Thanks, but no thanks, “Missoula Project”

by Jay Stevens 

Christian Cryder dropped by in the comment thread to readbetween’s response to the SHEC giveaway. It was an interesting post, generally agreeing with the gist of readbetween’s accusation that SHEC’s materialist response may not have been very Christ-like. (There’s also a good response from a SHECIE in the comments.)

Incidentally, Cryder is part of the “Missoula Project,” whose stated mission (pdf) is to “plant a church” in Missoula:

Nestled in the heart of the mountains, Missoula, Montana, sits like a crown jewel in the Last Best Place. It is a beautiful city to live in, but it’s a barren wasteland spiritually. Nearly 70% of those who live here are completely unchurched. Many have rejected modern religiosity and are looking elsewhere for answers.Burned-out ex-hippies, liberal intellectuals, rugged individualists, and bulletproof college students – all are on a quest for meaning and fulfillment. These people hunger for something more, but they are not finding it. Very few have any real understanding how Christ and the Gospel can quench their thirst.

Ugh. Frankly, you’re not gonna find too many friends around here with that kind of attitude. A barren wasteland? Not only does Missoula have a vibrant Christian community, it has a vibrant Buddhist community, too. Oh, and even the agnostics and atheists in town generally support peace, the environment, and freedom. We lead the state in community farming projects, the Missoula Food Bank is amazing, etc & company.

Enough of the patronizing, please. We “burned-out ex-hippies, liberal intellectuals, rugged individualists, and bulletproof college students” are very aware of Christianity, thank you very much, and many of us would prefer to do our own thing. In the end, I pretty much agree with John Derbyshire’s summary of the effect of religion on our community (hat tip to Ed K):

I have now come to think that it really makes no difference, net-net. You can point to people who were improved by faith, but you can also see people made worse by it. Anyone want to argue that, say, Mohammed Atta was made a better person by his faith? All right, when Americans say “religion” they mean Christianity 99 percent of the time. So: Can Christianity make you a worse person? I’m sure it can. If you’re a person with, for example, a self-righteous conviction of your own moral superiority, well, getting religion is just going to inflame that conviction. Again, I know cases, and I’m sure you do too. The exhortations to humility that you find in all religions seem to be the most difficult teaching for people to take on board. Mostly, I think it makes no difference. Evelyn Waugh would have been no more obnoxious as an atheist.

In the end, I wonder how much the “Missoula Project” founders are willing to embrace Missoula. Do they support a woman’s right to choice? Are they willing to embrace the city’s large and eclectic gay population – and not with an aim to change them, but to welcome them as they are into the congregation, marry them, and include their families? Will they make stewardship of the environment one of their top priorities? Are they concerned about poverty and peace? Will they join Missoula’s civic leaders and oppose torture, rendition, and the war in Iraq? (All of these issues are, of course, completely compatible with Christ’s values.)

Or, in the end, will this church try to change the community into its own image?

I’m not too hopeful it’s the former based on that “barren wasteland” crack. Good luck, fellas. With an attitude like that, you’ll need it.


  1. Hi Jay. Since you referenced something I’d written elsewhere, I felt I ought to at least respond.

    First of all, I’ll say right up front that I think you’re right in regard to my “barren wasteland” comment. It was written a while back, before we moved here, intended for a different context (churched folks, trying to understand why we’d want to come someplace like Missoula – “Why, there are hardly any Christians there! *gasp*”).

    Of course, none of that excuses the fact that its still up there, even though our context is here now. As it stands, it’s just begging to be misunderstood. So thank you for pointing this out, and please accept my apologies for such a poor choice of words. I’ll be updating the site soon.

    What I was referring to in this document, of course, was Christian spirituality – if anything, Missoula is a VERY spiritual place in general (something which I’m at least alluding to in my original comments, and something which has been confirmed repeatedly since we moved here in September).

    Just for the record, I really LIKE the fact that its very diverse spiritually. And I’m not particularly interested in trying to change anyone (after all, I don’t think I can – only God can change hearts). I certainly wouldn’t want them to look/act more like me (I’m still pretty messed up, probably a lot worse than you or even J.C., if you look deep enough).

    As you yourself pointed out, Missoula is a wonderful place – there are an awful lot of great things about this city. But there is also an awful lot of brokenness too – loneliness, addiction, broken relationships, a struggle to find meaning. If we really love the city, we should care about that as well.

    And that’s why I still DO hope to see people change – for those who desire it, I believe its possible. And I think the solution has everything to do with Jesus – who he is, and what he’s done. So while I think that the general spirituality here is a good thing, I still think that Christianity (real Christ-centered spirituality) is something better, in that it offers something nothing else does. I can certainly see how that might sound a little brash. But since Jesus made that claim himself, I’m not real inclined to try and soften it.

    As for wondering whether we’re interested in embracing Missoula, well I’d like to think that we are. After all, that’s why we’re spending most of our first year here just trying to get to know Missoula, to ask lots of questions, to listen well, to see how people think a church could actually love the city and serve the community.

    Yes, we have goals (eg. plant a church). But we also have a lot to learn first, which is why we’re interested in actually hearing what others think before we just jump in and start spouting off about what we want to accomplish.

    If you know Missoula well (and it sounds like you do), I’d be really interested in having you tell me (preferably in person, over coffee or a beer) what makes it great, where it needs work, etc. In other words, I’m really interested in listening, so if you ever feel like talking, please feel free to drop me a line.

    Hope to see you around sometime…

  2. Mark Douglass

    So, Jay and Christian, I doubt this two-year old exchange is occupying any space in either of your minds, but I’m new to Missoula, new to the Missoula Project idea, and new to the ministry. I was trained in the “outside” Christianities of the ancient world and find my real place among the heretics rather than the “flock.” As such, I feel an affinity to both side of this conversation, and – from all three of these points of view – I’m curious if either of you had any result from this little exchange.
    Thanks, Mark

  3. You know, this post got some interesting attention from within the PSA itself. I think there’s a bigger controversy within the church than here in the community.

    Be sure to check out the more recent post on the church and the headline article from the Missoula Independent.

    I’m definitely feeling “softer” towards the whole thing, if I ever felt any animosity at all. I love Missoula. I don’t think it’s a “barren wasteland,” spiritually or otherwise. Still, I acknowledge there’s a place for more and diverse churches.

    Does that answer your question?

    • Gary McClure

      Jay, You should look at a piece that the lessor Msla newspaper, in MSLA, did in about 2006 or 7, he claims to have turned down scholarships to MIT, West Point (they don’t do scholarships, ever), and Stanford. ‘That he turned them down “because God told him to go to Wheaton College (IL).” NO EVIDENCE, EVER, when researched in 1/2011, that any of this is true.
      Additionally, he had a TRO applied to him for 2 years regarding a young child that he was intimidating in Polson. That charge was in the Polson Justice court, and it was under Judge Craig. The charge was buried if he kept his nose clean for 2 years.
      He is out of Billings MT, and has had a reputation of extreme narcissism (his wife is worse, actually, almost no close friends.) He even tried to justify himself to Judge Craig. The constant self justidication is always present with him, historically. He was run out of 4 churches in Billings, for liberties taken, in his mid 20s and later (that comes from ‘church’ leaders at Rimrock Babtist, and the Vinyard, in the early 90s. This guy is an extreme narcissist, and he shows the behaviors of a cult leader. FYI, almost ALL MSLA churches consider him a cult, as well. Do your homework, this will start to sound repetitive. This is a narcissistic, pseudo-intellectual, with no boundries, and a perverse desire to control others. Very Disturbing Character.
      Every bit of this is evidentiary.

  4. ghostkiller

    Anyone who knows anything about anything knows that the more Christian one’s consciousness is, the more heathenishly his unconscious behaves.

  1. 1 The Missoula Project « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] me dubious. I wrote about them just over a year ago, when I stumbled on their “mission statement” for their church in our community: Nestled in […]




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