28 September 2023

Hostility "to the Christian faith"

American and Christian flags; source. (c) Kaihsu Tai.

Rondall Reynoso recently polled readers of his site Faith on View over the question, "Is America Hostile to the Christian Faith?"

As you can read in his poll's introduction, "The idea that America is increasingly hostile to the Christian faith is a common one in evangelical circles." 

It's not hard to find corroboration on the Internet. The Texas Scorecard, for example, informs its readers, "Christians’ ability to speak and live out the Word of God is under assault from the secular left. They seek to remove any trace of God or His people from the culture." You can instantly find many other examples—although you can also find pushback from Christians who disagree.

It's hard to know how representative Rondall Reynoso's audience is, or how many responded to the poll (posted July 5) but I was intrigued by the nuances revealed in his results:

NOTE: Avert your eyes if you'd like to vote without being influenced by the following numbers! (As of today, the poll is still live.)

No. America is not hostile to the Christian faith. 27.93%

Sort of. There is hostility but it is because Christians often behave poorly. 26.29%

No. We just no longer have a culture that is "Christian" by default. 22.07%

Yes. It is clearly more hostile. 16.20%

Yes. It does seem a bit more hostile. 5.63%

I'm really not sure. 1.88%

If we combine the second and third options (in order of popularity), it seems that almost half of the respondents understand that the category of people labeled "Christian" is no longer in a privileged position. If we extend the interpretation a bit beyond the numbers (admittedly risky), it's that loss of position and privilege, and resistance to some Christians' attempts to reassert them, that might be wrongly interpreted as persecution. That wrong interpretation could be from genuine distress or from a manipulative political agenda.

Or to put it another way...

Is it just possible that Christians are hostile to the Christian faith?

Consider this case study from seventeen years ago:

According to a current e-mail campaign, Northwest Yearly Meeting Friends (and many other evangelicals) are being urged by the American Family Association to protest NBC's presentation of a program in November by the pop star Madonna. As the AFA's Action Alert says, "NBC, Madonna Set to Mock the Crucifixion of Christ." This headline is followed by what sounds like a reasonable, even plaintive, request: "Help send one million emails asking NBC to show Christians the same respect they show other religions."

My reactions to this request are complicated. Might it be true that Christians don't get the same respect as other religions? If so, what might be the reason? I wonder if there's an intuitive calculation going on in much of society: maybe we perceive religions as having both a Godward face (which we become aware of through glimpses of their devotional practices, personal disciplines, scriptures, and to some extent, their missions, charities, and so on) and a social/political face oriented toward their neighbors and the larger society. Briefly put, perhaps Christians have low credibility because the general public sees so much more effort put into our social/political face—our demands to be respected, to be influential—than into our Godward face.

Os Guinness made a related point in this 1998 interview.

I remember when I was in Australia, speaking on modernity, a visiting Japanese CEO came up to me and said, "When I meet a Buddhist monk, I meet a holy man in touch with another world. When I meet a Western missionary, I meet a manager who is only in touch with the world I know." You could say today that many, many Christians are atheists unawares; they are implicit, practicing atheists because they are so secular in their consciousness. So we have words like prayer, supernatural, revival, but we don't actually operate in the world named by those words. To live with the spiritual disciplines opening us up to another reality, to other powers and other dimensions, cracks secularization very powerfully.

To make an unauthorized connection between my observation and Guinness's, the secular world has figured out that we Christians are actually operating in their [secular] world, all pious pretenses aside, and therefore does not give us the respect or deference we might think we and our symbols are due.

Are they right? Let's think: Wildmon is asking us to protest one program on a television network that is part of an industry delivering a profitable mix of information (a bit), drama (a bit), crass bathroom-level gratification (a lot), violence (a lot), and the culture of affluence (nearly all the time), to the very audiences who are now supposed to protest against one specific excess. Maybe the secular observer of all this is wondering, why are Christians watching any of this? Why do Christians even care about what NBC broadcasts?

Let's go one step further. As one Northwest Yearly Meeting pastor, Stan Thornburg, said in response to the AFA e-mail campaign,

I'm appalled beyond belief that this is what is garnering the alarm of American Christians.

With tens of thousands of innocent (let me emphasize innocent) civilians being slaughtered in Iraq, tens of thousands of innocent people being raped, displaced, murdered in Darfur, unimaginable suffering in the Middle East, TV Evangelists ripping millions out of the hands of seniors citizens, all kinds of suffering supposedly in the name of Christ and what do I get all upset about...MADONNA?! A pagan who mocks Christ for a living? What else would we expect from her? Where is the outrage because CHRISTIANS ARE MOCKING CHRIST? Where are the emails pleading with our "Christian government" to stop arms shipments to Israel, to cease and desist from their 'terrorist' practices in the world. My goodness, friends, what have we become?

By all means, let's turn our TV off, let's register our complaints against NBC, let's not neglect to be good and responsible citizens. We can do that in five minutes and get on with life as usual.

But if we are willing to spend five minutes on that, how about focusing our outrage on what is really breaking God's heart. "You Shall Not Misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name."?

Don, this is not an attack on you personally, it is just a cry of dispair over the relative silence of so many Evangelicals over the unbelievable atrocities that are committed in the name of Christianity in comparison to their reaction to the antics of some hollywood entertainer.

Maybe it is just a pious fantasy, but if we Christians were as passionate about the mistreatment of actual human beings, including those outside the church, as we are about our symbols and the loss of our privileged place in Western society, maybe our Godward face would have more credibility in this world.

For a future post: Why Christian self-flagellation isn't an adequate response to "Christians behaving poorly." In the meantime, here is a follow-up: Hostility, part two.

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