It happens more and more these days. I’m embarrassed by much of American Christianity.
I’ve spent a lifetime bring proud of the word, “Christian.” As a child, when other young boys were planning to grow up to be firemen, “army men” or professional football players, I was going to be a preacher “like my daddy.” But, too often these days, preachers make me cringe.
“Too often these days, preachers make me cringe.”
I hear anti-education views that are dishearteningly narrow. I hear views about women that are shockingly antiquated and reflect distorted interpretations of Scripture. I hear opinions about “homosexuals” that sound as if we’re still living in an Old Testament world (or that we ought to be). I hear evangelistic proclamations that exclude and divide, tone deaf exclusivism in a pluralistic world. I hear support for torture and detention and deportation and preemptive war, and I wonder where the heart of Jesus is in all of that aggression. I hear celebration for The Wall without the slightest irony that the whole movement of God is to unite us, that Jesus showed us that Way “by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated us” (Ephesians 2.14).
I was raised by Southern Baptists, proud to be a Southern Baptist and planned a career of service among Southern Baptists. I was educated in church-sponsored institutions (Furman University, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Beeson Divinity School). I was proud of their histories and their commitments to provide a “Christian education”; and I was excited to share those legacies.
But, as a Baptist educated by Baptists, I hear anger toward immigrants (as if the land under our feet could actually be called “our land”), and my heart aches for the lack of compassion and sympathy. I hear angry religiosity that is difficult to separate from self-righteousness. I hear “convictions of faith” that are deeply mired in blind and bitter partisanship – with no awareness of the dangers (if not the embarrassment) of needing the State to do the bidding of the Church. I hear hatred of difference, not hope in diversity. I hear fear of change rather than faith in the future.
I stand in the pulpit of a Baptist church every Sunday. I cannot imagine a better vocation, a more fulfilling calling. I get to bring the Gospel to bear on the important issues of the day, engage with people in life’s most joyous and sorrowful moments, welcome newborns, bury the dead. I am that preacher I longed to be, like my daddy.
“I just think the word from the Church should always sound different than the word from any White House.”
But I hear Christian people celebrating “a roaring economy” with no apparent awareness or concern for the larger, more important issue – that despite any economic success our civility is crumbling. Where is our shared sense of decency, our morality? The nation may be enjoying a moment of financial prosperity, but at what cost? Truth and integrity, and maybe democracy itself, are at stake. And yet some Christians want to cheer that their portfolio has grown a little?
I hear affirmations of our military strength, with no concern for Jesus’ warning that “the first will be last, the greatest will be the least.” I hear the arrogance of American “exceptionalism” instead of the biblical affirmation that all people are created in the image of God. I hear the praise of “God bless America” with no recognition that God blesses all, and that “pride goeth before the fall.”
I believe in the power of the Gospel. I believe Jesus changes hearts, and that his calling is a daring summons to a truly social justice – to a salvation that changes our minds as well as our souls, that dares us to put the good of all before the success of any individual. (How could any of us actually be “whole” otherwise?) I believe one sermon can change your life (because one sermon changed mine!). I believe the world still needs the Church. I just think the word from the Church should always sound different than the word from any White House.
But I hear preachers gloating over the meanness (they call it “toughness”) the current administration boasts, with no acknowledgement that Jesus’ calls to self-abasement and self-sacrifice invite us to a completely different approach to human relations – a “more excellent way.” I hear exhortations to domination and submission (in marriage and in foreign diplomacy), power and a “theology of victory,” with no evidence of humility or kindness.
I hear 30 years of preaching about the utter and complete abandonment of personal morality, while the same preachers bemoan that American culture is going to hell in a handbasket, turning its back on the Church and forsaking God for, you know, Sunday baseball, kids soccer matches and the like. (But shouldn’t even Sunday baseball be preferable to hypocrisy?)
More and more these days, I’m embarrassed by Christianity.
I’m just not ready to give up on Jesus.