Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Myth of a Christian Nation, Part 9

Chapter 7 in Myth... is called "When Chief Sinners Become Moral Guardians", and is one of my favorites in the book. So much so, that we need two separate posts on it.

As we have said in the last post, Boyd is in the process of listing 5 negative consequences of believing the myth that America is a Christian nation. Chapter 6 covers the first three. Chapter seven covers the fourth, which is that when this myth is believed, it leads Christians to think that they are the moral guardians of society, that they are the moral conscience of the nation. Greg believes that this is misguided, and can even be harmful to the kingdom message, for at least 5 reasons.

1. "[A]s people called to mimic Jesus in every area of our lives, we should find it significant that Jesus never assumed the position of moral guardian over any individual, let alone the culture at large...His purpose, apparently, was not to guard, promote, or fix public morality."

Greg points out that it is true that Jesus publically confronted the religious leaders of his day for the hypocrisy and the using of religion for their own monetary gain. Greg points out that this style of confrentation is in line with a long tradition of Jewish prophets who held the Jewish religious and political leaders accountable. It should be noted, though, that they don't see it as their job to hold the non-Jewish leaders accountable. Boyd uses the example of a Catholic Cardinal reprimanding a parish priest. That behavior is much different than Christians "trying to regulate the morality of their non-Christian culture.

2. "[W]hen we assume the role of moral guardians of the culture, we invariably position ourselves as judges over others." Greg points out that not only does Jesus not do this, he actually forbids it, telling his followers not to judge others. Paul and James say similar things elswhere in the New Testament. Boyd acknowledges, though, that this does not prelude discernment, but that we should "never separate ourselves from people by comparing and contrasting ourselves with them."

3. "[W]hen the church sets itself up as the moral police of the culture, we earn the reputation of being self-righteous judgers rather than loving, self-sacrificial servants...While tax collectors and prostitutes gravitated to Jesus because of his magnetic kingdom love, these sorts of sinners steer clear of the church, just as they did the Pharisees, and for the exact same reasons: they do not experience unconditional love and acceptance in our midst--they experience judgement." In fact, in a pole done by the Barna Group, when asked to rank people groups based on their respectability, " 'Evangelical Christians' were ranked one notch above the bottom, just above prostitutes." The hard truth is that Evangelical or born-again Christian in America are not known for being especially loving. And, the fact that we continue to claim that we are loving despite the fact that no one thinks that is even more catastrophic.

4. [W]hen people assume the position of moral guardians of the vulture, they invite--they earn!--the charge of hypocrisy. For all judgement, save the judgement of the omnicient and holy God involves hypocrisy...Instead of seeing our own sins as worse than others, we invariably set up a list of sins in which our sins are deemed minor while other people's sins are deemed major. We may have dust particles in our eyes, we reason, but at least we don't have tree trunks like "those people.'"

5. "The fifth fundamental problem with the church being the moral guardian of society is that, throughout history, the church has proven itself to be a very poor moral guardian...Issues related to sex getm massive amounts of attention while issues related to corporate greed, societal greed, homelessness, poverty, racism, the environment, racial injustice, genocide, war, and the treatment of animals...typically get little attention."

Does this mean that Evangelical Christians shouldn't speak out publically on moral issues? Absolutely not! We should speak out, but we should do so in a distinctly kingdom way. We should speak with self-sacrificial actions more than words. We should speak not as moral superiors but as self-confessing moral inferiors. We should call attention to issues by entering into solidarity with those who suffer injustice. We should seek to free people from sin by serving them, not by trying to lord it over them. And we should trust that God will use our Calvary-like service to others to advance his kingdom in the world.

Next time we will look in depth at the two examples that Boyd uses in this chapter, homosexuality and abortion. Stay tuned.

No comments: