Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Christianity as Acceptable Religion?
Are the days of "acceptable Christianity" over in the United States?
At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast yesterday in our nation's capital, a prominent conservative leader said that they are. Robert P. George is a professor at Princeton University and also chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. George laments our society's growing intolerance with traditional morality, and claimed that increasingly, Christians are despised "if we refuse to call good evil and evil good."
But is George correct in his assessment that "the days of acceptable Christianity are over"? After all, if using moral friction is his main proof for such a statement, what about Islam? And Judaism? Both of these other world religions can also be quite traditionally moralistic, and in their strictest interpretations, flatly heterosexual when it comes to same-gender sex. Islam also forbids the consumption of alcohol, a concept that fun-seeking evangelical Christians increasingly consider an absurd notion. You want morality, and calling "good evil and evil good"? Just read some Sharia laws.
Okay; so George is referencing conventional Judeo-Christian morality. So, what about abortion? Studies show 37% of women who have them identify as Protestant Christians, and another 28% claim to be Roman Catholics. Divorce? People who identify themselves as Christians divorce at almost the same rates as non-Christians. If the days of acceptable Christianity are over, maybe it's because we haven't been practicing what we've been preaching.
Then again, was Christianity ever supposed to be socially "acceptable"? In Matthew 10:22, as well as in Mark and Luke, Christ warns that we will be hated by the world. Proverbs 29:27 says "the wicked detest the upright". Could it be said that if our Christianity has been "acceptable," it hasn't been the right kind of religion?
Perhaps we've lulled ourselves into a false sense of security over the generations when lukewarm religiosity and populist moralisms passed for Biblical "Christianity". After all, what is Christ's definition of "acceptable" Christianity? His brother, James, writes that "religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world". Hmm. Do we do that? Or do we bicker about entitlement programs such as Social Security - what some evangelicals spitefully dismiss as a "Ponzi scheme" - and child welfare programs such as school lunches?
Isn't it odd that, according to the Bible, "acceptable" religion either defends the helpless, or it protects the self from evil? It doesn't vilify sinners, which is what a lot of religious people do to those folks whose sins we've deemed particularly heinous, such as homosexuality.
And what is this religion, anyway? Christianity has at least two branches: Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. And both Catholics and Protestants can be more cultural in their faith than personally devoted to it. When we talk about Jews, we usually differentiate between religious Jews, nationalistic Jews in Israel, and cultural Jews. But in Christianity, we have cultural Christians, and believers in Christ who've made Him Lord of their life. And there's a big difference between the two.
Cultural Christianity is perpetrated by people who may attend church every Sunday, teach Sunday School classes, and go on short term missions trips, but are not saved. Cultural Christianity includes deists, who admit logic makes a sound case for the existence of a Supreme Being, but do not believe they need to personally make Christ the Lord of their life. Many of America's Founding Fathers were deists. Cultural Christianity also includes Mormons, who like to call themselves Christians, and are extremely moralistic, but do not believe in the holy Gospel as revealed in God's Word.
Meanwhile, even the most sincere moralism is not salvific faith in Christ. Interpretations of morality can change, as we're witnessing right now. Besides, good deeds - however you define them - don't get anybody into Heaven; only God's grace does. This means, then, that when people like George fear Christianity is no longer "acceptable" in the United States, to be more accurate, they need to rely on faith, not religion. Why? Because the moral code that has traditionally ordered respectable society in our country, and has sufficed as a form of faith for many people, is now being found inadequate to address the new ways many people say they want to express themselves, their sexuality, their desires, and their worldviews.
Yet faith in Christ has not been negated or imperiled by this shift.
Sure, conventional moralists in the United States are coming under fire for holding on to longstanding values that have been couched in Biblical doctrine. Even social liberals would acknowledge that. But let's be real here: when has authentic, death-to-self, Christ-honoring, orthodox Biblical faith ever been socially acceptable? Cultural religiosity that passed for what we wanted to call "Christianity" has indeed been acceptable in the United States since at least the moment Pilgrims landed in what is now post-Christian New England. Well, at least the the white people coming from Europe accepted it. But has Christ Himself been accepted?
Christ was scorned His entire time on Earth, and people have scorned His most ardent followers ever since. They scorned Noah, the prophets, and Presbyterians in 1600's England, Scotland, and Ireland. Genuine, humble, Bible-centric Christ-worship has never been embraced by any society, at least for very long. To assume otherwise is to have lulled ourselves into that false sense of security that is provoking inaccurate lamentations like George's over our current and future state.
Not that true believers in Christ don't have the obligation to stand up for what we believe, and Who we believe in. Protesting the wholesale annulment of the marriage covenant and rechristening such relationships as non-gender-specific represents a valid and God-honoring activity for all Christ-followers. Decrying the destruction of human life in the womb celebrates our Creator, whether people want to believe God has designed them or not. Biblical morality is not the problem, even if we've relied more on its mechanics than its holy, eternal Sovereign.
So let's get our definitions right, our perspective focused, and our objectives clear. According to Romans 12:18 and Hebrews 12:14, we're to try and live peaceably with as many people as we can, but we're not to compromise God's instructions in the process. And do you know what that looks like? It looks like followers of Christ letting the Fruit of the Spirit guide us as we worship, disciple, pray, advocate, encourage, exhort, advise, and vote. With love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
For God's glory, not our moral traditions.