It is the season after Pentecost, but the North American church should not stop seeing red. Not “fighting mad” but a righteous anger in response to injustice is warranted.
After an extensive report of the sexual misconduct of Southern Baptist Convention clergy, the latest denominational split (this time of the United Methodist Church over the affirmation and inclusion of its LGBTQ+ members), as well as the strong and lasting connection between Christian nationalism and the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, there’s no need to dress up the disappointing reality of Christianity on Sundays or any other.
Though there is more than enough of it, we don’t need more blame to go around. Instead, Christians would do well to get angry at themselves rather than point the finger at the world around them.
It is a part of the grief cycle and, perhaps, starting with the acceptance of what and who we have lost as members of the body of Christ would do us well.
Members of each other, what does it say about the church when some Christians don’t trust praying hands? Known more for its buildings than the embodiment of its leader’s work and witness, it is no wonder then that there is a growing detachment from the faith.
Commanded to love our neighbor, some Christians don’t even like each other. They share a Bible but find it difficult to get on the same page. And we cannot keep pretending, waving, smiling and passing out church bulletins.
The church’s drama is now fodder for podcasts like “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” and there is now the need to make a distinction — with some believers saying, “I’m not that kind of Christian.”
While Christians have long been caught in compromising positions, beginning with the first disciples, Jesus’ latest followers remain slow to learn from the lessons recorded in the Gospels. This, of course, begs the question, “Then, what are we studying them for?”
In his book Wild Goose Chase, Mark Batterson quipped, “The title of the book of Acts says it all, doesn’t it? It’s not the book of Ideas or Theories or Words. It’s the book of Acts. If the twenty-first century church said less and did more, maybe we would have the same kind of impact the first-century church did.”
A part of Luke’s two-part volume set, the Acts of the Apostles or the Acts of the Holy Spirit, is a book of deeds. It is the early church at work and, notably, they begin in unity.
Today, it seems no matter how hard the wind of the Spirit blows, we simply cannot get all Christians to unite for or against anything.
Willie James Jennings writes in his commentary titled Acts, “Acts is a history yielding to the Spirit.” Hyper-politicized, North American Christians too often support the agenda of their political party instead, and they get fired up about it.
The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy reported last year that polarization had hit the pews with Clay Stauffer writing, “The chaos sown during President Trump’s White House tenure exacerbated underlying division in the Christian community and presented an especially emotionally exhausting challenge for preachers, like me, who serve politically diverse congregations. Growing polarization and lack of civility in American culture have also taken an immense toll on denominations, families, and personal friendships.”
When Christianity began, it was all over the place. Peter gave a report to the Council at Jerusalem, “And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them [that is, the non- Jews or Gentiles] the Holy Spirit, just as [God] did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith, [God] has made no distinction between them and us” (Acts 15:8-9, NRSV).
Now, an Americanized version of Christianity paints God into our corner of the world and argues that it is the difference between them and us.
This is cause for lament and the dress code should be sackcloth and ashes. I understand there are some who will get mad at this request.
But it’s well past time for the North American church to show some emotion, some feelings besides those influenced by toxic positivity and to direct it where it belongs, to get angry about all the abuse of people and scripture happening behind stained glass and stone faces.
It is time to cry out for justice. Because “how long, O Lord? How long?” (Psalm 13:1).
The body language of the North American church is disconcerting.
We continue to celebrate the early church’s unity by wearing red but cannot agree on the color of the carpet or the meaning of all God’s children. Ironically, we are separated out based on what we get mad about.