Certainly the face of a legalistic Christianity which seemed to be more concerned with controlling behavior rather than transforming hearts with the Gospel would not be welcomed by an unbelieving world. The stereotype of a Christian who says only "no" has colored the face of Christianity and made it easy for unbelievers to dismiss with delight. Christians have in some ways hidden behind the cultural face of the faith. Christian became a synonym for what society deemed proper and for a person who led a decent enough life, did not beat spouse or children, did not cause a scandal, and took care of himself. As long as it seemed to work in an external sense, many churches were content to leave the mask in place.
At the same time, however, American culture became more gritty. We became accustomed to the vulgar language that now predominates. We no longer looked away at the gratuitous sex and violence in the movies and did not object when it moved to prime time TV. We are rude to the people we don't like and even impolite to the people we do. The opinions that once we talked and argued about became dividing lines that prevented any conversation at all -- only name calling and threatening words that further deepened the divide.
While I do not relish returning to the way things were, I do miss the civility that once seemed ordinary and not exceptional. Even in the Church, where political opinions should take second place to the faith that unites us, our people talk about their politics and often in the same way they do in the public square. I am sure that I am not the only pastor who has heard complaints about these political conversations. More than once I have listened to a member complain that off color jokes and stories were told over coffee in the fellowship hall or greeting in the entry way. It seems that the cultural Christianity of the past seemed to have more influence over what appropriate and salutary conversation and life than we gave it credit. Both inside and outside the Church, cultural Christianity had its influence and, whether welcome or legitimate of not, it was part of what made our live more civil and polite -- even if only on the outside.