For a long time I have thought about how our public behavior has degraded with more than a simple lack of courtesy or respect. I am not only talking about the Church. The last time I went to a movie (months ago) a person in the next row answered and made cell phone calls through the entire movie and was less than discreet with the volume and tone of her voice. While at the symphony a month or so ago, a woman sitting behind us proceeded to hum along with the orchestra (though she was not a featured soloist nor was she an accompanist listed on the program). I have watched people actually answer their cell phones during worship and proceed to talk (in one case while sitting in the front pew on the lectern side). During pot lucks and other food events in the congregation, we have had to resort to telling children they must be accompanied by a parent and parents they must watch and limit what their children take (and then throw away because they do not want it) because we have had instances when the folks at the end of the line (usually me, my family, and other church staff) did not have any food left to choose from. I have watched as people have defaced public and private property on a whim and had parents of children who did this cover it up. I could go on...
This is not a simple cast of disrespect. This is a bold and unapologetic definition of the world in terms of ME -- my wants, desires, whims, and tastes. Certainly it is true that people may not be any "worse" than those of other generations but it is true that we no longer hide our selfish and self-centered ways. We are bolder and bolder in our public behavior of manners and actions that betray how we see the world, others, and ourselves. We no longer find any shame in seeing the world through the lens of me. So what we do or say or want or think or feel becomes the primary if not only lens through which we see the world around us and by which we define how we relate to one another.
All of this makes the Church's voice for morality, polite and respectful behavior, and deferment to others before self even more out of step with the times. We as a nation and and a culture no longer feel compelled to hide what we have always thought but knew it was impolite and rude to display -- me first. The loss of this public morality with its constraint has left us with a cruder and more vulgar culture and people. Our children are the victims of all of this. Both in language and in behavior we have injured them and passed on a grave handicap by the lack of a public morality to constrain what has been inside of us all along.
While some argue for a religious revolution, I think what they mean is the return to a public standard of morality in which the base desires of self are constrained in our public dealings and relationships with others. I wish that those who decry what has happened were actually looking for a renewal of the faith but I fear that what they really want from religion is the restoration of this public standard of morality which places boundaries upon the words and actions of others.
If the Church consents to give society this instead of giving them Jesus Christ, we may have applied a band-aid for the short term but we have failed in our mission and purpose as the heralds of the kingdom of God. Now don't get me wrong -- I am in favor of working for a renewal of our public face of morality with its accompanying constraints upon the display of our selfish and self-absorbed ways. I think it is a good thing and I long for the days when the media felt constrained not simply to display reality that degrades but to serve to ennoble us as people and herald our virtues. This was the whole reason why opera, for example, used the Greco-Roman mythology and virtue as its subject matter for so long. The media of the day saw its purpose as an agent to uplift, constrain, and encourage -- toward that which was good and right and true. But that is not the purpose of the Church. We are not here to be a facsimile for a public morality that has been lost.
The Church is here to proclaim Jesus Christ. In this respect we are most inefficient -- we work not as a great movement of people but as one person at a time hears the Word of the Lord, is transformed by the work of the Spirit, repents of his or her sins, and works with the Holy Spirit to amend his or her sinful life. I think that both the Christian right and left look on our culture and desire to make a difference -- albeit from very different perspectives. They each have their own ideas of what is the good that should be but they both see the Church basically as an agent of cultural change and renewal. In reality the Church is an agent of individual and personal change and renewal -- not by the imposition of a new law but by union with Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit.
As citizens I hope and pray that we will work to renew a sense of public morality that will constrain the excess and take from the public eye the approving view of self. But as a Christian I hope and pray that the Church will not forget who we are in Christ and what we are here to proclaim. For this reason we act in but not of the world, working for the improvement of every condition of society as people who live in this world, yet having a full understanding of our citizenship in heaven and the goal never to be realized until this flesh give way to the new flesh and blood that we have see in Jesus, the first born of what we shall be.