Part 1 of an interview with Steve Brown,
Author of Hidden Agendas:
Dropping the Masks that Keep Us Apart
It’s easy to imagine high-powered executives and egotistical politicians having hidden agendas. What may not be so simple to accept is that deep down, all have a secret plan for getting themselves from where they are to where they want to be. As author and radio host Steve Brown has written in Hidden Agendas: Dropping the Masks that Keep Us Apart (New Growth Press/May 16, 2016), people, especially Christians, wear disguises to make it easier to accomplish these concealed plans. These masks might be religion, appearance or power, and the pressure of keeping it all together can be overwhelming. For most, though, it will be a cold day in a hot place before they are fully honest with anyone else about their fears, struggles and sins.
Q: You open Hidden Agendas by saying you have “lived long enough and sinned big enough” to be able to write this book. Explain what you mean by that.
I’m an old guy (as old as dirt), and there is very little about getting old that’s good. However, one good thing is perspective. Frankly, I don’t want anything from anybody. I’m not looking for a bigger church or a nicer job. I have enough money to pay the bills and take my wife to dinner, and I’m at a place in my life where I don’t have to impress anybody. That means I don’t give a rip about most of the things I cared about when I was younger. That also means I will tell you the truth.
“Sinned big enough” is simply a reflection of biblical doctrine. “The heart (really) is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt. Who can understand it?” Almost everybody who is a “professional Christian” says they believe that but can’t say it or confess it for fear of losing their jobs.
So I’ve sinned big enough, and I’m old enough to say it. I have very little to lose.
Q: Do all Christians have an agenda? Are their agendas always hidden?
Of course they do. One can’t live life without having agendas. Sometimes we call them goals or even religious things, such as making an impact for Jesus or changing the world. An agenda is a plan designed to accomplish, change, fix, destroy, remedy, reward, punish, promote or hinder something we want. Everybody has one — actually a lot of them.
Sometimes an agenda is hidden (when it accomplishes what we want by keeping it hidden) and sometimes it isn’t (when it accomplishes what we want by making it public). In religious circles, our agendas are often hidden because they reflect ambition, pride, manipulation, avarice, etc. — things that are just not “proper” for religious people. Outside of religion, agendas are hidden for the same reason but without the condemnation one would receive from our religious friends if found out.
Q: Is it OK to have an agenda as long as you are open and honest about it?
Maybe and maybe not. It depends on the agenda. If my agenda is to rob a bank, and I’m honest and open about it, that would not be OK in accomplishing the goal of my agenda. When an agenda is for beneficial purposes and to motivate others (manipulation is for “me” and motivation is for “us”), the agenda can be a shared vision. If our agenda is sinful or clearly not a godly agenda, it is OK to be open and honest about it. That’s called “confession,” and it is always good for the soul . . . and for the church.
Until honesty and openness become the mark of a Christian, the soft and safe place designed by God for the church will never happen. It is, in fact, what Paul did in his confession in Romans 7.
Q: What do you mean when you say we wear masks? Why do we wear them?
An agenda and a mask are different. The agenda is what we want to accomplish and a mask is how we hide the agenda for the purpose of achieving it. In other words, a mask is designed to hide, conceal or disguise the reality behind it and is created to further what is usually a selfish agenda. Sometimes the mask is intentional, and at other times those who wear masks aren’t even aware of their masks.
When the masks are intentional it is manipulation to get what one wants. The old sexist comment that men will trade love for sex and women will trade sex for love is illustrative (though not accurate most of the time) of masks for both women and men. The man wears a “love mask” and the woman wears a “sex mask.” In both cases, the masks hide the real agenda.
Q: How does wearing masks to accomplish our hidden agendas hurt us and the people we love?
Love can’t happen until it takes place in the context of the unlovely. Love in response to goodness isn’t love; it’s reward. The removal of the masks (“If I tell you who I really am, will you still love me?”) makes it possible to have profound and intimate relationships. It can be painful, but it’s necessary.
Masks and hidden agendas in our lives create a play on a stage where nobody is real; it is all just playing a part. When the play is over, the actors just go home and become themselves without ever having any real relationships with the other actors. When it’s real and not a play, the result is intimacy, forgiveness and genuine love.
Q: Why do you think Christians, in particular, are masters of developing and maintaining masks?
I have a friend who says Christians are better off because we know the rules and know how to fake it. There is something built into the very nature of religion that creates a moral improvement society. On the other hand, real religion (biblical Christian faith) recognizes the fallen nature of human beings and at the same time offers forgiveness, thereby creating a “safe place” for its adherents.
The game we play is to look around at other sinners and think we are better than they are. We try to be better and, when we can’t pull that off, fake being like what we think the others are. We do that, of course, to be accepted and approved by other Christians. That creates all sorts of problems. I’ve often said every Christian who comes to church should be required to wear a placard listing their 10 greatest sins. It would be embarrassing, but it would also be surprising to see that we are all alike: seriously flawed and sinful. And after the embarrassment, we would get down and experience revival.
Q: How do you recommend people “put legs” to what you’ve written in this book?
I recommend that Christians get “plastered” in a public gathering of people they want to impress, confess every shameful sin they have and tell every secret they’ve been hiding. The next morning when the hangover is dissipating and they’re thinking, “I can’t believe I said that,” they will experience the forgiveness and joy of dancing in the presence of a God who loves and forgives.
First one starts with oneself. “It’s not my brother or my sister, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” From that awareness one starts small with, as it were, baby steps. Begin to be more honest than before, to tell fewer lies than before and to be more authentic than before. It is an experiment to see what God does. There is a principle here: You take the first step, God will take the second step and by the time you get to the third step, you’ll know it was God who took the first step.
Jack Miller used to say the whole Bible could be summed up in two sentences: 1) Cheer up; you’re a lot worse than you think you are and 2) Cheer up; God’s grace is a lot bigger than you think it is. That’s true . . . and it’s catching.
Learn more about Hidden Agendas and Steve Brown at www.keylife.org. Brown can also be found on Facebook (Dr.SteveBrown) and Twitter (drstevewbrown).