Mark Sandlin is an ordained minister living in North Carolina. Mark is a progressive Christian, a writer, a radio host, the co-founder of The Christian Left, and a man troubled by what he sees happening in America. I had the honor of speaking with Mark on Monday afternoon and we covered many topics. My first question to him was about the role of progressive Christians in the betterment of our society. Our voices are often drowned out by more conservative Christians – how do we get our message through to the people who need to hear it? Mark pointed out that many progressive Christians spend so much time “going after” conservative Christians, we lose our focus and our energy. We need to spend more time casting our vision, showing others that our ideas for a kinder, more loving world are closer to the actual message of Christ.
The problem, Mark said, is that many conservative Christians are devoted to the “institutionalized church;” the hierarchy, the pageantry, and dogma. Progressive Christians are often more interested in a sense of community, doing good deeds, and helping others. And therein lies the battle: people following the message of Christ, versus people following the message of the church. This often leads to infighting, which leads to distraction, and suddenly, progressive Christians are spending most of their time trying to “convert” conservative Christians, and not nearly enough time just emulating as best we can, the teachings of Christ. I asked Mark what he does when he meets a conservative Christian. What he told me would serve all of us well. If he sees, after the first few minutes, that the other participant is “fully invested in the institutional church,” Mark realizes nothing he says, no matter how logical, will get through. While he could try to show them the core message of Christ, odds are they wouldn’t accept it.
Mark has also participated in Moral Mondays, protests founded by Reverend William Barber II, in response to North Carolina Republican governor Pat McCrory’s draconian legislation. McCrory and his Republican state House have passed laws attacking everything from voting rights to Medicare to abortion rights and public education. McCrory has often cited moral reasons for these horrific laws, and in response to that, Rev. Barber decided to take the word moral back. Mark admitted that when he first became involved in Moral Mondays, he was concerned that the overall message would be exclusively Christian, and result in many agnostics, atheists, and others staying away. The opposite has occurred. Because Rev. Barber, Mark Sandlin, and other participants and leaders are so inclusive in their message and their actions, Moral Mondays has brought people together from all faiths, and attracted agnostics and atheists.
In recent weeks, Mark has gone through a professional change, and is now beginning a journey along a different path. I asked him what his next step might be, if he had a flicker somewhere of what he wanted to do. He laughed, and replied “In my imagination, I do in fact have a flicker.” The best outcome if he stayed in the ministry would be working in a place and a space where he could help the community. Mark doesn’t want to participate in the hierarchical structure of the church, he wants to reach right, and take peoples’ hands. He wants to heal through love, and participation, not dogma. If Mark chooses a more secular direction, he sees himself working with a non-profit, going where there is the most need in our society. Helping the poor, the unemployed, those being “ignored by the laws of our nation.”
Our last topic was the next generation. Many polls have come out recently, stating young people are fleeing the church. I wondered if there was any way to get our message out, the message of progressive Christianity, and perhaps draw these young people back. Mark thought about that for a moment. Maybe, he said, but the trust is so far gone that it would be a very slow process. We would have to rebuild the relationship, and show young adults that there is an alternative to the institutionalized church, to the hierarchy. It wouldn’t happen overnight, he warned; we’re working against 15-20 years of damage and mistrust. If progressive Christians can forgo the distractions of trying to “convert” conservative Christians, and refocus on helping create a better society based on love, equality, tolerance, and kindness, we might have a chance.
Mark Sandlin is the kind of Christian who makes the world a much better place. He is devoted to a message of peace and love, he is genuine and kind, and he is true. He is true to the message of Christ, he is true to the people in his life, and he is true to his calling to help those less fortunate than himself. You can connect with Mark on Facebook, at The God Article, and I highly recommend listening to Mark and fellow progressive Christian, Rev. David Henson on The Moonshine Jesus Show.