Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Angst Against Us Christians

It seems nobody's content with America these days.

Especially when it comes to politics.  Conservatives can't seem to find anybody conservative enough, and liberals can't seem to find anybody liberal enough.

And no matter their political persuasion, it seems everybody has a theory for how America has reached this predicament.

There are the political theories, which range from basic us-versus-them paradigms to sophisticated historical matrices of power, idealism, and morality.

Then there are the economic theories, which parallel the political theories.  And the religious theories, which skew heavily towards a Judeo-Christian interpretation of world history and America's role in it.

And, increasingly, there are the individualists who don't care anything about what it all means, or how we got to this point in history; they just want what they want and they don't see why they shouldn't have it.  Now.

Sexuality seems to have been the tipping point in all this, with homosexuality playing a starring role in the liberal push for gender neutrality, and the conservative scramble to salvage a traditional view of marriage - and even toilet facilities.  Yes, ISIS has a lot of Americans worried about terrorism, and economic disparity is as pronounced these days as it ever was, but the stories capturing the most headlines and most deeply captivating the angst of the country are sexual in nature.

And, ironically, they're about initiatives designed to protect a mere sliver of our population.  It is estimated that only three percent of Americans are gay.  This means something bigger is at stake:  What will be America's prevailing ideology regarding rights?

There are cake-bakers, photographers, calligraphers, wedding chapel owners, and county records clerks who don't believe they should support gay marriage by being forced to apply the tools of their trade to the cause of a ceremony they believe offends their Deity.  There are gay people in love offended by the stance being taken by these cake-bakers and county records clerks, because nobody usually likes being told that something they deeply want to do is immoral and contrary to God's design for the human family.

And there are a lot of people who are simply fed up with religion in general, and Christianity in particular, and all of the piety, rules, pomposity, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy that seem to govern the Christian ethic.

And of all the ways in which our society is being defined, differentiated, and segregated, it's a person's adherence to conventional Biblical values that seems to be cutting the deepest in these public dialogs over who is entitled to marriage or using the women's rest room.

Over the generations, most evangelical Americans have been lulled into a false sense of religious security regarding Christianity's place and purpose in American civic life.  The realization that years of our own sloppy discipleship and our society's liberalized standards - from public schools to business ethics to Sunday morning worship services - have finally caught up with our ambivalence to what our testimony looks like to everyday Americans is sobering, and distressing.

If you think about it, if the evangelical church simply went away, a lot of the dissension ravaging America today would disappear.  Even hedonistic, carnal conservatives don't have much going for their arguments without the venerable dictates of a Judeo-Christian value system, even if we modern Christians aren't very good at modeling that value system in our own lives.  This likely is the reason why it seems as though society at large is turning against people of faith.  Right?

Yet, honestly, this is not a recent development.  Christ told His followers that throughout time and place, we should expect to be opposed.  The Gospel of Christ is not about sexual freedom, just as it's not about military might, or democracy, or earning a nice income, or schooling, or breeding, or anything other than honoring God with whatever He's given us.

And "freedom"?  Freedom in Christ is not political, or sexual, or economic.  Christ's freedom is emancipation from the bondage of sin, yet so many of us seem far more comfortable applying patriotic imagery to Christian freedom than Biblical theology.  And it's messed us up.

Sure, our United States Constitution gives us freedom of religion, but as we can see, democracy has its limits when it comes to guaranteeing political freedoms.  Are gay people free to marry each other, or are people of faith free to decline to participate in such weddings?  One person's freedom often comes at the expense of somebody else's, or something else.  And if popular sentiment shifts, how strong a protection can religious people expect the Constitution to provide?

There are some Americans who say that all of this talk of impending religious oppression is balderdash.  Somewhere, somehow, there must be ways of mutual reciprocity and harmony, they say.  Even I myself usually take a politically moderate stance, advocating for compromise when it's appropriate.  And in many cases, political compromise is appropriate.

But when it comes to religious beliefs, the traditional view has been that the sacred is sacrosanct.  However, now that more and more people view religion as expendable, the sacred is now relative.

Otherwise, explain how American society is not coming down to this final distinctive.  Individuality is becoming king, supplanting Biblical orthodoxy in an epic groundswell of disdain for Judeo-Christian virtues.  Personally, I've seen this coming, and have blogged about it for several years.  But I don't enjoy being correct in this.  And it's not like I'm the only person who's seen it coming.  After all, again, Christ told us that this would happen.  And He warned His followers to model His precepts well, so that the peoples among whom we live would think well of us.

Well, our fellow Americans no longer think well of us. 

Is it too late for Christ to fix that?  Maybe not.  But the way Christ can fix that is likely the same way He told us to live in the first place:

  So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.  Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good...

  ...You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 

  Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.  Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

  Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by Him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.  For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.   

  Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.  Honor everyone.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the emperor.  - 1 Peter 2: 1-3, 9-17

Of course, more accurately living out the Gospel is no guarantee of bliss with people who don't share our creed.  The Bible warns of persecution for people who profess the Gospel of Christ.

Nevertheless, if we're to suffer, how about we Christ-followers suffer for His sake, and His alone, rather than our own myopic version of it that we've tended to offer our world.

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