Widespread, public misrepresentation of the Good News is the strategic work of American religious/political fundamentalists now deemed — whether we like it or not — “evangelicals” in virtually every media report.
To say one is “Christian” in America today requires significant qualifiers — if granted enough time to offer an explanation. In widening circles, Christianity implies commitment to an agenda of self-interest, fear, and suspicion of those who are different, if not overt racism and homophobia.
It is deeply concerning when a reversal occurs — and the Christian message gets converted into mere political philosophy.
Telling someone about Jesus often requires major demythologizing of the prevalent Americanized version of Christianity that resembles first-century Pharisees far more than the Christ so troubled by these self-righteous religious elitists.
The focus of this perverted gospel has shifted from “the least of these” to how to remain religiously pure when surrounded by such great “sin” — meaning anything with which one has disagreement and can possibly conjure up a Bible verse or two for support.
Honest morality is not the chief concern of this movement, however. Rather the focus is on gaining or retaining enough political clout to enforce a narrow and destructive view of religious “rightness” on all others.
This politicized religious fundamentalism that is causing great harm to the perception and practice of American Christianity has produced a bad equation.
Evangelicalism — and therefore the Christian faith in the minds of many — is now publicly defined as being inconsistent with and in conflict with basic concerns of human equality and commonsense understandings of freedom and justice.
The fruits of this spirit are: fear, arrogance, condemnation, retribution and self-preservation.
The prevailing question for many American Christians today is not how to minister in a changing culture but how to defend oneself from that which seems so threatening. This positioning — holing up in cultural and religious bunkers — is vastly different from the call of Jesus to make disciples and serve those in greatest need.
This mindset can be seen in the highly defensive rather than ministry-focused response to the Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples could be legally married in the U.S.
For example, Southern Baptist entities have poured significant energies and mission dollars into efforts to help churches with restrictive bylaws revisions, to lobby for discriminatory legislation, and to discourage laypersons from attending family weddings that might taint them with such “sin.” Their inward focus is astonishing.
“It’s not enough to decide not to allow same-sex weddings in church facilities or [not to] endorse same-sex marriages among members,” Jeff Iorg, a Southern Baptist seminary president who wrote a book on the subject, told Baptist Press at the one-year mark of the court decision. “These are important decisions, but they don’t make the problem go away.”
Wow. Prevailing “Christian” responses to such cultural shifts are merely defensive efforts to ensure these changes do not negatively impact institutional church life — while admitting that “the problem” (for them) remains. What attractive Good News!
A common refrain in the church of my youth was that we are all witnesses; it just depends on what kind of witnesses we choose to be.
That is timeless truth. Those who choose the name of Christ either reflect the nature of Christ, though imperfectly, or contradict it.
There is a major challenge today that requires more than lamenting the ways politicians and media lump all “Christians” together. That does nothing to lessen the reality of the situation at hand: that is, the perception of the gospel is built on those clamoring the most to use it for their personal advantage.
Think of the worst possible approaches to evangelism — from Chick tracts to emotional manipulation of the gullible — and the ongoing acquiescence of the church’s mission to such political machinery is worse.
It creates both a burden and an opportunity for those who see this abuse for what it has become. Somehow we must get Jesus back into the public understanding of Christianity.
His words. His deeds. His love. His mercy. His grace. His embrace. His calling.
His life, death and resurrection.