“His Winnowing Fork is in His Hand”

(I wrote this post, as you can see, two days ago.  I felt like I should sit on it and let it simmer before I hit “publish.)

It’s Palm Sunday afternoon, 2020.  We have never seen a Holy Week like this one.

I’m holding Sunday School classes via Zoom, which is a wonderful gift in the stay-at-home world we inhabit.  I “attended” worship online and am grateful for all the dedicated pastors and staffs putting together a modicum of a worship environment online.  Many of you are regularly putting thoughtful and encouraging words in social media.  Thank you.

And I’ve been thinking, praying, reading, and thinking some more.

This morning as I was reading the Bible, a scripture-laced thought – from another passage that I was not reading – came to mind: “His winnowing fork is in his hand.”  These words come from John the Baptizer (Matthew 3 and Luke 3) as he called people to repentance in preparation for the Lord’s coming. He proclaims, “One more powerful than I is coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat…”

“His winnowing fork is in his hand.” When this word came to me as I was reading/praying, I thought of the sinister implications, of a future time of final judgment.  Doomsdayers and others who seem to revel in speculating on God’s final reckoning use language like this.  I am not and don’t want to be understood as though I am.  Still, this pandemic affords us an important moment for self-reflection. We can stop looking for scapegoats as to the cause of the virus.  Whatever else God might be doing during this time, he is calling us to penitent reflectiveness.  We should be doing it anyway.  It’s Lent.

“His winnowing fork is in his hand.”  I come from farming country and I always enjoy scripture’s agricultural metaphors.  This one, as many know, relates to harvest, which is always an exciting and rather nerve-wracking time.  Having gathered the crop, farmers in ancient days used wind winnowing  to separate the wheat from the chaff.  The wheat berry is surrounded by a sliver of dry husk that has to be separated from the wheat.  After threshing, which got most of the big stuff out of the way, harvesters used either a fork or a basket to toss the wheat up into the wind.  The wind blows through the tossed wheat and the chaff, which is very light, dislodges from the wheat in the action of winnowing.  The wheat falls to the ground into a nice pile of relatively clean, useable grain.

Winnowing separates the good and useful from the worthless.  It cleans.

“His winnowing fork is in his hand.”  The metaphor is perfect for what Christ does.

There will come a time when God does this work of separating in a final sense, those whose names are written in the Book of Life from those whose aren’t.  I gladly leave that work to the Divine Lawgiver and Judge.  I am interested in the separating that God is doing right now.  “His winnowing fork is in his hand” applies to us now and to the contents of our hearts.  Some separating needs to happen.  The chaff (sin) needs to go.  The good fruit needs to emerge.  The world needs Christians to be more like Christ.

“His winnowing fork is in his hand.”  Winnow away, Lord.  Winnow away.


The Twentysomething Soul #4 – Nones (Don’t Believe Everything You Read about Them)

In this last installment on my little series of reflections from Tim Clydesdale and Kathleen Garces-Foley’s book, The Twentysomething Soul, I focus on that oh so slippery demographic category, The Nones.  This cohort of emerging adults has suffered a good deal of misunderstanding in public opinion.  I’ll summarize a few of the chapter’s most important findings and offer a thought or two along the way.  Because there is so much confusion about the Nones, I will quote from the book more extensively than I did in previous posts.  Forgive the length.  I rather wish I could just quote the whole chapter.  Better to read the whole book.

“Nones” make up somewhere around 30% of the Twentysomething age cohort.  As careful readers of these studies recognize, and as Clydesdale and Garces-Foley point out, the numbers do not support the standard secularist narrative about the decline of religion, even though there has been a significant shift in identity:

The rise of the Nones, especially among Americans under age 30, has been a popular news headline, but this label is widely misunderstood.  Though Nones indicate no religious affiliation, it does not mean that they have no religious beliefs or practices.  Religion is a complex phenomenon with individual and social dimensions, including affiliation, belief, and practices.  While some Nones are ardent secularists, a solid majority of Nones hold beliefs in a supernatural or transcendent reality, and some appear quite conventional in their beliefs. (p. 143)

To sort out the 30%, Clydesdale and Garces-Foley use four sub-categories:

  • Unaffiliated Believers (17% of the 30%) – these Nones often pray, read their Bibles, and, on occasion, attend worship.  Why are they unaffiliated?  There are several relevant answers, but I am convinced that the main two are: (1) we did not properly catechize and disciple them, because (2) we ourselves are not properly catechized and discipled, therefore have not properly passed on our faith.  “Properly” is a very important qualifier.
  • Spiritual Eclectics (17% of the 30%) – they borrow beliefs and practices from a number of faith traditions and philosophies.  One out of three Nones view God as a “spiritual force” (p. 155).  While we label them with “spiritual,” “the term ‘spiritual’ or ‘spirituality’ did not appeal to most Nones, a finding that runs counter to characterizations of today’s young adults, especially Nones, as a ‘spiritual but not religious generation” (p. 156).  This observation emphasizes the need for us not to impose a misleading interpretive grid that drives a wedge between spirituality and religion.
  • Philosophical Secularists (12% of the 30%) – “reject religion or spirituality in any form” and choose a philosophical explanation of reality as a rival to religious views (see p. 145).  We could put here the young people influenced by the so-called militant atheism of Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins.  (Secularists in the academy misleadingly love to generalize about Nones under this banner.)  They think about the meaning of life very or fairly often (p. 156), so they are at least somewhat engaged with faith-related questions.
  • Indifferent Secularists (54% of the 30%) – these young people “express no interest in any type of worldview” (p. 145).  I would add, though, that expressing no interest in a worldview does not mean that they don’t have one.  I would also argue that their apparent lack of interest in spiritual questions can be mostly attributed to the dominant pedagogy in American education.  They have (mostly) learned to mimic the attitude of indifference.  We teach by what we talk about all the time and we teach by what we never mention.

Let’s add some approximate numbers to these percentages.  If there are 42.7 million people aged 20-29 in the United States, how would these sub-categories appear numerically?  (I hope I did the math right.)

  • Unaffiliated Believers: +/- 2.2 million
  • Spiritual Eclectics: +/- 2.2 million
  • Philosophical Secularists: 1.5 million
  • Indifferent Secularists: 6.9 million

These identities can be fluid (p. 145).  The authors give the example of “Joe,” who was initially labeled as a Philosophical Secularist, but shifted his thinking and practice, which prompted the researchers to move him into Spiritual Eclectic.  Remember, these conclusions come from personal interviews.  That these identities can be fluid is directly related to the fact that we humans are social beings who are influenced by our contexts:

We do want to draw attention to the role that context plays in shaping these changes.  Universities, where our first interviews with religiously unaffiliated twenty somethings occurred, are on the whole more welcoming settings for Nones than other settings–such as family homes, neighborhoods, community organizations, and workplaces, and these latter contexts can foster exploration of religious and spiritual resources by post-college Nones…Our point is this, when Joe’s context changed from secular-and-spiritual-friendly to religious-and-spiritual-friendly, Joe changed with it (p. 146).

I find encouragement in these observations.  Based on my reading over the years, as well as my experience working with college students, the vast majority of them are unfailingly interested in “life” questions.  They want to talk about their God questions with trustworthy people.  They are not the aversive skeptics that they are often made out to be.  I have made the appeal many times to churches simply to offer friendships and transparency to college students. Start there.  (It takes time.) Don’t throw more programming at them.  They are over-scheduled, as it is.  They need models and exemplars from among ordinary Christians whose lives show that they are committed to the way of Christ.  Don’t worry about being perfect (flawless). They already know that we aren’t and they don’t really need or want us to be.  They want to see how real, honest-to-goodness Christian discipleship looks.  And works.

The reference to higher education in the block quote is telling and requires a little detour.  In the studies that I have read, students attending overtly Christian schools (often called confessionally Christian, with chapel and other requirements like a Bible or theology course) often report crises of faith at higher rates than their counterparts at public or so-called church-related non-sectarian schools.  Why?  Because their Christian professors introduce them to challenging content.  This fact does not fit the many prejudices about Christian schools as places of narrow indoctrination.  Ironically, at church-related colleges and universities, students almost never encounter this sort of experience in the classroom.  It is relegated to campus ministry groups or some other place where “faith” is allowed.

At public or non-sectarian, church-related colleges and universities, the default position is too often “secular-and-spiritual-friendly,” as noted by the authors.   To the degree that a school’s ethos sees overlap between spirituality and religion, then the positive role of religious faith is generally acknowledged.  To the degree that spirituality is lifted up as the superior alternative to religion – that is, where faculty and staff frame spirituality in positive terms and religion in more restrictive and even negative terms – then a default position of pluralistic spirituality characterizes the school’s ethos.  This is particularly ironic for church-related schools who claim a relationship to the Christian faith but generally suppress that faith out of a desire to be open and welcoming to people of all faiths and no particular faith.

Let me drive that point home a little more strongly.  Church-related colleges that function so as to avoid the purportedly negative aspects of a strong Christian identity – as if that identity promotes narrowness, exclusivity, and the loss of academic freedom – easily slip into a different kind of narrow dogmatism.  The dominant faith is one that fits nicely with American civil religion.  Whatever that religion is, it is not Christian.

Back to the Nones.  After looking at a number of factors such as civic engagement and registering to vote, the authors note that Nones share several characteristics with the religiously affiliated, but also differ  with the religiously affiliated in one very important respect (other than the obvious one about religious affiliation).  They “are more privatized in their outlook and behavior than religiously affiliated Twentysomethings” (p. 160).  They “appear to tolerate institutions rather than seek them out and join them” (p. 160).

They keep politics and social institutions at an arm’s length, preferring the periphery of American public life.  Not only is our republic the worse for these citizens’ disengagement, life at the periphery is challenging and marked by frequent turnover (161).

How, then, should churches respond to the Nones?  Certainly, we interact with Twentysomethings with attentive care.  We listen to them.  (I have failed at listening too often.)  Mainly, we invite them into relationships.  We have conversations.  We share from our hearts.  We draw from our stock of doctrinal understanding and experience as we share our hearts with them.  (If you need to grow in your knowledge of Christian doctrine, get busy!)  That’s it.  It is not rocket science.  It is witness, pure and simple.

The final chapter in the book is titled “Practical Postmoderns.”  It is a rich summation and provides more nuance than my generalizations in these four posts could include.  I do hope that what I have shared has prompted thought about the church’s ministry with/to Twentysomethings, especially with college students.  I have said many times over the years that college students are among the most talked-about and least understood group of any that the church targets for mission.  It’s time to up our game and use the resources provided by scholars like Tim Clydesdale and Kathleen Garces-Foley, and others they name.  It’s time to get serious (again) about reaching the rising generations.

The Twentysomething Soul #3 – Evangelical Protestants

We have entered the Advent season, so this post comes with the prayer that your Advent preparations bring blessing to yourself and others.

I continue to mull over the findings of Tim Clydesdale and Kathleen Garces-Foley in The Twentysomething Soul.  Let’s look at what they say about Evangelical Protestants, described as “church-committed [and] theologically conservative,” and who “share an unwavering commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior and to the Bible as God’s revelation” (p. 114).  The authors are sociologists and don’t explore or evaluate these theological characteristics, but we see that doctrines serve as distinguishing factors for Evangelicals.  No surprise here, but still very instructive.

Evangelicals in American Protestantism comprise 30%  of young people. The authors use the same three sub-divisions as they had done for Mainline Protestants: Active, Nominal, and Estranged.  47% of Evangelicals are Actives, while 50% are Nominals and only 3% Estranged.  For comparison purposes, 19% of Mainliners are Actives, 64% are Nominal and 17% are Estranged.  These percentages identify stark differences:

“The proportion of Active Evangelicals is more than twice the proportion of Active Mainliners or Active Catholics, while the proportion of Estranged Evangelicals is at least six times smaller than the proportion of Estranged Mainliners or Estranged Catholics” (p. 127, italics in the original).

The authors make a couple of other important generalizations.  First, “the Evangelicals we interviewed were born and raised in Evangelical churches.  [T]hey have not been away from churches for any extended period of time…when many Catholic and Mainliner young adults…’took a break’ from churches” (125).  Second, Active Evangelicals “have little difficulty finding a young-adult-friendly church, especially if they live in or near a city…” (126).

Let’s put some rough numbers to these percentages and proportions.  About 6 million twenty somethings identify as Mainline Protestant.  About 12.6 million identity as Evangelical Protestant.  Of these divisions, 1.1 million or so Mainliners are Actives.  Of the Evangelicals, roughly 5.9 million are Actives.  For those of us in Mainline churches, these numbers should sober us.  They remain consistent throughout the literature.  Simply put, Evangelical churches hold their young at a much higher rate than Mainline churches.  When a young Evangelical moves away from home to take a job or attend school, they most often find an Evangelical church to attend.  We Mainliners are tempted to grasp at every instance of a young Evangelical ditching their faith and joining the Mainline, but this is small consolation.  The larger reality tell us something much different.

Another major difference between Evangelical and Mainline young adults relates to preaching and teaching versus the aesthetics of worship or shared values/mission (see #2 Mainline Protestants).  Evangelical Protestants speak consistently about their conviction that God is personal.  They testify, for example, that God actively led them to the church in which they participate.  (Remember that 40% of Mainline Protestants think of God as an impersonal force.)  Secondly, when asked what they liked most about their churches, they spoke about preaching and teaching (pp. 118-119).  Teaching topics often are very practical (e.g. emotionally healthy Christianity), but Evangelicals share a strong commitment to core Christian doctrines.

The chapter offers a number of other interesting nuances showing diversity among Evangelical Protestants, for example, racical/ethnic makeup, married or single, education level, and income-bracket.  These characteristics offer fine-grained analysis on topics more narrowly-scoped than the focus of my posts, but deserve strategic reflection.  Unfortunately, Evangelicals generally are still racially segregated, even though the authors interviewed young people active in large, high-profile multi-racial churches, found most often in large urban areas across the country.  But in one important way, Evangelical young adults agree: they do not like the judgmentalism associated with Evangelicalism, especially from high-profile (dare I say, celebrity?) Evangelical leaders.

This study has made one point especially clear, one that many Mainline Protestant leaders seem to want to avoid.  Doctrine matters.  Evangelical young adults remain committed to what Jude calls the faith once delivered to the saints, albeit with many American cultural colorings.  Again, don’t let the exceptions you know hide the general truth.  Evangelicals believe in Christ as Savior, in the scriptures as authoritative divine revelation, in the atoning work of Christ and his bodily resurrection.  For Active Evangelicals, these doctrines matter in the way they live.

To be sure, that Evangelicals express adherence to orthodox doctrines does not mean that all is rosy.  There are many Evangelical Nominals.  There is plenty of heterodoxy to concern us.  Nevertheless, by comparison to Mainline Protestant young adults, we see clear and consistent patterns of belief and activity much more in line with what anyone in a pastoral and teaching role should consider the norm for Christian discipleship.  Whatever our differences may be on specific matters like sexuality, if you claim to hold to the faith once delivered and you have teaching responsibility in the church, the contents of these chapters in The Twentysomething Soul should concern you.

Because doctrine also matters to Mainline Protestant young adults.  Yes, it does.  They have a view of God, of the church, and of what matters in life.  Their understanding of human nature is much more individualistic than Evangelical Protestants.  When they talk of God as love, they have some view of God and of love.  We should hope that these views are based on thought-through theological convictions learned through our discipleship efforts.  If they are not – if our young people have picked up their theological beliefs willy-nilly – then we who are called to the teaching office should be embarrassed.  My guess, though (and notice the irony), is that Mainline young adults have been taught to downplay doctrine for the sake of other values.  We teach what we take to be important doctrines in all sorts of ways.

Methodist pragmatism has taught young United Methodists that the specifically Methodist parts of being Methodist aren’t all that important, as long as you love God, love your neighbor, and work for justice in the world.  Methodists can lay no special claim to these commitments as somehow characteristically Methodist.  As the chapter on the nones will show (my final post of this little series), most of them come from the nominally-affiliated Mainline and Catholic portions of the twenty somethings.  Let’s face facts.

The Twentysomething Soul #2 – Mainline Protestants

This is the second installment of thoughts on the book, The Twentysomething Soul: Understanding the Religious and Secular Lives of American Young Adults, (Oxford, 2019).  See the previous post if you’d like to  see the start. I now consider what the authors have found regarding Mainline Protestant young people.  The researchers, Clydesdale and Garces-Foley, define “Mainline Protestant” as:

[reflecting] the early twentieth-century divide between those Protestants who hold to traditional Christian teachings–namely Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, and Pentecostals–and those Protestants who, to varying degrees, accommodate their theology to cultural norms (p. 84).

Keep in mind that the label “Mainline Protestant” does not refer strictly to denominational membership.  Rather, it has to do with a set of orienting values and identities.  By this book’s analysis, some United Methodist Twentysomethings are Mainline Protestant and some are Evangelical Protestant, which is a distinction important to keep in mind.

1 in 7 American twentysomethings (14%) identify as “Mainline Protestant,” numbering 6 million souls.  35% of that 6 million attend worship 2-3 times per month, around 2,100,000 persons (p. 85). 30% (180,000) “consider religion to be very or extremely important in their daily lives” (pp. 96).

Those numbers, which may seem encouraging at the outset, turn out, in my view, to be not so comforting.  The researchers sub-divide Mainline Protestants into three categories: (1) Actives (e.g. attending worship regularly), (2) Nominals (e.g. attending worship rarely, maybe once or twice a year), and (3) Estranged (no attendance and no involvement with the church at all).  Get this: some young people think of themselves as Mainline Protestant who nonetheless do not participate at all.

19% of Mainline Protestants are Actives.  This is roughly 1,140,000 young people.  64% of Mainliners fall into the “Nominal” category, 3,840,000 souls.  They attend worship rarely and don’t pray very often.  The third category of Mainline Protestants – 17%  or 1, 020,000, are Estranged.

For comparison’s sake, keep in mind that 35% of all Twentysomethings who identify as Christian (Catholic, Mainline Protestant, or Evangelical Protestant), attend worship weekly (p. 96).  Again, for comparison’s sake, around 60% of Evangelical Protestants, attend worship regularly, compared to the 19% of Mainline Protestants.

Another statistical wrinkle worth pondering is that even though estranged Mainliners identified themselves in a way as to put them in the “Mainline” category, “only half of Estranged Mainliners think of themselves ‘as a part of a particular religion, denomination, or church'” (p. 102).  Of the 1,020,000 Estranged Mainliners, 510,000 of them seem headed in the direction of the “nones.”  Keep in mind, they are not (yet?) “nones.”  The researchers have a separate chapter for this now well-known percentage of young people.

What do Mainliner Actives tell us about their reasons for being active?  They give community as the top one (p. 89).  Community to them means a shared vision and shared values sincerely pursued in their congregations, welcoming all persons, not making people feel judged, and strongly valuing diversity and inclusiveness.

Along with common values, they also exhibit a decidedly casual attitude about a denomination’s particular doctrines.  Significantly, regarding this question, it does not matter if one is Active, Nominal, or Estranged:

[All three sub-categories of Mainline Protestants] equally and overwhelmingly agree ‘that it is OK to pick and choose [one’s] religious beliefs without having to accept the teachings of their religious faith as a whole.’  Similarly, 2 out of 5 Mainliners, regardless of type, indicate that they view God as a spiritual force and not personal; this demonstrates Mainliners’ comfort with holding beliefs outside the orthodox box. (p. 100)

Escaping the orthodox box only means that another box has become a Mainliner’s doctrinal home.  That 40% of Mainliners think of God as an impersonal force shows that they have picked up doctrine, to be sure.  It’s just not Christian doctrine, even if they have learned this view of God while participating in a church.  I am always struck by this irony.

In truth, the beliefs and values that Mainline Protestant Twentysomethings hold sound very much like the spirituality found permeating American popular culture.  It’s the new American religion, precisely the kind promoted in many colleges and universities and it presages the drift of young people toward no religious affiliation.  As other sources show, the lion’s share of nones come from Mainline Protestants.

If you worry that I have skewed the picture by cherry-picking the data in The Twentysomething Soul, I invite you to have a look yourself.  The next time we’ll look at Evangelical Protestants.


The Twenty-something Soul (#1)

Recently, I have been mulling over a new book by Tim Clydesdale and Kathleen Garces-Foley, The Twenty-something Soul: Understanding the Religious and Secular Lives of American Young Adults (Oxford U. Press, 2019).  I’ve read some of Clydesdale’s other work (The First Year OutThe Purposeful Graduate) and have had brief opportunities to hear and interact with him.  He is one of my go-to sociologists when it comes to young adults.

I have long worried that church leaders hop on research data of the sort these sociologists offer and frantically try to ride the trend.  Think of the alarmist responses over “nones,” for example (the subject of a separate post).  The desire to do something about the problem is laudable.  The tactics are usually tragically inadequate.  We in old-line Protestantism know that we’re not doing very well reaching young people, but we don’t have a clear, consistent, widespread, effective strategy.  Books like The Twenty-something Soul, read carefully, provide critical perspective.

I’ll make a couple of initial observations about the book’s findings (stay tuned for related posts), but for now let’s keep a couple of important points in mind.  First, the authors are sociologists.  They use empirical methods.  Their findings are descriptive.  They do not offer theological analysis or proposals, although it is clear that they care deeply that young people flourish and that church leaders understand them adequately.  These scholars have provided resources to church leaders and served as consultants, but church leaders need to the theological work using sociologists’ findings.  Sociology tells us what is.  We have to discern what ought to be and set our strategies accordingly.

Second, Clydesdale and Garces-Foley are critical of the disparaging stereotypes about young adults.  The notion that twenty-somethings are over-indulged post-adolescents who seek to put off adult responsibility makes them bristle.  I share that irritation.  Most young people are responsibly trying to figure out adult life in the face of dramatically different economic and social conditions than 50 years ago.  The economy is much different nowadays and companies are generally less loyal to their employees than in an earlier generation.  Everybody is responding to the vagaries of a global economy.  So, yes, young adults have more options and freedom to choose, but they also undertake more risk than their elders did at the same age.  It’s not that emerging adults refuse to grow up.  It’s that growing up is much more challenging, with a wider range of “social scripts” from which to choose and with much less predictable outcomes.

Again, Christians working with young adults need to do the theological reflection on changing social conditions.  We too often skip this desperately important task.

With those cautions in mind, let’s tackle a couple of sets of statistics.  First, almost 43 million twenty-something adults populate the United States.  91% fall into one of the four following categories:

30% are Evangelical Protestant

18% are Roman Catholic

14% are Mainline Protestant

30% are “Nones”

(9% are “other”)

(I’m using rounded percentages, rendering more than 100%.)

Right away we need to make one important qualification.  The researchers did not ask about denominational affiliation, but, rather, certain responses to specific questions (e.g. “only one religion is true” vs. “many religions are true” – agree or disagree).  They then classified certain responses from Protestants as “Evangelical” (more “conservative”) or “Mainline” (more “liberal”or “progressive”). It is highly likely, then, that we find United Methodists in both categories.  The same goes for congregations.  Some United Methodist congregations would be considered “Mainline Protestant” and others “Evangelical Protestant.”

Slightly less than 40% of Mainline Protestant young people attend worship at least 2-3 times per month.  Slightly more than 60% of Evangelical Protestant young people attend at that rate.  Putting numbers to these percentages, we see that around 2.4 million young people attend Mainline Protestant services.  About 7.9 million attend Evangelical Protestant congregations.

Not only do Mainline Protestant (remember that key distinction) young adults attend worship less often than Evangelical Protestants, they also care less about the church’s doctrines.  They tend to care about social service efforts, ethical values, and community, apart from formal dogma.  Evangelical Protestants, on the other hand, are quite concerned about doctrine while also being strongly interested in social service ministries.

In a future post, we’ll explore some other implications of these differences, but for now, some questions.  What do we do with these numbers?  Since we have both types of young adults in our churches, how do we respond to their differing preferences?  One option is a kind of market response.  We have different churches for different types and we let young people sort themselves accordingly.  From a market perspective this makes sense, but theologically, how does it work?

Another market response would be to recognize that the far larger percentage of young people are Evangelical Protestant and aim our ministries more in their direction.  This tactic, of course, is completely unacceptable, but maybe it illustrates the problem of relying on market-oriented responses.

How would we go about developing theologically sound strategies?  We could start by ferreting out the theological assumptions hiding behind market strategies.  This would open up an enormously fruitful, though fraught, set of engagements.  We would discover implicit doctrines of God and of human nature.  We would begin to see hidden views of human flourishing and what counts as salvation.  Might we be quite surprised at what we tacitly believe?

How do the Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith, the General Rules, and John Wesley’s Standard Sermons, apply?  What, finally, does being United Methodist, actually mean?

Young adults, in their own ways, are demanding that we honestly, openly, and straightforwardly answer such questions.