Monday, April 20, 2009

Christian America at a Crossroads

Newsweek tried to imitate Time and its 1966 blockbuster cover “Is God Dead?”

Newsweek is a pale reflection of that historic Time piece in the issue shown above from last week. Perhaps Journalism is in decline in America with a dozen other things including religion – I don’t know. I just know that we are in that long tunnel underground and traveling under water from one shore to another in terms of a cultural upheaval or is it merely our finally looking at reality – looking honestly at America as part of and not master of a Global World.

I do not like the term “post Christian America”. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Perhaps forty years of reaction to the Time question “Is God Dead?” and the last seismic shocks of Vatican II have finally petered out.

I read the Newsweek article below. Read it if you want to. It is not a masterpiece. It is statistics and observations whether true or not about faith in secular America and at a crossroads.

The End of Christian America

The only quote I will mention from the Newsweek article, page 4, comes from a former pope and an archbishop of Canterbury.
As always with the Bible, however, there are passages that complicate the picture. The author of Hebrews says believers are "strangers and exiles on the earth" and that "For here we have no lasting city, but seek the city which is to come." In Romans the apostle Paul advises: "Do not be conformed to this world." The Second Vatican Council cited these words of Pius XII: the Catholic Church's "divine Founder, Jesus Christ, has not given it any mandate or fixed any end of the cultural order. The goal which Christ assigns to it is strictly religious … The Church can never lose sight of the strictly religious, supernatural goal."

As an archbishop of Canterbury once said, though, it is a mistake to think that God is chiefly or even largely concerned with religion. "I hate the sound of your solemn assemblies," the Lord says in Amos. Religion is not only about worshipping your God but about doing godly things, and a central message of the Gospels is the duty of the Christian to transform, as best one can, reality through works of love. "Being in the world and not of it remains our charge," says Mohler. "The church is an eternal presence in a fallen, temporal world—but we are to have influence. The Sermon on the Mount is about what we are to do—but it does not come with a political handbook."

Here are a few lines from someone’s reaction to the recent Newsweek article about the so-called “Decline and Fall of Christian America” by Jim Wallis.

Rectifying a historic Christian mistake
The Religious Right was a Christian mistake. It was a movement that sought to implement a “Christian agenda” by tying the faithful to one political option -- the right wing of the Republican Party. The politicizing of faith in such a partisan way is always a theological mistake. But the rapid decline of the Religious Right now offers us a new opportunity to re-think the role of faith in American public life.

Personally, I am not offended or alarmed by the notion of a post-Christian America. Christianity was originally and in my view, always meant to be, a minority faith with a counter-cultural stance, as opposed to being the dominant cultural and political force. Notions of a 'Christian America' quite frankly have not turned out very well.

But that does not mean a lack of religious influence — on the contrary. Committed minorities have had a tremendous influence on cultures and even on politics. Just look at all the faith-inspired social-reform movements animated by people of faith. But Martin Luther King Jr. did not get the Civil Rights Act passed because he had the most Bible verses on his side but because he entered into the public square with compelling arguments, vision and policies that ultimately won the day. Those faith-inspired movements are disciplined by democracy, meaning they do not expect to win just because they are “Christian.” They have to win the debates about what is best for the common good by convincing their fellow citizens.

And that is best done by shaping the values narrative, as opposed to converting everyone to their particular brand of religion. Rather, they are always looking for allies around their moral causes, including people of other faiths or of no religion. The story of Christianity in America during the coming decades will be defined by a multicultural shift as well as by a generational one. 'New' evangelicals and Catholics, along with black, Hispanic, and Asian churches will now shape the agenda. But also included are the millions of Americans who say they are “spiritual but not religious,” and who find homes in non-traditional churches, mega-churches which teach that true religion is found in care for “the least of these.” Making a real impact on the values and directions that a democracy will choose is perhaps a more exciting kind of influence than relying on the illusory and often disappointing hopes of cultural and political dominance.
Food for thought.

1 comment:

Dave said...

The Gospel of Inclusion is coming! The Second Reformation is not that far away. Great piece by Jim Wallis and our new President is setting the tone for new initiatives around the world. Eight years of darkness and now we move ever so cautiously toward the LIGHT of day. Let love rule!