The day “Christian America” died…

christian-america

November 8, 2016. Church historians will teach about this date in future years. Scholars will explore how the 50 year decline of mainline Christianity had the coffin slammed shut on that day. This is a clear and obvious demarcation of one era to the next. As with any big changes in society or institutions, the writing had been on the wall with the slow slide towards death. A serious episode of illness took place with the advent of the “Moral Majority,” but the movement of evangelicals for Trump was the final death blow.

Now I would argue that America has never been a “Christian” nation as some have claimed. The “founding fathers” were all Deist, believing that Jesus was not divine and that God simply set creation into motion and never intervened. While the Puritans pontificated about this new land being a city on a hill and a light for all  nations, the Quakers opened their doors for people of all faiths. It was this mentality that won out in the formation of the new country – church and state were separate. And before anyone starts exclaiming about the Pledge of Allegiance (“under God”) and our coinage (“in God we trust”), please know these phrases were added in the 1950s under the watchful eye of Joseph McCarthy.

Yet, those who have often insisted on America being a Christian nation  have been the very ones to vote into office a man who has not only no understanding of Christianity, but also no understanding of basic morality. He bragged of sexual assault and control over women, and dismissed it as something any man would say. He mocked a reporter who is differently abled. He condemned people based upon race, and lumped them together as the worst sort of people (criminals, rapists). He proclaimed a major world religion (and an Abrahamic one which shares beliefs with Christianity) as full of terrorists.

Since his election, incidents against women and people of color have sky-rocketed across the country. My own students are dealing with strangers and hate incidents which could never be misconstrued as Christian. These perfect strangers feel they have the right to act in these hateful and threatening ways, because they are simply following in the footsteps of their President-elect. These are not the footsteps of Jesus.

There were large numbers of Christians who spoke out against the amorality of our future President, including evangelical leaders. I pray they will continue to try and let their voices be heard. We cannot idly sit by and let people of color, women, and non-Christians be treated in this manner.

Yet, even more people will see the fault in Christianity, and believe that a secular humanism is more compassionate, life-giving, and loving. And I cannot fault them. I work every day with young adults, many of whom are not just “nones” (growing up with no religious affiliation), but are also “dones” (done with Christian affiliation after damaging experiences in churches). The many nones and dones I encounter on a regular basis act far more like Jesus than many people who openly proclaim to follow him.

“Christian America” is dead. And I’m fine with that. It doesn’t mean that the Spirit of justice, compassion, truth, kindness, understanding, and love is not flowing throughout our land. It just means that it isn’t to be found in some of the places where people talk about a Christian agenda most loudly.

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The End of Hope

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One of my favorite classes in seminary was Black Church Studies with Dr. Willie Jennings. Prof. Jennings began the class by asking us to raise our hands if we were racist. We glanced around at each other, none of us wanting to claim such a title for ourselves. I certainly felt like I didn’t qualify for that – social justice had always been an integral part of what it meant to be in my family, and I had plans to adopt transracially. Yet, Prof. Jennings continued by raising his own hand. “Everyone here is racist. We live in a racist society, and thus we cannot be removed from that foundation. We are part of it. The key is to recognize it.”

25 years later I have not forgotten these words. This summer they have seemed more poignant than ever. The stats are clear that black individuals are stopped by police at far greater rates than non-blacks. Senator Tim Scott recounts his own experience with this – an experience his white colleagues do not share. (And I shouldn’t have to write this, but of course I support our police. As Prof. Jennings pointed out, none of us can be removed from this racial foundation, and we need training and education to recognize the blinders we wear.) It has also pained me greatly to witness, and to hear first hand from my students, the dramatically increased harassment of Muslims in our country. Many others have stated this – and it is true – Islamic State is to Islam what the KKK is to Christianity. When political leaders call for mass deportation or interviews of the incredible young Muslim women with whom I work, my heart breaks for them. They don’t deserve this treatment.

The idea of the United States being a “Christian nation” has been tossed around throughout the history of this country. The name of Jesus has been taken in vain to support xenophobia, misogyny, and white elitism. This country was begun with mass genocide of the natives, and then built on the backs of slaves. We can’t erase or ignore this. It’s in our blood. There are so many wonderful things about this country, but we need to acknowledge our history and the continuing repercussions in how we relate to each other. We need to follow the steps of Jesus in reaching out to others and including them in community – especially those who have been outcast, downtrodden, beaten, and discounted. If we are truly Christian, we will look for ways to include, unify, and love together.

One reason I have never forgotten Prof. Jennings’ words is because a year after his class, I heard them resounding in my ears while I stood outside the Food Bank/Mission in Asheville. I brought a donation and saw two men at the door. They both greeted me. I assumed the older white man was the volunteer, and the younger black man was there for assistance. It turned out to be the opposite. I was ashamed of myself, even though I don’t think they knew of my assumption. I stood there, a minister in the community and one who actively discussed and worked towards racial reconciliation – and yet I found once again that the original sin of racism of this society had been played out through me.

It’s been a terrible summer in many ways for our society. I hear so many young adults feeling like there is no hope. Yet, the old saying is that it is always darkest before the dawn. This racism and xenophobia have always been present. I am thankful for technology and social media which can help us recognize it – and hopefully we can take those challenging steps to be a better society.

Let this summer not be marked by fear, hatred, and despair. Let us see this time as the recognition of the work we have to do, and the beginning of a hope for tomorrow.

 

Let’s Dream

            Ever since I was a little girl, my sleep has been filled with dreams. I even remember certain dreams from when I was about 4 or 5 years old. Some dreams have been filled with ordinary occurrences, while others have been the stuff of the most extravagant sci-fi movie. They have run the gamut from gazing at cloud formations while lounging in a mountain meadow to being the side-kick of super-agent/super-hero Roger Federer while he saves the world.

 

            One of the things I have found the most fascinating in the Bible is how it treats dreams. The preponderance of dreams in the Scripture is astounding. And the majority of them are some form of message from God. God is warning the dreamer about upcoming danger, letting them know part of Her plan, helping provide support and encouragement. I do believe God speaks to us through dreams. For many of us in today’s world, our lives are so filled with activities, gadgets, stress and worry that we don’t have our ears open to hear God speaking to us. When we’re asleep, God has a much better chance of getting through.

 

            Today we remember dreams, and how vitally important dreams can be in our lives and in our society. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an ordained minister who knew the Scriptures through and through. He knew a dream from God provided vision and hope for the future. The great sin of our country has been its acceptance of and reliance upon slavery. 150 years after the Civil War, racial divide and discrimination still exist. It unfortunately exists even in the mass segregation of our churches. Throughout the history of our country, so many Christians used the Bible to support slavery, segregation, and racism. I am very thankful for the Christian witnesses, from so many different traditions, who found radically different inspiration from the Bible. The Civil Rights movement was filled with faith leaders, witnesses to the prophetic dreams God offered in the sacred writings.

 

            Each one of us is a child of God, with the light of God shining throughout. Yes, we have very real differences among us. And these differences are to be celebrated. God has gifted each one of us in very different ways, and I pray for the day when we will all have the same dream, despite our many differences – the dream that MLK verbalized for us before I was even born.

 

            Thank God for the dreamers, and thank God for the dreams given us.