on a lot of Baptist churches’ websites. It took me a few minutes to hunt down the statement’s historical origin, though, because the statement usually appears on these websites without any identification. Eventually I found people referring to it as the  “New Hampshire Confession” and dating it to the early 1830s. Question: It’s possible that most websites present the confession without identifying its historical origins because the webmasters just aren’t as historically minded as I am. But am I reading too much into things if I propose that a lot of the folks who embrace this confession may not even think of it as having a historical origin, or may regard its historical origin as entirely irrelevant, because they think of the statement as expressing timeless truths?

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