The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, author Priscilla Shirer, and pastor Carl Lentz were recently together in New York City for a press conference about their guest appearances on “The Doctor Oz Show” for special segments called “Faithful Fridays” airing in February (see faithfullymagazine.com for more details on the program). In addition to being questioned about their guest spots, all three were asked to weigh in on misconceptions about Christians, rifts among Evangelicals over President Donald Trump, and if they are hopeful for the future.
Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, pastor of New Season Christian Worship Center in Sacramento, California, and has worked closely with former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama on issues affecting Hispanic and Christian communities.
Shirer is a bestselling author, popular Bible teacher, speaker, and made her acting debut in the successful “War Room” movie. When not hosting her talk show or her own conferences, Shirer can be seen sharing the stage with Christine Caine, Beth Moore, and other influential Christian women.
Lentz is pastor of Hillsong Church in New York City. The popular church is known for attracting celebrities and athletes and also throngs of Millennial seekers and believers to its worship services every Sunday. Lentz has also been lauded by GQ, Complex and other publications for his hipster fashion sense.
There are a lot of misconceptions about the faith community, about Evangelical Christians, especially in light of the 2016 election. How do you combat those misconceptions about Christians, especially among young people?
Shirer: Love, kindness, showing and demonstrating kindness to people and not just saying that we believe in expressing the love of God but actually doing it in practical ways and replacing judgment with kindness and love.
Rodriguez: It’s being light. So we can take an incredible amount of energy and push back and try to defend, justify, sort of say, “We are not what you think we are.” Instead of that, the choice which we turn [to] light, like Priscilla stated, to loving, caring, demonstrating compassion. That’s true Christianity. It’s not the stuff you see on certain television programs or the caricatures. It’s loving, caring, compassionate people that want to change the world for good.
Lentz: I think there’s a phrase called “show and prove” and I think Christians have done a notorious job of showing and not proving. So my message is always, “If you don’t like what someone said about you, just make sure you’re not that.” And we have a really good opportunity to redefine what people believe about words, like “Evangelical,” like “Bible,” like “Christian.” So rather than fight, we’re just going to keep on showing up and showing out and showing people what our faith is. If there’s ever a clean-slate time in our country, it’s now.
Talk about that more, especially in terms of “Evangelical” and the rift some Christians of color feel has happened in regards to what they thought “Evangelical” meant and what they think it has now come to mean?
Shirier: I don’t know if I can say this succinctly, but I think that we have begun to classify our Christianity based on whether or not [it] is with a certain political posture, and that those things have become simultaneous. If you’re an African-American Christian, you are supposed to be Democratic. Or, if you’re a White Evangelical, you are supposed to be Republican…
Rodriguez: And if you’re Latino, you’re confused. (Laughter)
Shirer: We have to reshape our thinking, reshape our perspective on politics and culture based on what our God says and what Christianity means in terms of our relationship with Jesus Christ and let that be the guiding dialogue for the choices that we’re making politically and socially and not just what political group we fall into because our culture says we’re supposed to. That’s where I think some of the trouble has been stirred up, in that we feel like we’re supposed to align with a certain group just because that’s what the majority of people in our demographic say we’re supposed to.
Rodriguez: The irony is, and working with Evangelical leaders, and arguably some of the most influential, it’s not like we actually sit down and discuss political strategy. I kid you not. It’s a caricature, it’s a misnomer. The reality is that these great, wonderful men and women, they care about shining the light of Christ. They really do. It’s all about Jesus. Politics is like the minutiae. It’s out there. It’s whatever. Matter fact, many of them, they repudiate some of the things that take place in one party. They’re not obsessed with a donkey or the elephant. They really want to lift up the lamb.
Shirer: Well Jesus doesn’t ride either of their backs, the donkeys or the elephants. He’s really got his own agenda.
Rodriguez: It’s all [about] who we are and what we do. It’s all about love, grace, truth, mercy, hope, eternal life, abundant life. So we have to redeem the word “Evangelical” or do away with it, either or, whatever it takes, because African Americans don’t embrace it. It’s all about just being followers of Christ and adhering to biblical truth and reconciling grace and love. And, looking like Carl Lentz when we grow up, which is the challenge by the way, for me at least… (Laughter)
Lentz: I would say what Pastor Samuel did at the inauguration was really clarifying stuff that really doesn’t have anything to do with [any] party. Conversations need to be had and if we can get people to sit down [and] just say, “Let’s forget about where we’ve been. Why do you believe what you believe?” And, “Let me explain what I believe and let’s work on this.” That’s how we’re going to win this country in this polarizing stuff. The Sermon on the Mount was very polarizing but it was also one of the most inclusive messages of all time. So when (Rodriguez) read that I thought, “That is a prophetic vision of what God’s going to do in this next chapter.” We’re going to fine.
Shirer: And not only what you read but that you read it, that you didn’t come up with your own comments or what you wanted to express but just the picture of someone, a leader from the Body of Christ just standing and reading God’s Word and lifting up the Scriptures as the standard of truth and lifting up our God. I think that in and of itself was a clear statement about the age-old truth and promise from our God’s Word that when you lift Him up, He will draw all men to himself.
Lentz: And it doesn’t need a remix. “Blessed are the poor.” It still means blessed are the poor.
A lot of people are scared and a lot of people are anxious. A lot of people are angry. Are you hopeful for the future?
Rodriguez: I am extremely hopeful.
Shirer: Yeah, totally.
Lentz: We’re Christians. It’s not like we didn’t know this was going to happen.
Rodriguez: It’s going to sound like the mutual affirmation society, and it hasn’t been scripted, I kid you not. If you attend his church here in New York City, without a doubt, what Pastor Carl is doing with Hillsong, that’s the hope. There’s a bunch of Millennials in that church—just standing room-only capacity—that can’t get enough of Jesus. Am I hopeful? Attend one service here, I kid you not, you’re going to walk out going, “Absolutely. There’s going to be a brighter day.”
Lentz: Again, at the most polarizing election season of all time, this pastor was reading the Sermon on the Mount on a microphone… So we’re good. We’re going to be okay. Actually, we’re going to be alright, as the young kids would say.