How Christians Got a Bad Rap

abbey-939529_1920So…, when you’re lost how do you find your way again?  Ask directions. You don’t want to get THAT lost again! But it also helps to look back, to see where we went wrong.

            It is harder to find your way when new roads overrun the old ones. Simply put, you need a new map, or today a GPS. Your cultural map is out of date; you think the old route, but find new signs that make you go “HUH?” You’re on the wrong road, even though you want it to be the right one. What happened, you think?  You’ve been buffaloed (sorry, old Wyoming joke).

            Let’s start by twisting our necks around to look back. Where did Christians become culturally lost? Where did the road take new turns?  What happens when we insist on following old maps?

The Bad News: how Christianity marginalized itselfSo much changed in the 20th century it was virtually impossible to keep up. An acceleration in population expansion and mass migration (and immigration) had a tremendous impact on all areas of life. Technology and communication grew to the point of vertical take-off.  For some people, namely North American Christian conservatives, the rate of change was simply too much. So many of us isolate ourselves, and our families, into protective cocoons from a culture that we perceived as increasingly complex, a bad influence, and even an evil influence.  As unbelievable as it may sound, Christians in North America started the 20th century skeptical of such things as electricity, artificial light, mechanized forms of transportation, and, later, radio and TV. We ALL finished the 20th century with reservations about the Internet, and skeptical view of e-lationships  “Come on, how can you feel close to someone you’ve only met on a computer!?”  (Ever hear that one?)

The conservative withdrawal was driven by the need to feel safe again, secure within our church walls, our small groups, and our Bible studies. Though it appeared that the conservative Christian community was assimilating into society in reality it was merely running parallel with society, along its own track. Not surprisingly, the result of these actions, was that the rest of the world simply moved on. We were set aside by the western world; but in a real sense we sidelined ourselves. We positioned ourselves in opposition to the rest of society and developed our own Christian kingdom, safely confined within church walls. Secular society took the upper cultural hand, but not without criticism or commentary from the religious right.  In the end, the conservative tongue was clipped, her voice was stifled, and her philosophical position silenced.

A Whiplash Effect

A number of cultural factors contributed to the marginalizing (setting aside) of conservative Christians. It is not so much that Western society turned its back on the veracity of the Christian faith. It was society’s response to Christianity’s ill-mannered activities around the world. To list a few of the earlier historical events that even now drive people from the church—

  • The Crusades (1095-1291). Though these wars date back a thousand years, they nevertheless laid the groundwork for an attitude of us vs. them that has continued in the collective consciousness to this day. The search for the Holy Grail, the liberation of the Promised Land, and the annihilation of the heathen Muslims in Jerusalem all seemed to our Christian forebears to be of honorable intent. This was perceived by the unbelieving world as something quite different, something aggressive and egregiously evil.
  • The Inquisition (1291-1522)   (primarily Spanish, but throughout Europe) An example of Christianity at its worst. In the name of theological purity the Holy Roman Catholic Church tortured, maimed, and executed many who did not tow the party line. Branded heretic, many genuine Christians were burned at the stake in the name of Christ. The effects of The Inquisition rippled throughout all Europe and the East. The Christian Faith was perceived to be an unforgiving violent faith, and often a treacherous religion.
  • The Protestant Reformation (1564+). In the beginning the Reformation appeared hopeful to the populations of Europe, offering a richer, deeper faith. Those within the Roman Catholic Church protested the sale of salvation (a.k.a. Indulgences) via monetary dues paid to the Church. They protested the abuses of the clergy, the secularizing of the church and its acquisition of wealth and political power. One protesting priest, Martin Luther, was held in contempt, put on trial, and defrocked.

Jumping ahead to the 20th century we find more recent, memorable events that the world interpreted as Christian stupidity. The highlights are:

  • The rejection of technological innovation in the early 1900s: the automobile, the electric light, flight, and radio were all seen as instruments of the Devil, presaging the End Times.
  • The First World War fought between “Christian nations” did little for our spiritual persona worldwide.
  • The abuses and extremes of the early Pentecostal movement. (Personality cults, snakes, anti-intellectualism.)
  • The Scopes Trials (1923), with its confrontation between Darwinism and the Bible. [We lost.]
  • The Second World War; the remnants of Christendom at war with each other again. And yet a new manifestation of the centuries old war between East and West (Japan).
  • The Holocaust and the public Christian silence concerning its atrocities. Some, even denying it ever happened.
  • Equating the American dream and a conservative life-style with evangelical Christian theology.
  • Jonestown Massacre. Beginning as a social justice movement in the San Francisco Bay Area, and claiming to be Christian in nature, the People’s Temple soon declined to the demigod worship of one man—the Rev. Jim Jones. The November 18, 1978 mass suicide of 913 members of The People’s Temple, embedded itself in the minds of North Americans as a prime example of Christian fundamentalist-right extremism.
  • The Televangelist financial scandals of 1987.
  • The Moral Majority. Founded by Rev Jerry Falwell in 1979 as a movement to return America to its “Christian roots.” Many Americans saw the MM as a ploy to re-Christianize our country, thus eliminating pluralism.
  •  “Sexual misconduct” by numerous evangelical leaders in the early 21st century (Ted Haggard, John Edwards, etc.).
  • Sex scandals of Roman Catholic Priests in Boston. Reaching back 25 years earlier, Investigators uncovered hetero/homosexual misbehavior and assault by Catholic priests on altar boys and school girls. All covered over in secrecy ‘till the early twenty-first century revelations by Cardinal Bernard Law, who tried to set things straight, but was eventually swept up in the scandal as a sympathizer.

The last half of the 20th Century saw the church in the West succumb to real scrutiny and definitive loss of influence due to both its isolationist stance and public blunders; a condition not seen infrequently throughout our history. In short, we really blew it— internally and externally! We ruined so much of our public image and influence.

So now what?!? NEW MAPS…, er, I mean— GPS?!? Read on!

  Gary

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Chapter 1. New Maps-Old Roads

51nopdewa5l-_sx326_bo1204203200_      My last few months as a senior in college I worked as the Athletic Director for the local YMCA. Since it was a somewhat smaller Y, I was responsible for just about everything. But it did have one perk I had not quite counted upon—the summer tour! So, the summer between college days and my first year of grad school found me working as a swimming coach for the YMCA on tour throughout North America. Our team hit national and local parks and swimming clubs across the United States, Canada, and Mexico.  We competed with local outcroppings of the Y and anybody else who wanted to swim against us. One of the places we toured was Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Now, growing up as an inner-city kid in Baltimore, MD, I could never have imagined a place so majestic, so alive, so grand. Jackson Hole got to me. I fell in love with the town, the people, and, of course, Grand Teton National Park. I vowed that I would return yearly!

      For the most part I was able to do so, until the onslaught of kids eight years into our marriage. But in our early marriage Starr (my dangerous wife) and I made the 2,400 mile trek from the East Coast to the Tetons an annual pilgrimage. For a couple of years we tried to see if we could find our way to Wyoming without ever opening a road map. I was guided by my heart, by my passion for the West, by my memory, and by a small piece of paper with route numbers. Yup, you got it, never missed a turn; well, okay, maybe a few where we had to back track.

      Until, one day, the Wyoming Department of Roads put in a NEW road, then redirected and renamed the old ones. I was forced into unfamiliar territory. You guessed it; we got totally lost. Old roads now had new route numbers; and there were now new roads where before there had been only buffalo and antelope. Now I‘m not one of these guys who is afraid to ask directions. By humorist Dave Barry‘s standards I may not be a real guy, but at least I don‘t stay lost long, either. I ask for help.  Saves time and frustration.

     You need to do the same.  When you‘re lost…, ask directions.

     The point of this chapter is this— unless you are consciously living your life continually immersed within contemporary culture, you need help finding your way. It is harder to find your way when new roads overrun the old ones. Simply put, you need a new map. Your cultural map is out of date; you think the old route, but find new signs that make you go ―HUH? You‘re on the wrong road, even though you want it to be the right one. What happened, you think?  You’ve been buffaloed (sorry, old Wyoming joke).

      Let‘s start by twisting our necks around to look back. Where did Christians get culturally lost? Where did the road take new turns?  What happens when we insist on following old maps?

Getting lost to find our way again,

  Gary

Closing Doors #4 The power and the glory?

img_8814     From 1,000 to 1,500, Europe saw unprecedented changes in virtually every aspect of life. The Black Plague and a “Mini Ice-Age” [1312-1850] had decimated the population, while the crop failures of 1315-1322 devastated the economy and the population. The Church in Europe had sunk to the level of feudal governance, charging their adherents for everything—baptisms, funerals, penances, and indulgences (to buy their way into heaven).

     The priesthood became exorbitantly powerful and wealthy. During the famines and cold weather they were able to wear warm, elegant clothes and live in luxury, while the hoi polloi could barely keep their rags mended. The Church also had a plentiful storage of food: at one point, wheat prices rose by 320% (France).  It was these extravagances, practices and heretical theology that led a monk in Germany, one Martin Luther, to lash out in protest against the Catholic Church. His actions resulted in what we now call the Protestant Reformation.

     Alongside the Church, the rest of Europe witnessed great strides in technology, art, and exploration. The “new world” was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Themovable type Printing Press, invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1455, ushered in the first days of the Information Age. In architecture and art, grandiose style of Baroque prevailed. Albrecht Durer (Praying Hands) imported Italian influence into Germany. Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo became the quintessential artists who developed perspective in their paintings and sculpture. Hayden, Handel, Bach, and Mozart scored complex orchestral pieces. Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and Johannes Kepler proposed a heliocentric (not geo-centric) understanding of our solar system.

     The idea of human reasoning as a way of determining Truth was proposed by René Descartes. The idea of common sense came from John Locke. These philosophers, and others, influenced the ideas found in the U.S. Constitution.

     In the midst of all these revolutionary inventions, discoveries, new ideas and technologies, where stands the Church? In two words— wealthy and split: no longer between East and West, but between Catholic centralism, and Protestant diversity and expansion. The new Protestant ideologies fostered a rise in creative reorganization and reconstruction. In some ways, this freed Christian thinkers to reexamine Scriptural Truths in the light of the cultural and scientific revolutions of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Protestant churches became the churches of the people, rather than the authoritative dominance of the clergy in the Catholic Church.

     But things were changing. Between 1500 and 1850 the relationship between the Church and her surrounding cultures witnessed great strides in compassion, but also great assaults from the spread of Enlightenment and Renaissance ideologies. Eventually, even American individualism spread throughout Western Culture…, and the faith, with both positive and negative effects. A new secularism in the Church began to erode her influence in our world.

     True, the Church had finally opened her doors to the outside world— and she had lost her healing edge.

 In…— not of,
  Gary

Closing Door #3 The year 1000

dr gary Davis, clueless, crusades, church history, closed doors

The year 1000 was a pivotal year in both society and Church. Our world was in juxtaposition to itself: Europe was just entering the Middle Ages, when agricultural technology took a great step forward; by contrast, sub-Saharan Africa was still in the darkness of the pre-historical era.

     The entire world population hovered between 250 & 300 million people.

     Within the Church, the authority of the Papacy was in decline. It was the period of saeculum obscurum, the Dark Ages. The church in Europe retreated from “the world” for safety and seclusion. This left an open door for Islam to invade southern Europe and occupy the Iberian Peninsula.

     The dominance of Islam in the Holy Land initiated Pope Urban’s call to all Christians to lead a Holy Crusade against the Muslims who had overrun Jerusalem as well as the Holy City of Constantinople. The Millennium had gotten off to a cataclysmic start. True believers were, once again, confronted with the choice to enter the fray in the Holy Land to defend the faith, or to retreat to walled cities and monasteries for safety, food, and seclusion from the world outside.

     Another notable event was the Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in 1095. The Eastern Church did not believe that Christianity needed one central authority, in one man, as the final arbiter of all matters of faith. The Orthodox Church operated more as a fraternity of churches, rather than a hierarchy of churches that traced papal authority in direct lineage to the Apostle Peter. The Church closed its doors on itself, splitting East and West.

     During the European Plagues, one ending in 750, and another, emerging in Central Asia, to hit Europe in 1346. The second plague became known as The Black Death; nearly 25 million people perished during this pandemic.

     Once again, the Church opened its doors to the poor, weak, and dying; she then swallowed them within; holding tight rein over their actions, land, and purse-strings.

     Too often it takes a devastating event to motivate Christians to reach into the lives of the lost to care for them, feed them, and journey alongside them. We dare not allow the models of our faith in the past determine our present interface with the world around us.

     I know I’ve quoted G.K. Chesterton [1874-1936] before; but it seems apropos to do so again.

What our world needs now is a new kind of Prophet.
Not one like the Prophets of old who told men they were going to die;
But one who would tell them they are not dead yet.

 Not dead yet,

  Gary

From the Archives

Small_USPS_TruckFrom March 1998

Personal encounters with an obvious Work of God.
An obvious work of God-something that seems kind of rare; you don’t experience it everyday. So it’s nice to relate one such encounter for your reflection.
She was a postal worker; someone who had taken our packages and letters (like NEEDnews) and mailed them out for us over the past 10+ years. In many people’s eyes, someone just to glass over and get on with your life. But God had arranged a divine encounter, as it were.
My executive  assistant, was mailing out some correspondence for me last week when Anne noticed the NEED letterhead on the envelopes, “oh, you must work for Gary. Could you have him call me; there’s something I need to talk over with him.”
So Anne and I met at The Pub for some munchies. “I’ll be direct. I need to find a spiritual path for my life and I have no idea how to find one. You are one of the few spiritual people I know who will shoot straight with me. Where do I look?”
Anne went on to tell me of the personal unhappiness she carried with her, even with “the best husband in the world.” She talked about the 2-3 years of counseling she had just completed when her therapist told her “I don’t know what else to do for you.” She talked about her dreams and the weight of feeling unfulfilled as she approached 50. Then she said, “How would you guide me in the quest for a spiritual path?”
It was obvious that the Lord was drawing her to himself. It was his Spirit at work in her. I was just the guest at the party, the interpreter, the navigator.
So I told her of how Christ came to reestablish a connection between us and our creator. I told her that our ancestors rejection of God’s perimeters for our protection (that’s sin for most of us) had broken our relationship with God and badly damaged our human relationships.
“What you need, Anne is to be reconnected with the God who made you and loves you.”
“But that’s a big step, Gary, and I’m not a risk taker.”
“Anything in life worth going for is a risk, Anne.”
“I know. That’s why I need your help.”
“Well, okay. But really need to talk to God himself. He’s a lot more help than I’ll ever be.”
We just gave her the Guide Book, a Bible.
Gary

Phases 12-Where do we go from here?

 we_can_do_itThis will be the last entry in our series- The Phases of the Christian Life.
     If you have been following this series, by now you have tried to determine where you are in the phases of your own Christian life.
  • Deliverance
  • Delight
  • Discipleship
  • Distraction
  • Disillusion
  • Discouragement (Despair)
  • Decisions
  • Dedication
  • Deliverance (again)
  • Delight (on and on and on)
Well, don’t bother. Time for me to ‘fess up.
     There is no sequence of phases to the Christian life. You might find yourself in one phase or another depending on your life circumstances and your responses to them: you may find yourself delighting in one area of your life and discouraged in another; this may last for a long time. Get some help.
     The goal, however, remains the same- Delight. Delight is the culmination of all the facets of our Christian journey: accepting Christ’s deliverance from and forgiveness for our sin, overcoming distraction and disillusionment, deciding daily to dedicate our lives to the joy of becoming Christ’s disciples; bringing all aspects of our life under His authority until it feels more like freedom than obedience.
     Do keep in mind that this is a life-long process. It is NOT an instantaneous “poof” and all is well. Some Christians never fully accept Christ’s forgiveness for their sins, deciding instead to wallow in chronic guilt and confession. Others rarely delight in their Lord; they always seem to be working harder at their Christian life. Still others avoid decisions at all costs, dreading they might make the wrong choice. Some never fully dedicate their lives to Christ, fearing they may miss something our world dangles before them.
     There are some practices that will help you stay the course, especially through the rougher times.
  • Private Prayer
  • Friendships
  • Time Alone Time in Community
  • Scotch
  • Exercise
  • Rest
  • Time Away
  • Productivity
  • Scripture (en mass)
  • Reassess your Routine
  • Prayer with Friends
     Everyone needs a Safe Person, a Safe Place, & a Safe Activity. A great meal out would be a good place to discover what yours are; and to put to use some of the ideas in the above list. My favorite place is the Sonterra Grill in Colorado Springs. Great Pineapple-Habanero Salsa. Bring a friend.
     Whatever you do, give God room to work in your life the way He wants to work. Don’t dictate to Him how things are to be done. It’s just not safe.
In Phase 3, or 5, or is it 7? Whatever!
  Gary

Phases #11 Delight, over and over again

gary davis, delight, deliverance, grace, depression, journeyYour first pony ride. The first snowfall of winter. The first ice cream cone of summer. Your first car. Your first kiss; okay, and the second. Your first REAL job. Your wedding. Your first child. Delights all!

     Do you remember when you first realized that your sins, your rebellion, were truly, genuinely, completely forgiven? Now run those feelings, those realities throughout the rest of your life.

     Oh, not there yet, huh? I’m not talking about people who don’t know Christ; well, in a way I could be. Rather, I’m talking to Christians who always get stuck in their lethargy, or who never quite entrust their lives to Christ; guarded Christians.

     Seriously, why would anyone want to live as a ½ committed Christian, hanging on to their ownership of who they used to be?!? That has to be one of the most frustrating, exasperating lives imaginable. Too much work, always keeping track of what you’ve said, or done wrong. No way!

     Delighting in Christ, knowing the freedom to dance before God with a clean slate, is one of the most amazing realities about being a genuine Christian, instead of a half-hearted, morbid self-condemning “Christian.” How does anybody live like that? Who would want to?

     Check yourself. How are you living? Like a guilty Christian or as a forgiven sinner? This is NOT just a matter of perspective: it is a reflection on how you view Christ’s work on the cross— for you. I’d rather be dancing and delighting than constantly wondering if I’m good enough for God.

     An end-note— I struggle with depression. [See this Patheos article for further insight.] I’m on meds to correct the imbalance in my body chemistry; but there are some days when even they don’t work. So I’ve learned to push through, to live through, to tough it out; but not everyone can do that. In the end I wind up doing what I should have done in the first place— turning to God for mercy, healing, and forgiveness.

     It is in those times that our Lord asks me—

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.

~Psalm 41:11 (NKJV)

     Delight, joy, and hope. This is a description of the normal Christian life. Get into to it.

I’ll be on the dance floor,
  Gary