Comprehending the significant ways Americanized Christianity is deeply culturalized can be revealing, fascinating and constructive. Though seemingly threatening to some people, doing so has practical, communal and spiritual value.
One prime example of culturally defined Christianity in the U.S. is the odd and outsized effort so many professing Christians put into being considered verifiably “conservative.” As if that label designates a “real” or superior Christian.
Those who brag about their conservatism tend to judge others according to varying and constricting concepts of Christianity that often lack the greater biblical themes of grace, humility and justice.
The oddity of this preoccupation with a conservatist identity has been noted for its uniqueness among white Americanized Christians by fellow believers beyond our borders.
Joash Thomas, who serves as Canada’s national director of mobilization and advocacy for International Justice Mission, took note of this on Twitter.
“The obsession for [U.S.] Christian leaders to be seen as ‘conservative’ is a very American thing,” he observed. “And it’s antithetical to a gospel that topples the old order of things to make way for God’s new creation.”
Thomas tweeted later: “The fact that prominent US white evangelical pastors are some of the most graceless, brash & unsafe people here should tell us everything we need to know about the state of the US white evangelical church right now. They represent a larger crisis.”
Aussie theologian and Bible scholar Michael Bird has noted that while other Christians around the globe will debate orthodoxy, Americanized Christians try to prove their conservative chops.
Of course, the overused term conservative is merely a codeword for granting validity to oneself and one’s little camp — while dismissing others as not-real-conservatives and therefore Christian imposters. Yet, of all the things Jesus called his followers to be and do, conservatism was not among them.
In many cases, this conservative compulsion simply provides cover for embracing fear-based political ideologies — baptized in religious language but often at odds with the life and teachings of Jesus. He was pretty clear about the need for the old to pass away and things to become new.
Therefore, it is head-scratching to hear so many Americanized Christians brag about how they have never wavered from their well-ingrained beliefs and religious practices. As if their inherited understanding and practice of faith were not shaped in any ways culturally that might deserve examination and likely revision.
What an odd confession to brag about having not learned a thing or changed a bit in many decades.
As I noted in an earlier column, white American evangelicals are also unique from their global counterparts by their relentless efforts to control their government and, therefore, the personal lives of others.
Rising theocracy within American democracy is real and threatening to personal freedom, including religious liberty. And these efforts are driven and enabled by those who use the “conservative” designation while contrastingly undoing rather than conserving the basic principles of equality, justice and freedom.
Imagine if as much energy were put into being a faithful follower of Jesus — that is, doing what he actually revealed — as is expended by those striving to be properly “conservative” and seeking to coerce others to a restrictive political-religious ideology.
The whole idea of Christian conversion — which isn’t a one-time thing — is to change. So why tell us with great pride how rigidly unchanged you have been despite all the available light?
There’s an important difference between a firm faith and a hard head. Cemented minds create cemented hearts.
“Never wavered” can look a lot like having never considered the possibility that what one first learned and experienced religiously in a particular cultural setting might not be the full gospel truth for all persons for all time.
It is helpful to note that an unexamined faith is actually a fragile one. To stand, it needs the propping up and protection of unquestioned conclusions. Such rigid yet fragile faith is a teetering domino, not an anchor.
History’s greatest atrocities — so often driven or endorsed by professing Christians — were all rooted in unexamined, unwavering beliefs fueled by fear of change. Often that reinforced belief conveyed that certain designated people aren’t of equal value to God — and therefore their abuse was justified.
Remaining ignorant isn’t a virtue. It is often a contributing factor to the spread of evil.
There are many more constructively Christian things to seek than the credentialing of one’s conservative branding and standing.
Those would include seeking eye-opening and faith-stretching experiences by identifying with those who suffer and praying that God would remove culturally-applied scales from our eyes that result in self-focus and self-indulgence.
In whatever context we were raised, cultural factors shape our religious identity and beliefs. Tracing those factors to their sociological and psychological roots and examining them in light of the revelation of God found in Jesus, can lead to a transformed living faith.
Historically, the primary profession of faith for Christian believers is, “Jesus is Lord.”
A good follow-up might be: “And, dear Lord, help me not resist needed change.”
Otherwise, some braggadocios telling of how one hasn’t changed may well reveal more than intended.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.