Friday, May 5, 2017

Christianity is Failing in the United States of America

Recently, I had the good fortune to attend Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C.  I didn't really know what to expect going into the conference, but I can honestly say it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life.  Throughout those four days, I was challenged and encouraged, humbled and praised.  We heard from power-house speakers whose passion and dedication to social justice fueled my own.  I was made at some times to feel helpless, and at other times to feel powerful.  One instant filled with sadness, the next overwhelming joy.  I was enraged.  I was hopeful.  The world was laid out for me in all of its stark brokenness.  The curtain yanked back to reveal the wickedness within.  Then an image of the world as it could be, as it should be, was offered.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.  I was moved to tears nearly as often as to laughter.  I was invigorated.  I was motivated.  I was inspired.

I could go on and on about this conference, and spend hours and hours writing about everything I took away from it.  But there's one major takeaway that I really want to focus on in this moment, which is this...

Christianity is failing in the United States of America.

Let me explain.

When I say Christianity is failing in the United States, I don't just mean the Church is failing.  I don't mean it's failing because of the current trend of young people leaving the Church, essentially taking its future with them, although that's definitely a consequence of the failing.  I also don't mean that the U.S. has strayed so far from its Christian roots, both imagined and historically grounded, that it has lost its central values and is navigating the modern world with a broken moral compass.  No, none of that is what I mean when I say that Christianity is failing in the United States.

Christianity is failing in the United States because Christians don't love enough.  We say we do.  We love to talk about just how much we love one another, about how welcoming and hospitable we are towards each other.  When it comes down to it, however, when the call comes to stand up and demand justice, to protect the vulnerable, to challenge the status quo even at the risk of ourselves and our privileges, do we answer that call?

Some of us do.  Most of us don't.

We make excuses that the world is to broken, there's just to much, there's no way for any of it to be truly fixed anyway.  We obsess so much over a Kingdom of God that we envision far off in the future, an afterlife of perfection that is just waiting for us on the other side, that we don't try to bring the Kingdom to us in the here and now.  We put all of the responsibility of change and justice in God's hands, but don't bother to carry our fair-share of the burden.  We push our own agendas on others, disguising it as justice, instead of considering what is good for all people, not just ourselves.

Christianity is failing in this country because we satisfy ourselves with band-aid solutions to our societal problems, instead of digging in and looking at the true issues at the foundation of those problems.  During Ecumenical Advocacy Days, we focused a lot of our attention on Martin Luther King Jr. and his speech "Beyond Vietnam".  In this particular speech, he highlights the "triplets of evil": racism, materialism, and militarism.  Much of what was discussed during the four days focused on the impact and implications of these triplets, still as relevant today as they were 50 years ago when Dr. King wrote his speech, especially within the realm of politics.

People always say that politics don't belong in Church.  The separation of Church and State, for many, means that the Church has no right to try and sway people politically.  To some extent, this is true.  The Church is no place for Bipartisan politics.  The Church is no place for political agendas that don't benefit the majority of people.  But politics do belong within the Church.  And the Mosque.  And the Synagogue.  And the Temple.  Christians must be politically aware and active.  People of faith must be politically aware and active.  It is through our politics, through our government, that the nation's morality and priorities are displayed.  Right now, looking at our politics, the proposed policies and direction the government wants to head, the United States appears greedy.  Power-hungry.  Selfish.  Unconcerned with the most vulnerable and oppressed among its own people.  Unconcerned with the devastation we often leave in our wake around the world.

But what are we, specifically we Christians, doing about it?

Our preachers offer up shallow sermons and homilies.  They don't challenge us in our current context.  They don't address the concerns and realities we face day-to-day.  Yet, whenever a pastor or priest does try to speak to the injustices surrounding us, we criticize them.  Tell them it's not their place.

How often when we talk about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. do we refer to him as Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?  Why are we so easily able to make his faith a footnote of his life when it was the driving force behind almost everything he did?  Why are we so afraid to be challenged by our preachers?  To be challenged by our faith?  To challenge our faith and our faith leaders in turn?

Do we really think we're living out our faith when we turn away from injustice and corruption?  That we're spreading the Gospel message when we refuse to give up any of our creature-comforts so someone less fortunate can have at least what they need to not only survive, but thrive along with us?  That we're truly upholding the gift of Christ's sacrifice on the cross by blaming the poor and oppressed for their lot in life, instead of holding accountable the powers and systems that keep the poor poor and the rich rich?

If we, the people of the Christian faith, do not prioritize the needs and support of the poor and most vulnerable in this nation and this world...if we support or turn a blind-eye to policies that hold materialism and militarism over care of the hungry, the war-torn, the displaced, and the oppressed...then we fail to uphold our purported Christian values.  When white Christians refuse to recognize their innate privilege, refuse to understand how that privilege is built on the pain and suffering of people of color, and refuse to stand against it despite the cost, we fail.  When feminist Christians fail to recognize the extra barriers facing women of color, and don't first strive to catch them up before moving forward in the pursuit of gender equity together, we fail.  When older Christians scoff at young people's efforts for justice, lament at the lost of the young within the Church but don't actually take the time to understand that young people have lost faith in a Church they view as stagnant and passive, we fail.  If we, as Christians, keep our heads down and ourselves quiet because "I doesn't affect me", we fail.  If we don't reach out a hand of friendship and love to our Muslim brothers and sisters, standing up to those who would spread Islamophobia so that hate towards a community of faith is allowed to grow, we fail.  If we aren't enraged every time an unarmed black man is killed in the streets by police, we fail.  If we aren't deeply concerned about the injustice of our prison systems, and how people of color are disproportionately incarcerated to an alarming degree in this country, we fail.  If we don't fight to protect our environment, believing it a gift from God that is not ours to use and abuse, we fail.  If we don't raise our voices in protest when the health of our most vulnerable is put at risk because those in power have prioritized the profits of insurance companies over the well-being of the public they are meant to serve, we fail.  If we don't always work to show compassion and understanding to those whose backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs are different from our own instead of judging and condemning them, we fail.

We fail in living out the Gospel message of radical love, acceptance, and compassion.  We fail to appreciate the gift of the sacrifice that was the crucifixion.  To recognize our responsibility to each other and our world in light of the promise of the resurrection.  We fail Christ.  We fail God.

And in this failure, we forfeit the privilege to call ourselves Christians.

Yet, we are human.  We all will fail from time to time.  Our greatest failure, however, is when we refuse to recognize our own faults.  Our own shortcomings.  When we refuse to try and be better because our own stubbornness and certainty of our own righteousness blinds us to the pain and struggle of others.

Christians need to do better in this country.  We need to love more.  Listen more.  Fight more.  We need to let ourselves be challenged, and not shy away from conflict but embrace it as an opportunity to grow and learn more about our world.  Our faith is not a comfortable one.  We should not let our own comforts mean more to us than the justice of others.

We need to do better, but we can do better.  If we remember that our faith is not, at its heart, a faith of power and prestige, but a humble faith, a sometimes rebellious faith, yet a faith always centered on love and compassion, we stand a chance of getting it right.

That's what I witnessed at Ecumenical Advocacy Days.  Christians from all denominations coming together to do good and to fight injustice because their powerful faith would not allow them to sit on the sidelines and simply watch things happen.  It drove them to make their voices heard, and hold the powers that be accountable for their actions.  It gave me real hope that things can get better.  That things will get better.  We just need to stop using our faith as an excuse to do nothing, and recognize it as our reason to do everything we can to make this world a better place.

Until next time,
Erin B.

Below are some of the very notable plenary speakers from Ecumenical Advocacy Days.  Feel free to view and enjoy!



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