18 April 2024

Hostility, part two

Part one: Hostility "to the Christian faith" (September 2023)

"When I hear the word 'Christian,' I can't help remembering Donald Trump holding up a Bible."

Charlie Kirk: "I do not think you could be a
Christian and vote Democrat." Source.
Do you sometimes hear comments along these lines? This is a sample from a conversation I have had in the last couple of days, but I frequently hear variations on this theme—with or without specific bad actors.

Quakers have often welcomed people into our communities who have become disillusioned with more conventional forms of Christianity, and those disillusioned people make similar observations about the word "Christian." My responses are complicated, since I totally believe that their observations are well-founded, and at the same time, Christian faith is what I've built my life around. It reminds me of a dream John Woolman had in a time of illness, as he related in his Journal:

I was then carried in spirit to the mines where poor oppressed people were digging rich treasures for those called Christians, and heard them blaspheme the name of Christ, at which I was grieved, for his name to me was precious. I was then informed that these heathens were told that those who oppressed them were the followers of Christ, and they said among themselves, "If Christ directed them to use us in this sort, then Christ is a cruel tyrant."

A contemporary variation on Woolman's "cruel tyrant" comes up in this thoughtful analysis by Brandon Flanery, "I asked people why they're leaving Christianity, and here's what I heard."

When it comes to the moment people first began doubting their faith, LGBTQ acceptance is the most common reason [21.71%], followed by the behavior of Christians [16.10%], and then things not making sense on an intellectual level [12.10%] (an example of this would be: I couldn’t reconcile how there can be an all-powerful God and evil).

Yes, a good number of my respondents were queer, and not being accepted by their congregations was a critical motive for leaving. However, the majority of respondents were straight and cisgender, and they ultimately started doubting Christianity when they were told they couldn’t support their queer friends and family. Unable to rectify their love of LGBTQ people with the church, they chose LGBTQ acceptance.

However these percentages strike you, I recommend looking at the full article and its range of links with an open mind.

Sometimes I wish that secular people would exercise the same powers of reflection and judgment toward the word "Christian" as they would, for example, toward selecting a refrigerator. They'd comparison shop, check Consumer Reports, ask advice from others, and would not reject the very idea of refrigeration because some refrigerators don't work as well as others. In fairness, those common-sense judgments about Christianity already happen often enough; lots of people visit hospitals and attend colleges founded by churches, go to AA and Al-Anon meetings in churches, admire cathedrals and Christian art, and so on. And as for Jesus himself, he remains admired by many who would never use the word "Christian" for themselves, and even by those who nevertheless consider him our imaginary friend....

I've gnawed on this bone of contention lots of times during my years of writing this blog. In the first "hostility to the Christian faith" post, I linked back to a campaign waged by some Christians against the NBC television network—a campaign that urged NBC to give Christianity as much respect as they give other religions. I asked,

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.

A few more places where I've worried out loud about these themes:

October 2006, The golden age of evangelism (overlaps with the post just above).

Nothing could be better for evangelism than for evangelicals to acknowledge that society no longer gives us a free pass, and get over it. That free pass was never completely honest, anyway; even Karl Rove allegedly has contempt for his evangelical allies. It used to be that foreign tourists were allowed to visit such Kremlin sites as Lenin's tomb ahead of the Russians who had been waiting to get inside; now we have to wait in the same lines. More bother for us, maybe, but less grumbling from the rest of the line. In the unsentimental post-Christian world, it's no longer an advantage to be citizens of another Kingdom; we actually have to make our case to our neighbors one at a time.

October 2006, Can evangelicals reproduce?

...The end of evangelical celebrity credibility might actually be a wonderful thing: young people are reduced to the necessity of finding faith through the direct ministry of the Holy Spirit; through relationships with flesh and blood mentors; and by encouraging each other.

March 2010, Meeting Jesus halfway

Years ago, when I was a new Christian, a newly-minted Quaker in Ottawa Meeting, I was asked (by another Quaker!) how I could justify calling myself a Christian after all the garbage Christians had perpetrated throughout history—the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, relentless anti-intellectualist campaigns against everyone from Galileo to Darwin, colonialist missions, endless religious wars, and so on.

Since that day, I've had 35 years [now 49!] to try to collect articulate answers, but that was then....

January 2016, Christian politicians and Rosemary's ice cream

...We may have to grit our teeth sometimes when we see centuries of Christian social teaching and our own Quaker values dismissed in favor of civil religion drenched in pious cliches, but we'll probably survive. My bigger concern is the politician's impact on non-Christians and "nones"—who already have plenty of evidence of the sort of Christianity that comes (borrowing from Mark Twain) "with its banner of the Prince of Peace in one hand and its loot-basket and its butcher-knife in the other." Christian politicians (or anyone, for that matter, we included) who forget the evangelistic imperative in favor of enemy-baiting have much to answer for. With humility and persistence—and without engaging in the same savage rhetoric—let's require those answers, in full view of the public.

May 2017, Mocking Jesus

Let's not play fast and loose with what it means to mock Jesus. When we present a compromised Gospel that actually mocks our enemies and trashes those who disagree with us, while conveniently propping up Caesar, it is damnably self-serving to charge that their response is somehow mocking Jesus. Maybe they're mocking us, and maybe it's not always fair, but chances are good that they might actually yearn for some evidence of a true Savior. We should at least be ready for the costly work of testing that possibility, and then doing what we can to respond. And in the meantime, bite our tongues!!

August 2018, Good news or bad news?

...The White House meeting and dinner again put a set of celebrity evangelical leaders in the national spotlight, in effect giving them a unique public setting to do the evangelizing that their label obliges them to do, in season and out of season. Instead, the main aim of the evening seems to have been to enlist them and their followers in the president's re-election campaign. If there was a peep of protest there, it never reached the public.

February 2020, William Barr, Max Boot, and "the vapor trails of Christianity"

Is it possible that both Barr and Boot don't pay enough attention to this "popular religiosity"? Barr wants to argue that the transcendent claims of religion impose limits on human waywardness that no laws or secular ideals can match. Is this in fact true? And maybe Boot's charts of religious and nonreligious nations also can't take into account whether the religions being cited all have comparable claims on the hearts and consciences of their adherents, or are often simply identity markers along with all other features of their cultures.

Pew Research offers five facts about religion and Americans' views of Donald Trump.

Darrin McMahon compares the words "equality" and "equity" and asks, "...What does 'equity' really mean and when and why did it emerge as a contemporary key word?"

Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends has invited Darren Kenworthy to speak to us at our annual sessions in June. Here's part one of Judy Maurer's interview of Darren.

Rondall Reynoso on the individualistic community of evangelicalism.

...I realized that this individual over-communal mindset is part of why evangelicals have such a hard time with the idea of systemic racism. We are conditioned to look at everything through an individualistic lens. In our minds, there is no such thing as communal sin and communal judgment. We may know that, biblically, there is such a thing but it is beyond the bounds of the lenses through which we view the world. If I’m not actively discriminating then how can I be responsible for broader issues? I’m sure there were Israelites who felt the same way when Israel went into captivity.

Friends Committee on National Legislation is collecting Quaker statements on the war in Gaza.

Chester Freeman writes in Friends Journal on prayer, illumination, and healing.

Blues from Dnipro, Ukraine. Konstantin Kolesnichenko (harmonica) and the Bullet Blues Band.

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