In Montana, 16 young people sue the state for endangering the future with its energy policies.

In New Orleans, Southern Baptists vote twice to forbid women to be pastors.

In Los Angeles, yet another Kennedy ramps up a campaign for president.

Each of these scenes exposes a sharp division among Americans. It is not a division of class or economics or education. It is a division of time, between the past and the future.

Or, to use the words of the late Protestant theologian Marcus Borg, a division between the “earlier paradigm” and the “emerging paradigm.”

In “The Heart of Christianity,” Borg was trying to find commonality between traditional (earlier) and modern (emerging) Christians. In the three cases I started with, people emphasize the divisions among and between us, all involving time. Past and future. Let’s look at each case.


The young Montanans cite the state constitution’s clause that Montana “maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment . . . for present and future generations.” Rikki Held, 22, testified on Monday that her family’s ranch is threatened by drought, wildfires, heat waves and floods.

“I know that climate change is a global issue, but Montana needs to take responsibility for our part of that. You can’t just blow it off and do nothing about it,” she said.

The state legislature, for its part, doubled down. Its Republican majority passed a law banning regulators from considering the effect on climate when assessing large projects such as power plants or factories. It may be relevant that Montana ranks fifth in coal production and 12th in oil.

A similar suit is up soon in Hawaii, and the group Our Children’s Trust says more are coming.

In New Orleans, the Southern Baptist Convention’s 13,000 delegates, called “messengers,” voted by 88% and 92% not to readmit two churches booted for having female pastors. One, Saddleback, is in California. Its retiring pastor, Rick Warren, wrote the best-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life.” The other, in Louisville, has had a female pastor for 30 years.

Hardline conservatives also passed an amendment to the SBC constitution that a church can be Southern Baptist only if it “does not affirm, appoint or employ a woman as a pastor of any kind.”


It’s worth noting that the Southern Baptists split in 1845 from what is now called the American Baptist Convention. The SBC separated because it believed slavery was part of God’s law. Most Baptist churches around here are ABC, though the SBC has made inroads lately.

Meanwhile, in California, Robert Kennedy Jr. is running as a renegade Democrat against President Biden. Polls show that up to 20% of Democrats support him.

You may recall that Kennedy as a big anti-vaxxer. Not just COVID, but all vaccines. He also has a strong record on issues dear to Democrats: racial equity, global warming, renewable energy. But a fitting tag for this Kennedy may be outlier. He opposes Russia’s invasion but says he wouldn’t vote for Biden because of Biden’s support for Ukraine. He believes George W. Bush “stole” the 2000 election, the only time in 35 years that the majority voted for a Republican.

Re-enter Marcus Borg, who sought common ground between Christians who believe the Bible is the absolute “word of God” and those who see it as the platform from which to assess and adjust to changing times. He enumerates points on which earlier and emerging models agree. Let’s see where earlier and emerging might blend in our three cases.

The Montana case is in court, so the plaintiffs will win or lose. Some court decisions offer a bit for each side, though, so even if the kids trying to protect their future lose, the judge could offer them hope through some nuance. Finding common ground between the earlier fossil-fuel paradigm and the emerging clean environment paradigm won’t come easily, but it could come.

The Southern Baptists have overwhelmingly gone for the earlier model. The practicality of kicking out Saddleback’s 65,000 members escapes me. Especially when you consider that, as the Religion News Service has reported, the SBC lost nearly half a million members last year and has lost 1.5 million since 2018. And attendance at worship has fallen by 39% since 2010.


As my late friend Alan Tracy of Farmington put it, “We Christians ignored half our talent for hundreds of years until we let women be pastors.” Alan, a Methodist, and I, a Congregationalist, were in churches pastored by women. We’ll see how well the earlier paradigm serves the SBC.

Many of Kennedy’s positions fit the emerging model. And he has devoted much of his legal career to serving young people, emerging to become leaders. But polls show his supporters look back fondly on his famous father and uncle, both assassinated. His might be an accidental blending of earlier and emerging models.

If Marcus Borg is correct that earlier and emerging paradigms can coexist and even cooperate, then we old fahts might be take comfort that we haven’t ruined the world for our successors.

The earlier paradigm was made for people like Bob Neal. White. Male. Old. But he looks forward to the emerging paradigm taking over. Let’s see what the youngsters can do with it. Neal can be reached at

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