For as long as I can remember, evangelical Christians have been talking about the increasing secularization of the US American culture, and the resulting tension with Judaeo-Christian morality. Beginning with the fundamentalist-driven withdrawal from Hollywood in the 1940’s through the Moral Majority’s rise in the 1980’s, the rise of the Religious Right in the Bush-Reagan years, and into the continuing culture battles over abortion, the arts, health care, gay marriage and a thousand other issues, the tension has remained.
And at the same time, those same evangelical Christians have been holding their breath for fear that, sooner or later, secularization would gain the upper hand. Then, Christian viewpoints might be challenged, Christian values devalued, Christian teaching mocked, Christian’s rights trampled, Christians marginalized and maybe even attacked—right here in the United States of America.
That potentially fearful scenario has been the subject of articles and books, multiple “God-and Country Celebration” sermons, web sites and DVD curricula. It has been the motivator behind conservative voter guides, voter registration drives and political ads softly focused on flags, soldiers and children. Oh, and it has been remarkably effective at raising multiple millions of dollars from concerned Christians who want to take back their country and reclaim their rightful heritage so that God will bless America again.
The fear has always been an “out there” proposition. Someday. If.
Well, it seems that “out there” is “right here”, someday is today, and it has come to pass.
Exhibit 1: The 9/11 observances in New York City nect week have been officially declared secular events. In other words, there will be no prayers and no representatives of any religious group. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a committed secularist (who refuses to identify his convictions as a religion) made that decision, despite the fact that faith has been a primary means of comfort and sustenance in dealing with the tragedy for millions in New York and beyond. In an interview last week, he rewrote history by asserting that none of the previous 9/11 observances had religious content and further, insisted that this was not a political event, even though only politicians will be speaking. One man decided to remove all evidence of faith from a primary public observance of a key national event.
Exhibit 2: Three key issues have grabbed headlines for those running for the Republican presidential nomination. Those issues are not jobs, Afghanistan or deficits. They are science /creation–evolution, viewpoints on the nature of homosexuality, and the Biblical view of the relationship between husbands and wives. Major profiles of the candidates have focused heavily on their church backgrounds and statements about faith. It’s been fascinating to hear news talk shows grappling with issues that are usually discussed in Bible studies over coffee.
Exhibit 3: Closely related to the above has been some recent commentary. Bill Keller, the outgoing editor of the New York Times, wrote an article recently, insisting that candidates need to answer tough and more specific questions about the nature of their faith and how it impacts their thinking and decision-making. Religious test, anyone?
Here’s the perspective: “Candidates…belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans….” including “fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity…..which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.” In another segment of the essay, Keller equated beliefs of some churches to belief in aliens.
One expects that from the NY Times, but in “Planet of the godly” even the politically conservative Kathleen Parker insists that the crucial battle is over the question: “Who is the godliest of us all?”:
….jobs-jobs-jobs isn’t the money trinity with [this] base. Perry already hit that station with prayer rally and various dog whistles to the congregation: He’s not sure anyone knows how old Earth is, evolution is ust a “theory,” and global warming isn’t man-made.
That we are yet again debating evolutionary theory and Earth’s origins — and that candidates now have to declare where they stand on established science — should be a signal that we are slip-sliding toward governance by emotion rather than reason. But it’s important to understand what’s undergirding the debate. It has little to do with a given candidate’s policy and everything to do with whether he or she believes in God.
If we are descended of some blend of apes, then we can’t have been created in God’s image. If we establish Earth’s age at 4.5 billion years, then we contradict the biblical view that God created the world ust 6,500 years ago. And finally, if we say that climate change is partly the result of man’s actions, then God can’t be the One who punishes man’s sins with floods, droughts, earthquakes and hurricanes. If He wants the climate to change, then He will so ordain and we’ll pray more.
….large swaths of the electorate would prefer that their president keep his religion close and be respectful of knowledge that has evolved from thousands of years of human struggle against superstition and the kind of
literal-mindedness that leads straight to the dark ages.
Faith and reason are not mutually exclusive, but… makes you think they are.
Don’t miss the similar perspective from both Keller and Parker. For both, established science and the accepted logic of human reason (as they define it) are the unassailed and primary authority to which all must submit at all times. Viewpoints that come from a faith perspective rooted in the Bible are “suspicious…fiction….emotion rather than reason, superstition…literal-mindedness that leads straight to the dark ages.”
Now to make sure we don’t miss the point, those who lean towards or resonate with a Biblically-defined viewpoints are mere Pavlovian robots (with code words only they hear). These people do not truly think; they merely respond to “ emotion rather than reason”. (This may indicate a fundamental lack of the basic intelligence necessary to lead our government.) Or perhaps they are secretly plotting to overthrow the government and reshape American society with wild-eyed commitment to a Christianized version of Sharia law, living as a “Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.”
Now, why all this hyperventilating hyperbole? Keller makes it very clear: “….I do want to know if a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon… or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country.” He recognizes that, for many candidates (and those who support them), there is a higher authority than human law, one that overarches everything on earth. Now, to affirm or deny such an authority is one aspect of the freedom of conscience guaranteed by religious liberty. It is available to everyone and can be expressed publicly. That’s First Amendment 101.
But Keller simply cannot conceive of (or seems unwilling to consider the possibilities of) a thoughtful Christian faith that can both submit to God with passion and uphold the rule of Constitutional law with integrity. The two are not antithetical. Jesus put it this way, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21)
Please do not hear this as a statement of support for (or against) any particular candidate[s]. I am merely observing the increasing and mostly negative scrutiny that people of evident Christian faith are facing in
participating in our political process.
The same sort of scrutiny does not appear to be equally applied to candidates who are Jewish, Muslim, rabidly secular, or from the ideological left—and who also have their own set of intellectual and emotional influences that effect their thinking and decision-making.
But there’s an even larger drama at play here. For years, USAmerican Christians have noted the suspicion, marginalization, intellectual dismissal, and yes, persecution that many Christians around the globe experience. We feel pity over brothers and sisters in Christ who were not fortunate (we always use the word “blessed’) enough to be born here, where we have freedom of religion and Christians are the home team.
Don’t look now, but suspicion, marginalization, intellectual dismissal and yes, persecution are coming to Christians in USAmerica. This is what we must understand: persecution, not undisturbed practice of faith, is the norm for us.
Listen to Jesus:
“If the world hates you, know that it has ated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. (John 15:18-21)
He urges our response to hatred and persecution. It does not include
griping, whining, complaining, lobbying or lawsuits. It’s much simpler and more radical:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:11-16)
The salt is you, church. So live the gospel of Jesus, with all its flavorful
distinctiveness, bringing out tastes of life for some to savor and death for
others to spit.
The light is you, church. So live the gospel of Jesus, with all its exposing strength that reveals truth, lies and a narrow path to life for every soul to see.
The city on a hill is you, church. So live the gospel of Jesus with stubborn, persevering, sacrificial, joyful faithfulness — wherever you are, no matter the cost, no matter the insult or pain — and you will not be hidden.
Even more, the glory and beauty of your Father will be made even more evident for all to see. And that, after all, is the point.
This is our future until Jesus returns. And that future is now.