simply put, today i got censored.

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Thursday, June 25th, 2009

simply put, today i got censored.

yeah, i got censored.

seriously, i got censored today. what’s best is that i didn’t even know they were going to do it until it actually happened.
when it happened, i was actually very angry. angry not only because it was a complete blind-side, but because the reason it was done, ironically and fittingly, was something, more or less, that i was talking about in my sermon.
here’s the story:
this morning, i spoke at a youth camp after being invited by the camp’s director. as a bit of back story, i grew up going to this camp and worked on staff for many years before making a decision to discontinue working there a couple years ago (the details aren’t relevant here). also, the director is actually a friend, though we certainly are on very different theological and cultural planes. as one final piece of the story, i was at the center of a very ridiculous and lingering controversy at this camp several years ago (again, details not relevant, but basically, it involved some design work i did for the camp). so, that’s some relevant information.
i spoke about how we, as christians, need to give up our very narrow views concerning christian subculture, dichotomized relationships and our limited views of god. during my time spent on narrow relationships, i talked about how we need to build relationships with unbelievers that are genuine and without agenda. so, i shared the story (that i blogged about here, here and here) about the day the “god hates fags” protesters from westboro baptist church in kansas showed up across the street from our offices. (if you want to know the full details, click on the links above, instead of me rehashing the entire story.)
the point of the story was to say that i befriended the guys from the church of the flying spaghetti monster (yeah, i know…) and created a dialogue with them in order to say that the westboro baptist people did not represent jesus values and that god frowns upon what they were doing. as i told the story, i thought it would be helpful to include some pictures to illustrate the story and show the utter degradation of what these people were doing. **to see the images in question, you can view the entire keynote presentation below.**
offensive? yes. shocking? yes. but that’s sort of the point. it’s not just for the sake of offending people or shocking people, but to illustrate the egregious nature of the event.
so, when it came time to bring up the first photo (the top photo), i said, ‘here’s a photo from that day.’ i looked at the screen and noticed that the photo didn’t come up. i assumed the tech guy wasn’t paying attention, so, without looking back, i verbally cued the tech guy to bring up the slide. still nothing. this time, i looked back the booth and both people in the booth were pointing to their right: towards the camp director. the director said there with his arms crossed, shaking his head.
suddenly i realized what was going on. without my knowledge, the director censored my presentation. in the middle of the sermon, in front of a hundred people, i found out i had been censored. i was angry. i was furious. but i knew i was only half way through and i couldn’t just stop and throw a fit. i think people could tell my disgust, but ultimately, i just moved on.
let’s just take away the fact that you don’t leave somebody hanging out to dry in the middle of speaking to a large group of people without their knowledge of the censorship. just take that out. what angered me the most is the underlying value that led to the decision. in essence, it’s the idea that we need to be some kind of worldly gatekeepers for their poor, simple little eyes and minds. so, ironically, in a sermon about broadening our viewpoint of the world and intentionally exposing ourselves to what’s going on around us, they censored real life images that happened literally 30 miles away from them. not only that, but i began today by saying that i give teenagers much more credit than most and that i was going to be real and honest and challenging with them today. so much for that.
censorship isn’t good for anyone. when camp directors or parents or teachers or pastors try to filter the world and give people quasi-real life, we stunt people’s social and spiritual growth. people need to process beautiful and ugly and pleasant and offensive and soothing and shocking. people need it all.
what happened today was sad and unnecessary.
**here’s the presentation. the photos in question begin on slide 6.


  1. Brent and Cara Beth says:

    That's just wrong how they left you hanging! Wrong wrong wrong. It's narrow minded people like that, that push people AWAY from God and "the church."

  2. Todd says:

    I'm just browsing for some Derek Webb info, and couldn't help but comment on your post…

    I agree with your points, but did Jesus only come to upset our right-wing evangelical sensibilities?

    I don't think it was right of them to sensor your talk — especially without letting you know beforehand! But it seems as though you intended to piss off the camp director (and everyone else who didn't agree with you).

    While it seems you talked about how God loves everyone, the first half of your talk indicates that He will only love right-wing Republicans if they get their act together. Even more, the one-sidedness of your social critique would indicate that God loves Democrats MORE than Republicans, etc.

  3. ted says:

    I hope you will post this. Ryan, my 13 year daughter was in that crowd. you have 2 daughters of your own. would you really show them a pic of how they were made?…c'mon. The censorship was warranted…and for the record, I defended you when you were first "attacked"…because I like you…I still do…but this is wrong…I worry about you following people like McClaren who doesn't really believe in heaven OR hell…I know Doug from S.'s Porch thinks it's odd to call heaven an actual place…we care about you but are on different planes, not because Jesus and Christianity need to be redefined (they can't be anyway)…but because you are following people on a different plane, that is in no way representative of true biblical Christianity…please come back!

  4. ryanByrd says:

    todd, great to hear from you man. thanks for commenting!

    i guess maybe you might clarify a couple things. i'm not sure where you're drawing the inferences concerning "right-wing republicans"??? that really wasn't a direction i had in mind and certainly would not advocate. while i'm certainly not a "right-wing republican", i am also certainly not a "left-wing democrat." in fact, i don't really affiliate myself with any party. i have a lot of issues with, particularly, the religious right, but this sermon was pretty devoid of any of my personal feelings regarding that. in fact, i can be equally critical often of the extreme, militant left wingers, which i also don't believe i inserted into this sermon.

    so, i guess i'm just a little confused as to where you're drawing your politically-related references. as far as i know, i didn't really make any political statements.

    also, i'm not sure if you caught this particular part of my blog post, but i'm actually good friends with the director. as i stated, we disagree on a lot of things, but over the years, we've been able to have a fairly decent open and friendly dialogue about the differences and have remained friends. so, it certainly wasn't my intention with my sermon to "piss off the camp director." in this case, unfortunately, he hasn't engaged a conversation with me to tell me why he made his decision, but like other things, we should be able to have that conversation and, i'm sure, move on.

    overall, my agenda was pretty pure—certainly not to "piss off" anyone. quite frankly, i have better things to do than to pick fights. as stated, i wanted to challenge the students and further, i didn't want to just give them the "stock" sermon about not drinking or not having sex, etc. i'd rather create a conversation than to feed them fluff.

    so, thanks again for the comment! feel free to clarify any of the questions i raised. i'd love to hear more of your thoughts.

  5. Todd says:

    Hey Ryan, I guess I'm surprised that you're surprised that you got censored. From what I can tell, it was meant as a shocking example of how you honorably made friends with an extreme group. But Westboro Baptist Church (and the accompanying semi-graphic photos) is an intrinsically shocking example, however personal it may be.

    The political references were mistakenly drawn from the song you played, so good to hear.

    I didn't hear the sermon, obviously, so this could be off base. But I would say more broadly my critique is that by simply "challenging" people to think/act differently, those who agree with you are self-righteously affirmed of their rightness and it simultaneously implies that God's love is conditional upon thinking/acting rightly. If I feel as though I'm not being narrow, then I'm told I'm doing a good job. If I am somehow convicted of my narrow ways, then I wrongly feel I must amend my ways or else God will deal with me accordingly. Though you're trying to give them a new sermon by avoiding cliche moralism, it seems that the new boss is the same as the old boss.

  6. ryanByrd says:

    todd, thanks again for you comments.

    i'm not sure if i would say that the westboro baptist stuff is "intrinsically" shocking, but i would say that it's "intrinsically" offensive…and that's just my point! but i would argue that what's offensive isn't gay stick figures, but that the god we worship and follow is being represented in these deeply wrong and offensive ways. that should offend and shock us.

    to pick up on your thoughts about affirming those who agree and pissing off those who don't, i think, to an extent, that that's the nature of the gospel. don't get me wrong, i certainly don't want to imply that all sermons/the message of jesus must be polemic and divisive. it's just that any specific "stance" concerning any issue or worldview or whatever is going to assume a "side", if you so choose to view it that way.

    maybe a less 'inherently" polemic example might be helpful.

    if my sermon was about broadening your worldview by chewing not only gum, but also hard and soft candies, then it could be said that i'm simply affirming those who agree and telling those who only chew gum that god doesn't love them. while i understand the limits of my analogy, i think it makes a certain point. i'm not drawing lines in the sand by saying that gum-chewing is a narrow way to view the world. i'm simply saying that there's a whole other realm of possibility in the form of hard and soft candies. it's not an either-or, but rather a both-and.

    broadening your worldview (to get back to my sermon) simply says that the culturally common way of viewing the world around us isn't "bad" (although certainly one could argue that), but it's just not the only way. and when we begin to broaden our perspectives, we're able to take into account a way that allows us to connect with a much broader group of people for the cause of jesus.

    hopefully that helps to clarify a little.

    so, great thoughts todd.

  7. Morgon77 says:

    1. Did you discuss what you intended to present with the camp director before attempting to present it? Since he was the final gateway for all content, anything that was going to be presented would have to be okayed through him initially anyway, correct?

    2. Sometimes, no matter what we feel is true or necessary, we must consider where others are and what their viewpoints are, and consider altering our message accordingly.

    Most folks simply can't deal with the Westboro group in any useful manner, they simply don't have a frame of reference for it, and it contains far too much overall baggage for them to usefully deal with.

    And most people will probably never have to deal with them.

    I think that when we begin to deal meaningfully with issues like "what is community, really" and "how large can I actually expect community to be for me?" (the limit, we're now told, is between 12 and 15 people that you can carry on meaningful relationships with…outside of that, you can know people, but not really be in community with them).

    The challenge for all of us becomes, not "How do I communicate to these people what I feel is the most important thing of all" but "what is the most useful thing about the Jesus Christ we're all meant to be following can I point them to right now?" At which point a lot of our interests and worries simply drop by the way-side. It can be very strange.

  8. ryanByrd says:

    welcome to the fray, todd (we now have 2 todd's…morgon77 is another todd) 🙂

    1. the camp director doesn't see or approve anyone's content prior to them speaking. i was one of many speakers during the week and he doesn't see any of them. he selects the speakers and offers invitation, so there's a certain amount of trust (and he's asked me to speak now for many years).

    2. i guess one of the considerations that i probably haven't made very clear is the "closeness" i have with this camp—both speaking and serving on staff. i grew up at this camp, have been on staff for about 10 years and have spoken (in this same capacity) at the camp for the last 5 or 6 years. so, my point is that i have a very good knowledge of the group of students who were in attendance. another point of clarification is that i received very good and encouraging feedback from students after i spoke. so, i think, in typical fashion, the students received what i said very well…it was just a select few staff who actually got upset (i won't go into the reasons i think they got upset).

    i think you bring up some good points about the nature of community and, ultimately, the centrality of jesus' core message. in this case, i really believe that the sermon—in full and in proper context—tried to do that very thing. i attempted to say that when we actually truly follow jesus, our worldview broadens because jesus had a very broad worldview. of course, i said that in more words, but that was the essence.

    so, thanks for the comments todd. great to hear from you!

  9. ted says:

    Ryan, you keep promoting a Jesus that doesn't jive with scripture. You seem to be getting your "marching orders" from people like McClaren, Bell and Padgitt, who are nothing more than new age change-agents. I defended you before I realized that you were actually following these false teachers. It's super easy to befriend the world and shout about change that the lost can relate to…but until you're preaching the kind of change that means taking the true narrow road, you will be nothing more than a mouthpiece for the liberal left…the narrow way is tough…standing against false teaching is hard, whether it's the humanism of Bell etal or the bizzarre church of Fred hates gays…the emergent "church" is not the Christian church…it is the world's church…I care about what happens to you, and will be praying for you from now on, to leave the emergent lie.

  10. MamaMia says:

    Just everyone try to put yourself in each other's shoes. Maybe it wasn't so much a case of being narrow-minded as it was trying to be responsible.

  11. ted says:

    so much for the "conversation"

    I'm not your enemy…this emergent lie is!
    I didn't grow up as a PK, so I don't get that weight…and i don't get the "win the argument" thing…this is wayyyyyy bigger than which one of us looks right…it is about truth…I care about both of you…I will keep praying for you both…no matter how much you edit me or scold me…

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