Monday, March 30, 2015

So Many Christians, So Few Lions: So Where is This Taking Us?

Last week, in my discussion of So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in the United States by George Yancey and David Williamson, I mentioned “objectifying,” the process by which people hostile to Christians essentially dehumanize them. This is not a theoretical issue; virtually every genocide has it roots in dehumanizing groups or culture. Hitler and Goebbels did this with the Jews; it happened in Rwanda and Bosnia; one could even argue it happened with the American Indians, with the Australian aborigines, and with African-Americans from slavery times onward.  

Objectifying people can have deadly consequences.

This doesn’t mean I think that journalists, movie stars, executives at the Ford Foundation, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and George Soros are ready to herd conservative Christians into concentration camps. That sentiment would be objectifying people hostile to Christians.

What is clear, however, is this: the (largely successful) attempts to push Christian influence to the very margins of society, and preferably to eliminate it from the public sphere altogether, will continue and probably intensify. In certain areas, like the universities, people with view contrary to the prevailing ones will find themselves more and more isolated and cut off. Students with conservative Christian views will be stigmatized. Parents who object to their public school children being propagandized will find themselves suspect, talked about, and marginalized, usually in some condescending manner.

These things are happening now.

Politics isn’t much better. The Republican Party needs the votes of conservative Christians, but many party leaders want nothing to do with what conservative Christians care about. The Democratic Party is not interested in those votes.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it may be a good thing. Our Christian faith is not defined by politics or parties, or by whom we vote for. At least it shouldn’t be. It’s also not defined by who wins elections, or by the next boneheaded editorial in the newspaper, or by Hollywood glorifying some behavior that is wrong (Hollywood has been doing that for a very long time).

What the culture doesn’t understand is that it’s become “the culture.” And it’s conservative Christians who have become “the counter-culture.”

Whenever and wherever Christianity has worked best, it has always been countercultural. That’s how Christianity started – as a countercultural influence against first the established Jewish religion in Judea and Galilee and eventually against the Roman Empire. Jesus did not lead an armed rebellion against the Jewish rulers, and the early Christians did not lead an armed rebellion against Rome. Instead of armed rebellions, the tactics involved ministering to people.

The two areas that seem to me to hold the most promise are the inner city and the arts.

Fifty years after the United States embarked upon a quest to eradicate poverty, we have the disaster zones known as the inner cities.  When I worked for St. Louis Public Schools, I spent a lot of time in areas of the inner city that I hadn’t even known existed, like an elementary school with security doors and video surveillance, and barbed wire and bars on the windows through the second story. It sat by itself in a sea of empty lots, houses and community long destroyed. The student turnover rate was 110 percent annually.

Opportunity abounds in this place, in all kinds of ways.

The second area is the arts, but not if we keep them in the Christian ghetto. Initiatives are happening all over, like the International Arts Movement championed by Makoto Fujimura. It reaches into a number of cities, and it can reach into even more. The online poetry site I work with, Tweetspeak Poetry, is staffed largely by people of the Christian faith but who focus on things of beauty, value, and worth.

And we pray. We pray for our communities, and we pray for the people who are hostile to us. Regularly praying for people is a good way to avoid objectifying them.

And we can do that.

Start by reading this book. It’s important.

Related: Yesterday, So Many Christians co-author George Yancey posted an article in online Christianity Today entitled “What Christianophobia Looks Like in America.”

Illustration: Golden Sea by Makoto Fujimura (2011), mineral pigments and gold on kumohada, collection of Roberta and Howard Ahmanson.

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