Rob Lee: Public Theology And Taylor Swift


It's confession time: I'm a huge Taylor Swift fan. I'm starting to identify with her more now that I've been thrust into the realm of public theology. People often bemoan Swift as someone who complains about the media attention or how others treat her. As my story grew about my resignation from my parish and the ensuing conversations in places like NPR and The View, I've found people are in fact incredibly mean in the face of media attention.

Twitter trolls can be vicious and scrutiny is real, but the cost of not engaging in public theology is far greater than one might think. I've had friends and mentors who have been concerned for my health and safety say to back off the gas pedal a bit and find greener pastures elsewhere. But perhaps this moment of speaking truth to power is no time for falling back.

As I write these words I'm just on the other side of my 25th birthday. Had you told my wife and I when we were married a mere three months ago that we would be on this road heading to God knows where, I would have laughed and sat back down in to my pastoral chair. You may be wondering what does this have to do with you: We must always be ready to engage the world and the church in new and different ways.

In a sense, we must shake it off (yes, I went there) and do the hard work of engaging in beloved community. We must seek the resolution of these issues that are close at hand and be public theologians. We desperately need to add names to the dwindling list of public theologians in our world and we desperately need some of those names to be Millennials. The reality is we have to consider how we can engage church differently for the sake of our future.

I'm not one to suggest we abandon the institution but we must re-ignite the passion that led to white pastors marching in the Civil Rights movement alongside their brothers and sisters of color. This critical engagement with the world is precisely what the world needs to see right now. We need not worry about empty pews if our hearts are apathetic to the world we see, because the pews should be empty if that is the case - But I refuse to believe that. I refuse to believe that the white church can't engage in anti-racism conversations or that the wider church can't engage our LGBTQ friends with dignity and acceptance.

What I'm getting at is this: We need public theology. The other forces of this world (including Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians) are engaging in public theology, what makes us think that we get a free pass? Now is the time to engage the world with a different and fresh way of doing progressive Christianity. It is in that hope that we see in God we have more future than past. We could shake the foundations of this nation and world for the sake of our children and our children's children. I've been thankful that trolls are just trolls but they've taught me that speaking up costs something, and I really am indebted to my favorite pop star Taylor Swift for the inspiration to speak up in the form of public theology and say, "Look what you made me do."