Some journalists with The Atlantic were queried about their expectations for this unfolding and uncertain year. Specifically, they were asked to identify issues they will likely explore more fully in the months ahead.

Staff writer Anne Applebaum is pondering the need for greater scrutiny of the internet — in hopes it might have more openness and transparency. Currently, she said, it is run by platforms that “control our attention and our data to make money.”

She theorizes that if algorithms aren’t set to “favor civil discourse instead of anger and polarization,” then we should expect our dysfunctional political system to “remain locked in crisis.”

Clint Smith, another staff writer, hopes those who think the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol resulted from recent influences only will take a longer, deeper look. A 400-year viewpoint would provide more clarity, he suggests.

“We must engage in a thorough examination of America’s larger history to understand how the country has come to this,” he said. Smith believes 2021 “will be a test for American democracy.”

He wonders if hollow calls for “unity” — like those heralded by politicians seeking to avoid appropriate accountability — will prevail, or if American society might actually acknowledge, confront and atone for the white supremacy that has shaped our national landscape.

Others speculated on how the coronavirus will play out, and what “re-entry” might look like following this “once-in-a-century” cultural shift.

Writer Amanda Mull mulled, “How do we reconnect to everything we were forced to abandon, and how will our relationships with those things and people be changed by what we lost?”

All of this thinking got me thinking.

These concerns have some specific implications for those seeking to live in the way of Christ. How might people of a particular faith face such challenges this year?

There are good reasons for holding less-than-great expectations, if one assumes the future might shape up to be anything like the past. It seems naïve to think the destructive ways in which so many Americanized Christians have engaged in recent years will suddenly change.

So, I’m going with a fervent prayer and some threadbare hope that many Christians — who’ve fearfully or blindly followed misguiding leaders into spiritual and cultural dead ends — will look elsewhere for direction. The capacity for new life is essential to the hopefulness of the gospel.

The greatest hope, individually and communally, is that we might heed the warning, given to the ancient church of Ephesus, in Revelation 2:4. Amid the cryptic language comes a clear word: You have done some good stuff, but you left your first love.

Discovering or rediscovering a primary allegiance to following Jesus is the only possible solution to the widespread capitulation of Americanized Christianity to a political ideology — falsely deemed “biblical” or “Christian,” but at odds with the life and teachings of Jesus.

Such drastic and needed change will require an abundance of faithful, non-celebrity Christian leaders — with more interest in truth and justice than getting invitations to halls of power — to assert themselves. And for much wiser Christians, in general, to better discern these faithful, trustworthy servant leaders from the noisy false prophets.

My fear, however, is that many Christian congregations and other organizations — in an effort to “get back to normal” — may miss the best opportunity in a long time to seriously ponder why they exist in the first place. Hint: the answer is not self-preservation.

Penalty flags should be thrown for every false start that ignores the sanctuary elephants of old exclusionary ways — or fails to face up to the new realities that have now presented themselves.

In fact, “reality” just might be the most important word of the year. Creating and existing in different perceived “realities” — since not all “realities” are real — has been the major contributor to the straining or severing of long-held relationships recently.

This destruction results from something more than just occasional disagreements. Different opinions can be navigated, even appreciated, with respect and mutual learning.

However, wholesale false realities — that disregard truth as something built on provable facts — create a chasm so wide that it may be impossible to bridge.

Yes, all things are possible with God. But until truth matters, it will be challenging for relationships to heal and true unity to occur when separated by vastly different concepts of what is real.

So there needs to be some agreed-upon ideals — while respecting differences of honest opinions — if unity or at least cooperation occurs.

Any guiding principles must include: that truth is not something each person gets to define apart from reality; that it is better for a church or other fellowship to experience statistical loss than to leave lingering cultural injustices unaddressed; and that Christians should have no greater allegiance than to follow Jesus in ways that clearly reflect his teachings.

Admittedly, this has a sound of expecting others to come around to one’s own way of thinking. But there is work to be done on the attitudes and actions of all of us.

However, we cannot settle for a false and costly peace built on false equivalencies.

Bad theology that enables white male dominance isn’t just as good as “in Christ…” inclusion and leveling. Injustice isn’t just as good as justice. Demeaning vulnerable and suffering people isn’t just as good as loving them and treating them equitably.

Will it happen? I don’t know.

My realism and optimism are engaged in a constant struggle — but never without hope as the referee.

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