I see posts on social media nearly every day about immoral lifestyles and ungodly behavior. The writers use scripture to paint a dark picture about the state of things in our country. They usually go on to decry the intellectual struggles of younger Christians and how this reveals their lack of spiritual commitment. And so forth.
Fair enough. I too am alarmed about the state of things. In the past, I was an active part of all the denunciation.
Because I do not believe the church has retained enough moral capital to speak into the moral life of our nation. Also, I can’t imagine why younger believers would not be confused about the way we Christians have defined morality and ethics.
I have thought about writing a post in which I merely listed the names of all the popular Christian leaders who have been caught in scandalous, unethical, or immoral behavior in the last two decades. If I were to write such a post though, not making any comments but merely listing the names, it would be very long.
Most of the names on the list would have been known in their day for taking strong moral positions. Meanwhile, they were indulging in those or similar behaviors.
Take Liberty University, for example. This school became known for taking a strong stand for how its students would be expected to behave – no drinking, no sex, no profanity, that sort of thing. While taking this stand, Liberty’s president consistently indulged in those behaviors. Only the public awareness of that blatant hypocrisy – which the secular press rather than Christians brought to light – forced the board’s hand.
And then, there is Hillsong. Cover up of massive financial misappropriations, sexual misconduct, and spiritual abuse on an enormous scale for years and years.
I could go on, but the post will already be long.
From the Catholic coverup of priestly abuse of minors to the utter lack of financial, moral, and ethical accountability of many of our churches, parachurch groups, and denominations, we have witnessed an erosion of our stated belief that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”
We have denounced certain kinds of sexual behavior on the part of everyday men and women, while ignoring the sexual misconduct of public figures who we believed championed our political views. We have dismissed church employees for rude behavior and for the misuse of funds while indulging the leaders of those same churches who routinely demeaned and abused others. There has been little rhyme or reason for how we have denounced some moral and ethical behaviors while ignoring others, except, perhaps, for how much social, political, or financial power the perpetrator possessed.
Did we think our children, who were growing up around all this mess, were not paying attention? Are we shocked that once reaching adulthood they became uninterested in perpetrating it?
As a boy in coal country, nearly all our pastors were bi-vocational. They worked long and hard hours. Nonetheless, they preached, visited hospitals, and otherwise cared for their little flocks. Some of them occasionally messed up morally. However, when such things came to light, the offenders were usually contrite and repentant. They tried to make things right.
These pastors rarely had access to higher education. They nonetheless saved their money to buy commentaries, enjoyed long and spirited conversations with others about scripture, and did their best to keep growing in their understanding of their faith and the world.
Oh, and I never, ever heard a single one of them suggest that how a believer votes should a matter of faith.
Today, after decades of purity rings, the gradual collusion of Christian spirituality with political partisanship, the remolding of church communities into business enterprises, the increasing loss of our church leaders’ ability (or interest) in pondering the implications of scientific and technological advance, the abandonment of racial reconciliation as a legitimate work of the Gospel, the inability to form any coherent approach to sexual life around something other than guilt, and the open embrace of public bullying and abusive speech as “taking a stand,” why should we be amazed that some of our brightest and most conscientious young leaders have been rethinking their faith?
Scientific and technological advances such as the world has never seen are about to utterly reconfigure our lives. If the church has nothing to say about the implications of such things, we can forgive our neighbors and grandchildren if they decide it doesn’t really have much to say about anything significant. They may even decide that what we have become is not even related to the Christ of the Gospels and, in the name of Christ, denounce American Christianity.
Here are some things we will need to recover before we regain enough moral capital to speak into the life of our nation:
Personal and corporate accountability. Humility. Civility. Piety. Gentleness. Service. Honesty. Intellectual curiosity. Awe. Love. Biblical knowledge. God-consciousness.
Here are some things we will need to lose:
The worship of nation and party rather than Christ. Hunger for temporal power. Ignorance as an expression of piety. Harshness. Worldliness. Love of wealth. Different standards of morality for congregants, church leaders, and those politicians we claim to be “Christian.”