September 20, 2012
Jim Daly and Gabe Lyons —
The Next Christians

Two Christian leaders are working to restore Christian engagement in the world. Gabe Lyons and Jim Daly discuss how they who are reshaping their part in common life, and the common good. This often surprising conversation addresses subjects like gay marriage, abortion, and the strident reputation that Christian evangelicals have earned in the past decade.

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Daly is president of Focus on the Family. He's also a Christian radio broadcaster and author of several books, including ReFocus: Living a Life that Reflects God's Heart.

Lyons is founder of Q: Ideas for Common Good and author of The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World and unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters.

Selected Video

CCP: The Next Christians ~ In the Room with Gabe Lyons and Jim Daly (watch video)

Watch Krista's evening event as it unfolded, and read a script of our interactive chat at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Selected Shows

The Civil Conversations Project (CCP) ~ Season 2

This show is part of The Civil Conversations Project, a series of four public discussions offering ideas and tools for healing our fractured civic spaces. Listen to our other CCP dialogues:

» The Future of Marriage
» Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Pro-Dialogue
» The Next Christians
» Political Bridge People

About the Image

Gabe Lyons, founder of Q: Ideas for Common Good, listens to Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, at the University of Minnesota on September 12, 2012. The live public event was the first of four discussions for The Civil Conversations Project, a series from On Being in collaboration with the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the Brookings Institution, and co-sponsored by the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics.

Photo by Paula Keller

Episode Sponsor

The Civil Conversations Project is sponsored by the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, and the Lilly Endowment.

Episode Sponsor

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I think this is an extraordinary and important conversation. That is why I’m responding. This is what I heard:

Humility: ‘something you do, not who you are‘. There’s a bit of a difference
‘For me to be right you still have to be wrong. My beliefs are limited in their ability to include complexity.’
Like the advertisers, ‘everything is perception, that’s where we blew it’.
'I’m willing to listen to the world, I’m not willing to be vulnerable yet’.
My theology and my relationship to the Man may be synonymous.
That Said: FOCUS ON THE FAMILY has a very different ring to it than it did an hour ago.

Last thought. I don’t feel that Habitat for Humanity is telling me how to build a house or even that I should be building one. They’re busy building houses. Your work with adoption agencies reflects ’just building houses’ . Now if you can find a way to keep quiet about abortion. It is as vulnerable an area for many people on both sides as it is for you.

I just finished listening to the first Civil Conversations Project program. I tuned in late and quickly found that I could not tell which of these religious leaders was Jim Daly, e.g., which was the evangelical conservative. Both men were impressively rational, respectful. Each listened to the other with an open mind, and and open heart. How inspiring! Thank you , Ms. Tippett, for bringing us these conversations. I can't wait for the conversations to follow

I was encouraged to hear Mr. Daly's comments. It seemed he was moving FOTF towards positive focus and action on strengthening marriages and finding foster kids homes, while moving away from maligning lgbt people and their families, which has been my experience with them.

But then, this. Dated Sept. 13. I had hoped it was from someone at Focus who hadn't gotten the message of this new direction. My heart sank when i saw it was written by Mr Daly himself.

At the very least, acknowledging family relationships without quotes around words like mother or married would be a basic way to demonstrate respect.

I'm disappointed and left questioning how this gels with what he said in the On Being podcast. Still hoping for a better relationship with FOTF in the future. On we go....

I agree, Tina. It was disappointing to read the article where Mr Daly applied labels not only to these women and their marital state, but to see him at the end imply that Liberals are Radicals. I can only hope this is one example of where Mr Daly continues to be human and make mistakes. I am encouraged and my heart found hope in the CCP conversation. I am going to trust that Mr Daly meant what he said in his CCP conversation and will continue to strive in that direction. If he is successful, he could go a very long way towards healing our country and our world, and I do believe that is the work of Jesus.

Thanks for posting this link. As a die-hard atheist who is deeply distrustful of evangelical Christianity, I listened with at first disbelief and then growing wonder and hope at this conversation, hope that FOTF might actually be doing something useful in the world instead of dividing and conquering. Clearly, my hopes were in vain. Maybe Mr. Daly and his ilk will walk the walk someday, but I won't hold my breath.

I find myself a bit at odds with this conversation. Part of me thinks, "And this is new?" There have been Christians living the way of life portrayed here for centuries. I guess the newness of it is that this centuries-old tradition, which I guess was at one point a part of Evangelical Christianity before it became Americanized, politicized and suburbanized, is being rediscovered. As a friend of mine says, "Better late than later!" So, while not at all new, the words spoken here are nevertheless encouraging.

The Evangelical *stridency* has certainly alienated many to the point that it has become wiser to present as a "person of faith" rather than as a Christian until non-christians get to know us; but the stridency did not go public until the mainline churches had so radically compromised with our secular culture that their message was little more than secular humanism cloaked in church-speak.

Even now there is little attempt by either to recover a uniquely Christian response to the challenges of the 21st century in most American churches. Liberal/Progressive churches have subsituted a 50's political agenda and Conservative/Traditional churches a 50's political agenda for a transformative spirituality. Most American christians are more unitarian than trinitarian and their christology lacks the universal appeal of a Cosmic Christ who is Savior of the world, not merely Savior of the Church or of the individual.

The three most common reasons that reflective Christians are leaving their conservative Churches:
1. Dogmatic absolutism
2. Self-righteous judgmentalism
3. Sectarian triumphalism

People are leaving the mainline churches because they have lost their distinctively Christian transformative edge.

Perhaps it is truer to say that the churches have left the faithful than to say that the faithful have left the churches.

In a rare interview in 1967 with Thomas McDonnell, [Thomas] Merton pronounced that the great crisis in the church is a crisis of authority precipitated because the church, as institution and organization, has overshadowed the reality of the church as a community of persons united in love and in Christ. He now charged that obedience and conformity with the impersonal corporation-church are a fact in the life of Christians. “The Church is preached as a communion, but is run in fact as a collectivity, and even as a totalitarian collectivity.
~ George Kilcourse, ACE OF FREEDOMS: Thomas Merton’s Christ, Notre Dame Press, 1993

I wonder if either of these men can help people find the congregations led by people who think as they do. I think a lot of us who are not specifically religious would like to dialogue with thoughtful Christians like them, but don't know how to find these "New Christians."
Thanks for a thought-provoking and encouraging hour

I've found my home church of 18 years and others in the same denomination ( to be of this general quality and calibre. And I don't claim this level of civil dialog to be unique amongst mainline and emerging churches. Seek and you shall find my friend. Ask around, for the church body as whole universal is a network. I am confident you will able to find what it is you are after - genuine community full of growth, love and adventure

Thank you for an excellent hour of honesty, humility and open dialogue. Krista, you are informing our culture and hopefully laying the groundwork for more civil conversations at the local level. In a polarized society, we need this!

I think this is a huge step in the right direction and at the same time recognize that this transition won't be easy. For years I've been saddened by the perception of Christianity that was created by far right political activity. I'm a believer in living the values of the Gospels as best I can. I see the church as a big tent where all kinds of people are welcomed to come together to seek God, live those Gospel values in community, and care for those in need in our world. It also means checking judgment at the door and letting God be God in that department. Starting today I'm praying for Mr. Daly and Mr. Lyons.

I greatly appreciated the tone of this conversation. However, I was also disturbed by the extent to which the political rhetoric slides in. For example, when asked about taxes and the role of government in supporting the poor and hungry, the phrase "redistribution of wealth," was evoked, as if the tax rate was somehow set by divine institution to benefit the wealthy, rather than needing to respond to social and political realities and that the goal of society, at least for many of us, is to live in a society that is compassionate. These men (where are the women?), leaders of financially successful businesses, did not evoke any of Jesus' teachings on wealth, money, or care for children, the poor, or the hungry. And evoking the church as an institution of care is good, we should all do our part, but so sadly short-sighted in terms of the extent of social needs and what economic factors can create a healthier society.

I have never heard a pastor address the hard core terms Jesus issued around family, nor the fact that Jesus did not become "a good family man/son" as he clearly abandoned his earthly family to put God and the Kingdom first.
This was His example and it is an option today - without becoming a nun/priest/monk, one can choose to live for/with Christ and not be active in a family - or church. In my understanding, the only condition is that Love be included in the heart of one's choice.

In today's world I think there's good reason to question whether this is a genuine effort to be more "Christ-like" or a marketing or rebranding strategy designed to grow membership and political influence. Time will tell, but I would have found it more reassuring if Daly had started by leaving Focus on the Family and starting a new group; it would have more effectively demonstrated his repudiation of FOTF's past tactics. Staying with the same organization, complete with its staff and infrastructure - and their long-held, deeply embedded beliefs - sends me a mixed message. If he's sincere, I expect to see some personnel changes at FOTF, not just coffee dates with leaders of once-denigrated groups.

In discussing moral positions, we overlook a very important distinction. Is the position one that the speaker advocates and hopes others will follow, or is it a position to be incorporated in law and enforced by criminal prosecutions? The former is well within the function and even duty of a religious group. The latter is theocracy unless the advocate can show that the position is absolutely necessary to maintain a functioning civil society.

I wanted to keep an open mind, but found midway through that I wasn't able to even listen any more. I didn't hear respect, or spirituality, I heard boasting ("I was with a Supreme Court Justice," "I was in Washington, DC"..etc), I heard entitlement: "I told him I wanted him to meet with a big panel of evangelical ministers to answer our questions about Islam," I heard unctuous and phony "He has a great heart." Ack. I heard very little that was actually respectful of people who don't share their belief systems. While their work on adoptions is certainly laudable, there was no acknowledgement of their support for politicians who would dismantle what is left of the safety net in this country - leaving children and families homeless and hungry. There's also no acknowledgement of the fact that they really do want to force their narrow religious views on the nation. I also didn't hear anything about women - no strong women's voices, no mention of meeting with Important Women, the way Daly continued to allude to meetings with Important Men.

Maybe I'm not ready for their conversation - but I don't think they are, either. I heard very little spiritual, and a lot of clever spin aimed at whitewashing a tainted organization. Hucksters.

A wonderful show. The working together of Catholics and Evangelicals has been going on for a number of decades now. In the Catholic Church, it looks so serious in our culture, that our approach, in addition to what our Evangelical brothers spoke of, is Adoration, Jesus in Person. This works very well with young people, who come away with the personal relationship with Jesus that the Evangelicals rightly promote so strongly.

A few notes. The Church, including the Catholic Church, did the adoptions, etc., and still do in society. But the health care mandate threatens to close down these services to the poor. One has to recognize that the administration is at war with the Catholic Church. I don't regard the president as a Protestant, he is not a man of faith at all, of any kind.

From a Catholic point of view, there are five non-negotiables: abortion, same-sex marriage, restriction of religious liberty, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research (in no particular order). If a candidate supports any of these, a Catholic can not vote for that candidate, unless the other candidate is worse on these. President Obama supports four of these five things, and he just hasn't had the chance yet to support euthanasia, but he will.

The Holy Father has a high-level Muslim-Catholic dialog that began after his true but explosive talk at Regensburg in 2006. He has encouraged each diocese to have a Muslim-Catholic dialogue, it just started in the Archdiocese of New York.

The emphasis on interpersonal interaction is well placed and the way to go. But one finds that often the 'enemies' of the Church don't want to dialog. We all will keep trying.

I just listened to this interview, I have to disagree with one small point I heard. People by and large don't associate all the negative characteristics you spoke of with Jesus. As the bumper sticker says, "Lord, protect me from your followers."
On the whole, I'm not sure I can believe Focus can ever be a positive force in society. I called myself a Christian for about twenty years. Listening to and trying to learn from Focus on the Family was a big part of that experience. I don't think it helped me in any way to be a better person. In the end, I decided it was all quite irrelevant to that goal and the politics was the last straw.

Competitive way of life with its back stabbing cheating, and achieving wealth in any price is contradictory to Christianity.
result is hypocrisy and creates pretenders. People become homeless to pay Hospitals and pharmaceutical, they lose their home when they cannot pay property tax. insurance companies are robbing people and they all claim to be Christian.
Please read "Invisible Crimes" by Sid.

I am a big fan of the show, but was shocked to hear Ms Tippett say just now that there was barely a Protestant in the Presidential election. One of her guests had to correct her and say that there was one Protestant, President Obama. What on earth was she trying to say? That the President is not Christian? I certainly didn't expect to hear such an odd thing coming from someone I previously thought of as so open-minded and well-informed. Please explain. Thank you.

Thank you to Krista Tippet and staff for this CCP episode for helping break down my own predjudices and assumptions about modern-day Christianity and evangelicalism. I am better imformed after listening to these two Christian men and will therefore be more inclined to stick up for the Christian movement in the future. Thanks again.

Trent Gilliss's picture

Jessica, thank you for the kind words. Part of this project is to introduce people to others without all the nasty rhetoric that we often hear in our political debates. It may not be a solution, but it's a starting point that introduces a bit of humanity back into the discussion.

While I appreciate the conversation among these two leaders, and while I deeply appreciate a new 'tone' with Focus on the Family, what frustrates me about these conversations is the tacit implication among evangelicals that there's is the only way of being Christian. There were stories of 'non believers', gay activists, Muslims and devout fathers attending Catholic churches preaching against gay marriage. What might move the conversation within the church forward is the overt acknowledgement among evangelicals and others that there are many ways of being Christian. Every single 'belief' that these two guests used in describing individuals who aren't Christian are beliefs I actually hold. I wish there were more acknowledgement of the diversity within the church as well as in the culture.

I so wanted a questioner or moderator to ask how the evangelical belief in the sanctity of life is prompting widespread work to limit and eradicate violence in general--war, military domination, nuclear proliferation, hand-gun availability, violence against women in their homes, glorification of militarism in media, the poisoning of the environment that compromises all life. As a progressive Christian, I think the difficulty many people have with the evangelical-fundamentalist Christian position on sanctity of life in the context of abortion is its widely perceived inconsistency on the topics of life and violence in general. This needs to be addressed by new-thinking evangelicals, and the silence about war and militarism in this show disappointed me. I am an avid On Being listener and hope to hear more on the subject in the future.

I was listening to this conversation on the way to church on Sunday morning and didn't want to go in and miss a word. I loved this broadcast! It was balanced, open minded, and gracious to Jim Daly's conservative views. So often conservative Christians are presented as ignorant, unthinking or bigoted when in actuality they are educated, compassionate and generous toward people.

I look forward to more discussions of this nature.

Krista, you are to be commended for your thoughtful, well-prepared (and, I would expect, well-prayed) approach to all of your interviews. I listen to On Being virtually every Sunday morning as I am preparing to preach. This interview was no exception to your usual excellent conversations. Refreshing, inviting approach here from both gentlemen. It was helpful to hear of "Q" -- I was not aware of this conversation option, and am grateful to learn of this resource. I have already visited the website. It was also refreshing to hear Mr. Daly's views on the current role of FOTF. I have long appreciated Dr. Dobson, his passion for Christ, his forthright stand for Biblical values regarding families in general and the unborn in particular, and his work through FOTF. I believe God raised him up in a time where such firmness and commitment were desparately needed. I also believe that God can use just as strongly this newer voice that is so attuned to our current social climate. Thanks to all who brought this conversation to us. It was well worth the time to listen to the entire, unedited format.

Thanks so much for trying to break past the monologue. Faith has contempt for fear and your project shows a new courage ready to take this on. It's stimulated a lot of thought for me.

One of these days, would you consider a discussion on some elements of Bible translation? I have understood that the translation of injunctions against homosexuality are actually more political than the 'word of God.' Since these supposed injunctions are at the heart of such turmoil within Christianity, knowing just exactly what that text says, where it comes from, and what it meant at the context of the time. Perhaps the same could be said for the word "neighbor." Where did it come from and what does it mean?

This program means a lot to me, even though I listen to it on the computer a week later so that it fits in my timetable.

Linda, your question was on my mind so much yesterday, and today I read your comment. Just "who is our neighbor"? This invites us to a bigger sense of belonging and care that goes beyond our family, community, and nation. To me, it seems our violence starts where we limit our sense of belonging, where we stop our 'sense of neighbor'. I think this is the button that Krista's pushing with this program. Can we open up our sense of neighbor to All? I, too, would love to hear Krista explore this question. Thanks for asking it.

I was inspired to hear Jim Daly's conversation. I have been a Christian for several years, am in my late 30's, and have felt progressively distant from the older generation of Christians and even some of my peers, as the conservative Christain community has externally focused less on the core being of who Jesus was-how he loved the lost and taught us that the first shall be last and the last shall be first- and become more about vocaling polarizing angry, desparate positions against our culture with a growing sense of focus on individualism rather than community as a whole (not just loving the Christian community). Hearing Jim's interview tells me that there is hope for the growing movement of Christians that want to be a voice of love and compassion and desire to seek common ground with those that do not see life the way we do.

Krista Tippett: I have been asked to write an article for the Fargo ND - High Plains Reader - about your civil conversations project. I will try not to embarrass you. I am an inveterate social activist, but a rather conservative writer. I am delighted by this second season, and chagrined that I think I entirely missed what would have been a first season.

This movement is encouraging. But my advice to Daly and Lyons is to not disavow the term "evangelical" and simply call themselves "Christian." Given the tarnishing of "evangelical," I understand the impulse. But they greatly confuse things when they then go on to speak for "Christianity," enunciating a view that does not represent mainline and Catholic Christians, not to mention the eastern churches. That works against wanting to hear what others who disagree have to say. It also furthers a bad tendency of evangelicals to just pretend the mainline church doesn't exist. For those and other reasons, we can't all just "re-brand" ourselves; we have to take responsibility for the traditions in which we find ourselves.

I listened to this dialog with hope but came to the conclusion that this is just "rebranding", a Trojan horse. Many people rejected Focus on the Family's confrontational, aggressive in-your-face tactics. Focus on the Family has pivoted in public to interfaith, multicultural outreach. I'll bet in private it's the same as it ever was. Their goals are unchanged but their strategy has shifted because of the public's changing attitudes on social issues, not to mention that more people, especially younger people, have stopped identifying as religious.
Listen carefully and you will notice beyond all the gee-whiz earnestness, one of the men is quietly condescending and self-satisfied as if he had the winning hand. Focus on the Family is now opting for boiling the lobster by slowly increasing the water temperature; the lobster be dinner before he knows it.

This is not a "civil conversation"; it is an exercise in polite ignorance. Daly is no different from any other conservative evangelical - humanity is depraved and we're all going to hell unless we believe as he does - he simply smiles as he says it (which is rather creepy in itself).

Fundamentalists are incapable of dialogue. To them, "dialogue" means "I'll sit here and pretend to listen until it's my turn to tell you I'm right and you're wrong." Krista shouldn't be giving these people a platform. In so doing, she is operating in contradiction to the liberal principles upon which this program and NPR are founded. Liberalism and progressivism don't mandate treating everyone's views, no matter how hateful, misanthropic or insane, as equal.

Who's next on the agenda - Ken Ham?


I can certainly sympathize with your comment, as one who has been very outspoken against fundamentalism for years. That was until I found the same degree of "certainty" among many of my atheists friends, that there was nothing beyond what science could explore (and no reason to talk about it, nor to genuinely respect those who believe otherwise).

I have come to know several conservative evangelicals, who I now count among my best friends. My frustration that they don't see my "truth" is mirrored pretty equally by their frustration that I don't see theirs. It is hard to overstate the importance that mutual respect has, irrespective of our (perhaps permanently) different webs of belief. I have had my own blinders and tunnel vision remediated a bit, and they would acknowledge the same.

Politically empowering our collective wisdom, compassion, and creativity is now my life work. The median voter, even after being informed and perhaps transformed by respectful dialogue is still going be to the right of me, but as professor James Fishkin has been demonstrating for decades now, rather more progressive than the median "voter" in our current, de facto plutocracy.

Respecting one another should not, of course, be motivated primarily by the instrumental gains of empowering economic populism. But in point of fact, the empowering of deliberative democracy has as a wonderful side effect a transformative influence. Our hatred toward the "other" decreases in proportion to our understanding of them.

Some of my conservative friends may still think that I'm going to eternal Hell, but now they are now saddened at that prospect. Some of them are questioning the veracity of eternal Hell, and I'm most delighted by that.

I could not be more supportive of the Civil Conversation Project!