Watching the debate and protests of the last two weeks, the last two years, the last 20 years, I am starting to see some common themes:
1) Humans are naturally self-righteous people.
2) We all think we are on the “right side of history.”
3) Turns out we are actually just tribal and only defend our side, our view with total blinders to our side’s shortcomings.
4) Because most of us live fully into these first three statements, we are totally blind to our own hypocrisy and naturally spin out when others don’t take our view seriously.
The church has, in the past fully lived into this reality, most notably in the religious right’s power play in the culture war of the late 20th century. In our effort to defend traditional marriage, slow down and stop the coarsening of our culture, pushing back on the rampant promiscuity and drug use, we joined together used our voices, our votes, and our money to fight the culture war. AND WE LOST HORRIBLY!
I think we lost, not because we were wrong, but because we didn’t have the character to back up our position. While we had a strong intellectual argument, everyone knew, except for the church, that we were totally hypocritical in our moral preening. We tolerated racism and sexism, we didn’t abide by our own standards of sexuality, marriage, and divorce, and unreflectively we jumped headlong into the culture war only to be shamed into obscurity because of our lack of character and hypocrisy.
Juxtapose that to the civil rights movement in the 60’s. That was a slow-moving train lead by the black church and added to many mainline, Protestant churches. The civil disobedience and lack of violence put the issue of the brutality of racism on the front page and in every home on the nightly news. And the character of the those leading the movement gave little cover for those on the other side. And within five years we went from the hight of Jim Crow laws to the Walgreens sit-ins, Rosa Parks, the rise of Martin Luther King and the I Have a Dream speech, to the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights act in 1964 and 1965. That is incredible!!
Which leads me back to this current moment. I am heartbroken over what I have witnessed and what these last two weeks have stirred up in so many of my friends, especially my women friends. Every single one of them has experienced unwanted sexual touch, and have experienced sexual assault in some form or another. Every single one! That is crazy. So the question is why do half, if not more than half the country seems to stand against women and their stories. As I have reflected on this question, I am struck with what the religious right experienced a couple of decades ago.
The argument seems self-evident in favor of these women. But somewhere along the way, the strongest advocates for the women’s movement gave up their moral authority by going all in for politicians who would help them at the moment but cut the legs out from under them down the road. Starting with feminists support of Bill Clinton, to having a puritan view of abortion on demand, to destroying the sexual norms that have ruled the majority of society forever. And now, these women who are victims and have been victims of sexual assault are being used as pawns in a political battle that is nothing short of bloodsport.
So the question is, “What is our prophetic voice when we don’t have the character to back it up?”
This has been the question I have wrestled with as I have grown in my church leadership at the same time the church has lost all of its credibility on just about every issue. Politically this is a lose, lose. I don’t see any way forward for either political party. We have descended into tribalism with no objectivity, not character, nobody standing up for what is right, especially when it makes their tribe look bad.
But for the church, for God’s people, people called to be virtuous people, who are called to leverage our power, our influence, our voice for the marginalized and victimized, we must put our house in order. We must deepen our character and not only voice our opinions, but live it out, be above reproach, own our own garbage, and defend the defenseless, not our institutions.
Nobody is doing this, nobody is willing to leverage their own political capital. In red states pushing back on the Republican party, in blue states, pushing back on the democratic party, in every state, push back on our obsession with violence, sex, materialism, and power. I confess, I am not willing, but compelled to get there. For the sake of the powerless and voiceless, and for the sake of the church’s reputation, and for the reputation of the one we claim to love and serve, Jesus Christ.
May God have mercy!