Some parts of Christianity have stopped living by the Golden Rule. It makes the public think the whole thing is rotten.
Ever since Jesus announced that his followers should be “salt and light" in the world and the apostle Paul held debates with first century Greek philosophers, the Christian church has held a mandate to positively influence society at large.
Unfortunately, some of that influence has been used negatively by people who perverted the faith and were the least Christ-like of all (the Crusades, colonization, slavery). But believers have also been catalysts in many positive cultural movements. Yes, some alleged Christians used the Bible to justify the transatlantic slave trade, but Christians and many Jews were also involved in the abolition of slavery and started the civil rights movement.
Until the mid-20th century, Christianity was well received primarily because it actively met the needs of the poor and disenfranchised.
But there has been a terrible shift. Many Christian churches – particularly many evangelicals here in the west – are not living up to the part of the mission to, as Proverbs 31:8-9 says,
“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
In Scripture, Jesus says he came “to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (see Luke 4:18). If we consider ourselves followers of His, shouldn’t we do the same? We're not, and as a result we are irrelevant to many. Here's why.
Instead of being the first in line to protest the brutal treatment of some blacks by law enforcement, many Christian leaders in various denominations are either deafeningly silent, in denial, don’t care or simply on the wrong side of the issue. Instead of advocating for the poor and demanding that public education be a priority, some pastors are busy filling their coffers with what little money their poor parishioners have or targeting wealthier potential parishioners in the first place.
We need to see how this looks to those looking at us from outside the church. They see a rich organization enjoying its tax-free status as a charitable organization that has abandoned its mission to the poor and disenfranchised. Simultaneously, they see local churches embarking on huge building projects erecting shrines to themselves.
Would you look favorably on a charity that did the same?
Moving away from a service-based approach to sharing the gospel occurred when the church became more fundamentalist in the late 19th century. Fear of liberalism drove many believers to an absolute approach to faith that shut out any opportunity for conversation about faith in society.
This isolation from other people of faith and those with none made the evangelical church’s efforts to spread the gospel look more like a demand for doctrinal agreement rather than an extension of God’s love and grace.
Combine that with the church’s gradual move away from social justice issues and toward the prosperity gospel movement and you have a faith tradition that is no longer broadly respected by the rest of society.
While as Christians we view ourselves as Romans 12:4-7 says “one body,” we cannot escape that there are dozens of denominations and theological distinctions within the faith. A Presbyterian church is not the same as a Baptist or a Catholic.
But maybe that’s the paradox.We are supposed to see ourselves as “one” and, even though we rarely function this way, that’s exactly how society views us.
There are many people who aren’t Christians who don’t distinguish between Christians doing good work for others and those acting in bad faith when forming their opinions about Christianity. And despite the good work of believers throughout the past – particularly in social justice movements – many non-believers want nothing to do with the church.
Too many people who don’t believe in Christianity are no longer willing to allow it to act as a moral compass because it no longer reflects the spiritual values of love, grace and peace.
Christianity no longer asserts a dominant influence in western society; instead, western Christianity is now heavily influenced by popular, secular culture. Much of that is benign: pop culture has influenced religious music and opened the church to new ways of worshiping. But other adaptations are more likely harming Christianity’s once-broad influence.
One of the biggest threats now is the effect of politics on various faith communities, the result of religious conservatives who allegedly promote a return to “traditional Christian values.” Unfortunately, many of those encourage fellow Christians to use our faith to justify “take our country back” politics linked to the right wing – code for let’s move as far away from Christ’s teachings of love your neighbor as possible. And Father’s reputation takes another hit.
As the more politically conservative segments of various western churches have moved away from the teachings of Christ – caring for the poor, justice for the disenfranchised, love and grace – and politicized the faith to maintain a status quo that is racist, sexist and classist, Christianity has essentially repelled many people who it might have influenced a century ago.
Christianity, in many cases, is now either comfortable in the role of oppressor, a laughingstock or impotent to promote the true and good work of the gospel.
Sadly, Christianity is floundering in irrelevance, held down by the weight of our own arrogance and our indifference to non-believers. If we don’t return to the foundations of Christ’s teaching by being more actively and compassionately involved in serving those in need, if we don’t get back to being the vessel through which others in society experience God’s amazing love and grace then we will cease to have any impact in our society. Regardless of how loudly we scream on the way down.
It's time to get back to our future – Jesus.