I was at an ecumenical LGBT meeting several years back. What we were talking about, I can’t remember, but I remember saying something about the Great Commission found in Matthew 28. Accross the room from me was a middle aged man from Canada. I could see him mouth the words “Great Commission” and he had this quizical look. It was easy to realize that he had no idea what was the Great Commission.
Maybe they do things differently in the Great White North, but I was surprised this man didn’t know something that I considered basic knowledge.
When we think about the culture wars, we don’t really think about what happens when we place something other than Christ at the center. Warriors are interested in winning the next battle.
The decades long fight over issues like abortion, homosexuality and the role of women have taken their toll on we Christians. We get so focused on the disagreements, we start to forget why we gather. We forget that this faith we say we are defending is important. It matters. It should be making a difference in the lives of the faithful.
I think most of American Christianity has been affected by the culture wars and has left us all the poorer. A professor at a Catholic university shares her experience:
About five years ago, I taught a course called Christian Beliefs at a Catholic university. During each class period, we would discuss a different topic that connected in some way to the ideas presented in the Nicene Creed. On the first day of class that semester, I gave the students index cards and asked that each fill his/her entire card, front and back, with as many responses to the following question as possible: “What do Christians believe?” I taught that course twice and have not since been assigned to teach another like it, but being the pack rat that I am, I kept those cards and flipped through them last week while planning an activity for my current freshmen. I had almost forgotten just how troubling the responses where…
As I perused these index cards last week, I was taken back to the shock I experienced as a second-year teacher reading the responses my class had provided. A few were easily predictable:
- “Christians believe in Jesus.”
- “Christians believe in Jesus as the savior.”
- “Christians believe that Jesus died for our sins.”
- “Christians believe that baptism washes away sins.”
- “Christians believe you need to ask Jesus into your heart to go to heaven.”
But those accounted for such a small percentage of student responses. When asked “What do Christians believe?” almost every student in the class included at least two of the following on his/her list:
“Christians believe gay people are going to hell.”
“Christians believe gay people are sinners.”
“Christians believe gay people are pedophiles and shouldn’t be priests.”
“Christians believe that if you’re gay, you can’t have sex.”
“Christians believe that you have to choose to be straight if you love God.”
“Christians believe abortion is a sin.”
“Christians believe abortion is murder.”
“Christians believe in protecting unborn babies.”
“Christians believe you have to be pro-life.”
“Christians believe you have to vote pro-life.”
What saddens me is the reality that a group of young Christians in their late teens and early twenties—most of whom had been Christians their entire lives—were in need of such a basic introduction to their own religion. I see this need emerging again and again in my theology courses, but I’m less surprised by it now after having gained a few years of teaching experience.
Lest you think this is only affecting conservative Christians, “Sara” shares that liberal Christians have the same problem:
With some regularity, I encounter students who identify as liberal Christians but know only about Christian principles of social justice and little to nothing about the theology that undergirds those principles.
The sad truth that I have learned over the years, is that churches are more and more resembling our political zeitgeist instead of trying to be followers of Jesus. We place emphasis on who can or can’t get ordained, who can or can’t get married and so forth than we do on learning about the Trinity. We have fights about the minimum wage, but don’t talk about baptism or evangelism. To echo a recent column by David Brooks, most churches in the US are “streamlined,” a place that places more emphasis on utilitarian things over spiritual ones:
Human nature hasn’t changed much. The surveys still reveal generations driven by curiosity, a desire to have a good family, a good community and good values. But people clearly feel besieged. There is the perception that life is harder. Certainly their parents think it is harder. The result is that you get a group hardened for battle, more focused on the hard utilitarian things and less focused on spiritual or philosophic things; feeling emotionally vulnerable, but also filled with résumé assertiveness. The inner world wanes; professional intensity waxes.
The life of the church, the questions we have about God, each other and ourselves are pushed aside for the latest news or controversy. Being that I’ve been around the mainline/progressive church, I have seen churches where political issues get upfront and spiritual questions are pushed aside.
I’m not saying that we should not talk about social issues; but we need to be careful that we don’t sacrifice our interior life in the process.