There were three things that surprised me about the Bloggers’ Breakfast at Donald Miller’s Storyline Conference:
- Nobody was blogging
- There was no breakfast
- I am no longer surprised to hear a Christian say we should stop playing morals-police
Christianity has a long history of claiming that morals are absolute, that it decides what is and is not moral, and that Holy mother church must play morals-police. For more than a millennium, the authority of the church was unquestionable. Not so anymore.
Across western Europe belief in God is so nearly-nonexistent that ancient church buildings are often bulldozed, turned into apartments, or visited only for their historical, architectural value. In the United States, the majority of the population still identifies as Christian, but we are at an all-time low for belief in God, and we’ve got a few church condo conversions of our own. Not only that, but people are leaving the church faster than ever before, meaning that every day you wake up, a new record is set for the number of non-Christians in America. Inside the church, it is easy to shrug our shoulders, recite some cliché about how the road to salvation is narrow, and write off the great unwashed.
But some of us spend a great deal of time thinking about whether people are leaving the church just because they are “claimed by Satan and hate the truth we proclaim,” or if it’s more complicated than that.
A number of people like Jen Hatmaker have suggested that the aspects about Christendom that people don’t like are things that don’t actually look like Jesus. If this is true, and Dan Kimball has done some research to suggest it is, maybe we should stop being so content with our glorious righteousness, and consider just how many planks are in our eyes that we need to take out.
So there I sat, staring at my screen, wanting to say something about how much I agreed with Darrell Vesterfelt when he told the room that that we need to stop being content with ourselves for telling everyone else how wrong they are…but for some reason, I couldn’t. He posited that going around shaming people doesn’t “change the story.” That is, it doesn’t change hearts and minds, it doesn’t demonstrate the love of Christ, all it does is alienate the world around us and make everyone in the church who already agrees with us feel vindicated and empowered to pass judgement on the world. This is an assertion I agree with, so why couldn’t I write about how great this was?
Then I realized just how comfortable I have become with that notion…I couldn’t write anything about it, because I felt like it had already become my mantra. But there is a disconnect between Christians on this issue. And by “disconnect” I mean giant ideological canyon separating believers on how to view culture’s rejection of the church. Some branches of the faith think it’s simply a matter of “branding” — that is, they want to deliver the same message that has been losing hearts and minds hand over fist, but with cooler music, a #betterhashtag, and trendier pastors in torn jeans and goatees (I know I’m describing someone hip from ten years ago, but let’s be honest, church-trendy is kind of like everyone else’s last-decade). Then there are those of us who think it’s time to change the message.
Christ offers love and compassion to everyone. He has said repeatedly that God’s heart is with the poor, the oppressed, and the despised — and that if we want to follow God, that’s where our heart should be too.
But, doesn’t the Bible say we should stand up against what’s wrong? Yes, Isaiah (the first book in in the “major prophets” portion of your bible) says it plain as day. But what Isaiah calls wrong is when believers revel in their moral superiority while at the same time they oppress others:
Do not fast as you do today,
trying to make your voice heard in heaven.
Is this really the kind of fasting I want?
Do I want a day when people merely humble themselves,
bowing their heads like a reed
and stretching out on sackcloth and ashes?
Is this really what you call a fast,
day that is pleasing to the Lord?
No, this is the kind of fast I want.
I want you to remove the sinful chains,
to tear away the ropes of the burdensome yoke,
to set free the oppressed,
and to break every burdensome yoke.
I want you to share your food with the hungry
and to provide shelter for homeless, oppressed people.
When you see someone naked, clothe him!
That’s the kind of person God desires, the kind of church we are called to create. It’s a group people won’t want to leave, and the kind of thing I’ll stand up for.