Turns out kicking the legs out from under the church is not making our culture more tolerant and kind.
For my entire adult life, I have heard nothing but how awful the church is. We are judgemental, self-righteous, hypocritical, close-minded, a$$holes! We are racist, bigot, homophobes, and we must be put in our place. And, in fact, the larger culture has done such a good job at this, that even fellow Christians love to get in on it as well, calling out the small slights they see in Christian tribes that are different from their own, hoping to get some cultural street cred in the process. And the result?
The Church has been diminished, mission accomplished. But at what cost?
This last week there was an incredible article in The Atlantic called, "Breaking Faith." The tagline says, "The culture war over religious morality has faded; in its place is something much worse." It is a great article and I highly recommend it. The basic premise is that as church attendance has gone down what has taken its place in our culture is a more toxic tribalism that has almost no common values or aspirations.
This has been clear as day for some time now. Remember the Charlottesville riot with the marching of those white supremacists? People keep trying to tie them into the church or as the worst form of evangelicalism. But anyone who has spent time around an evangelical church knows that could not be further from the truth. "Evangelicalism" has become a cultural indicator for pollsters, not church attending, born again, spirit filled, Christians.
When the church loses influence what do you think will take its place. Yes, there are less than stellar church people, but Christians who gather every week, who love Jesus and who love scripture have a language and value system that allows for conversation and makes space for discussions about love, mercy, and justice.
A friend of mine, who has been firmly in the camp trying to diminish the influence of the Church, specifically evangelicals, and then at the same time is trying to get Christians to help end mass incarceration and the separation of families at the border. But this fool's errand is actually doing double damage.
For, without the Church, our culture is in big trouble. It is the Church, the Judeo-Christian culture and worldview that places a high view of humans, that longs for justice, and believes in mercy and grace. It is by compelling our sisters and brothers in Christ to be fully Christian that we will gain political capital to compel prison reform and immigration reform.
Without the Church, what do you have? What is the larger, unifying belief or values that will push people out of their tribalism? We will revert back to our base instincts and the results will not be pretty. Like "The Atlantic" article suggests, we are witnessing a culture that has lost its cultural and spiritual roots.
So where do we go from here?
It is actually time for Christians to recognize we have more in common than we have difference. We cannot be cutting down parts of the body of Christ that see the world a little differently than we do. We need each other and we need to be building up the body of Christ, not tearing it down. We can engage with, and we can disagree, but we need to do without that awful, self-righteous, condescending snark that has colored our conversations.
Rather, we need to:
1) Appeal to the highest version of our faith and values.
2) Recognize that people of good faith have different opinions on social and political issues.
3) Find common ground first. Consider scripture, the gospel, the Kingdom of God, the beatitudes.
4) Ask questions
5) See each other as actual sisters and brothers in the body of Christ, not as crazy second cousins that we have to tolerate.
6) If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18