A friend was lamenting the overt racism, loss of truthfulness and the absence of compassion in American society today.
Prompting the answer that I knew he knew, I asked: “And from where do these attitudes and actions come?”
“Church people,” he said sadly and correctly.
In much of Americanized Christianity, Jesus has been reduced to a sacrificial lamb whose only role is to get us out of hell and other tight spots.
Churches do many important and valuable things very well from meaningful worship to bereavement care to community service. Yet there is no hopeful future for the church if deeply ingrained bigotry and the strong embrace of politics of self-interest remain unaddressed and unrectified.
Speaking boldly — or even cautiously — to those sins, however, is more likely to result in the voluntary departure of the pewsitter or the involuntary departure of the minister doing the speaking than in repentance and redirection.
Many with ears to hear aren’t interested in hearing truth, even gospel truth, that doesn’t align with their media-infused politics of fear.
To quote Ulysses Everett McGill — as portrayed by George Clooney in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” — we are all “in a tight spot.”
Many of today’s societal ills — from racism to loss of compassion to the rejection of fact as truth — are advanced directly or indirectly by those who profess to be Christians.
This painful truth is often met with denial, deflection, defensiveness and failed attempts to discount its documented veracity. But anything short of confrontation and confession comes up well short of our professed faith.
Denial is the quick reflex and retort, “No, it’s not” — despite overwhelming evidence of self-disclosure.
Deflection is a favored response from those who know the truth but don’t want to deal with it.
They seek to distract from facing an unfavorable reality by responding, “But look over there.” False equivalencies — “both sides do it” — get employed.
Defensiveness shows up as playing the victim. Many Americanized Christians portray themselves as being under attack — the persecuted. This occurs even though white evangelicals have an outsized political influence in the U.S.
Discounting truth — by separating it from fact — is most striking considering these are the very people whose faith is purportedly rooted in ultimate truth. For them, truth is redefined as whatever makes them feel more secure and in control.
Such oddly defined “truth” doesn’t set them free. So, we need to take a long, hard look at what is being labeled as “Christian” today.
In doing so, it is sadly apparent that Jesus is either sidelined or remade into the likeness of those seeking to retain his name but not his teachings.
As I’ve noted in recent years, a major tool (or weapon) for redefining Christianity in this Jesus-depleted way is the pejorative use of the term “worldview.”
Authoritative Christian leaders have manufactured various versions of a “biblical worldview” or “Christian worldview,” often using those terms interchangeably.
Arbitrarily, these leaders enumerate their own “essentials” of what it means to be a faithful Christian based on a narrow religious/political ideology of their choosing — with the life and teachings of Jesus either missing or downplayed significantly.
Such “worldviews” become the measuring sticks for “Christian” faithfulness rather than living one’s life in relationship with, and in obedience to, Jesus.
Largely ignored are Jesus’ greatest and summarizing dual commands to love God with all one’s being and to love our broadly defined neighbors as oneself.
By relegating Jesus to the exclusively sacrificial lamb role — the price of getting people into heaven — his life and teachings are discounted.
He might pick up an honorable mention now and then for some of the selective, more-pleasing things he said.
But rather than the Jesus of the Gospels, we are presented a reshaped and redefined Jesus who accommodates the fears, bigotry and lack of compassion so obvious in much of Americanized Christianity. He is the Jesus of one’s own making.
Many professing Christians mindlessly adopt these ill-serving redefinitions or relegations of Jesus and the Christian faith — favoring a misguided, manufactured “worldview” that reinforces what they find to be personally pleasing.
Why would someone — with a lifetime of faith commitments — choose a fraudulent version of Christianity over actually following Jesus as revealed to us?
Perhaps it’s a desire to be “successful” at Christianity — as defined by some authoritarian person or group — even if one’s allegiance is to something other than following Jesus.
However, the popular or easy choice is rarely the best one when it comes to faithfulness.
It is better to be a failed follower of Jesus — as we all are to a large degree — than to be successful at some poor substitute.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.