Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Social Problem. . .

From another blog:  A report endorsed by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, warns that the Church faces a battle to prevent faith being seen as “a social problem.”  Though this is certainly in England and not necessarily pointed toward the situation in the US, it is a prescient comment.  Once the Church was seen as an agent of improvement -- of moral and behavioral improvement and a reliable voice for integrity, truth, justice, and mercy.  Once the Church was an agent of prophetic address against the abuses and corruption of the moment.  Once the Church was a welcome addition to the public square, to the community at large, and even to property in the local neighborhood.  No longer.

Nearly 30 years ago I first found another image of the Church.  The county in upstate New York where I lived was filled with properties owned by churches (non-profit groups) and the cost of losing the tax dollars and the shortage of budget money was making the churches not exactly welcome neighbors.  In the end, the county worked to justify the religious use of those properties and discounted any non-used property from tax exemption.  There was a time when the Church was exempt from such scrutiny.  No longer.

It was not long until politics and religion began to part ways.  The days of the network of religious right organizations wielding great political power have waned.  In fact, the voters are not so sure that they want their President or other political leaders to have any real religious convictions.  Consider the pointed questions aimed at GOP contenders Bachman and Perry for their evangelical faith or Huntsman and Romney for their Mormon faith.  Obama found it necessary to distance himself from his former church home and claims his Christianity without a formal church home or tie.

The world is changing and Christian faith is seen as the wrong kind of influence or the wrong direction by so many folks today.  Consider how many blame religion and faith for divisions, conflict, oppression, and violence.  Listen to how the media insists upon respect for Islam, for example, with whom the media has little ideology in common and then listen to the way Christians are berated as being neanderthals with respect to science and its claims, cromagnon with respect to the rights and role of women, archaic with respect to morals and marriage, and outmoded with respect to raising children and family values.

The point of this is not to tell us something we do not already know but to remind us -- every time we think the world is friendly, it is a gloved hand waiting to expose our weakness and exploit it to discredit our Gospel and distract from the Word and work of Christ.  We will see this increase as the faith is seen as a social problem, tolerated only because of the Bill of Rights, but castigated and consigned to the fringes of polite society.

But even then the end is not yet come.... nor is the work of God stumped, stymied, or ceased.  The kingdom of God comes not because the world warms up to us Christians but because the Word of God is effectual, it does what it promises, delivers what it offers, bears the fruit for which God intends it.  Yet too many of us as Christians have been more concerned with gaining the world's friendship than with faithfully proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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