Posts Tagged ‘Christ and culture’

Columbia, Missouri has recently experienced its own moment of clarity. At least some have.

One of the conservative mega churches in our city just presented one aspect of its version of Christian anthropology – its understanding of the human being in the light of their theology. That one aspect had to do with human sexuality, gender and identity. In particular they claimed that one correct “Biblical” interpretation has defined hetero-normative relationships as the only faithful expression of personhood and sexuality that is pleasing to God. Of course, said they, we love and welcome you. It’s just that your true freedom will be found in changing who you are and Jesus can do that for you. And they threw in a few other tidbits that related suicide to people who made a big oops an physically transitioned to a new identity only to find it was a mistake.

The response by the larger community was immediate and clear: We do not share your anthropology. And you will no longer be the sponsor of our various community organizations and events because we can’t be connected to you and your worldview.

Some members of that church tried to spin this as a Christ-and-Culture conflict: As you know the ways of Christ are not always in sync with the ways of the world. True enough, they aren’t. But this was not that. This church presumed to have some monopoly on the one right interpretation of scripture and presumed to present the one, clear “Biblical” view. I have news for them. There is more than one Christian view. And their Biblical interpretation is one version among many.

To be clear, in the canon of Jewish and Christian scriptures, that collection, that library of religious voices scattered across the centuries, we have received a panorama of “sexualities.” To say otherwise is a tacit admission that the book has not been read, not all of it. And to read those texts as though they are not conditioned by the culture and times out of which they arose is just silly.

Though I do not believe that the larger culture around us has some automatic correct read on the nature of the human being, our destiny and the moral structures of the universe – it frequently proves that it does not – on this score, on the move toward understanding and accepting the varieties of human sexual orientation and identity, the insight and wisdom of most of the culture is outpacing certain segments of entrenched Christianity.

I’m telling you, for rank and file youth, twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings this issue is over, done, settled. And the churches that insist that to be a Christian in the 21st century requires adopting a 1st century worldview will be deposited in the dustbin of history. It’s already happening. Today.

There is still time to have a lively conversation about human sexuality and faith. But a real conversation won’t be defined as traditionalists throwing rocks of truth into the pond of culture. Because if that’s all there is the pond will be no larger than a rain puddle. And what’s more, no one will notice or care.

Somewhere in the middle of lunch, as a part of some conversation about who knows what, my mother-in-law announced that she never dresses up for Easter. I asked her why not.

When she grew up as a child, her family were not Christians. They never were. All they knew was that her brother shouldn’t play ball in the front yard on Sunday mornings. This was a part of the same social mores that kept stores closed and moved families inside on Sundays. So her brother moved to the back yard to toss his ball against the wall. But that was the extent of their knowledge about all things Christian.

It was only later, after marriage and invitation to actually explore the Christian faith, that she discovered some the basics of the Christian story and practice. One day she was reading the New Testament for the first time and she discovered something absolutely shocking. Jesus, it seems, was raised from dead. Surely she somehow misread it.  She immediately called a friend and asked if she was understanding the story correctly. Yes, the friend said, she was.

So that is what Easter is about? Resurrection? For her whole life she thought Easter was a time in Spring when everyone bought new dresses and hats and showed them off. She had no other frame of reference. From the outside that’s the only conclusion she drew as she observed the cyclical wardrobe changes of the Easter fashion show.

“And so,” she said without a hint of condescension, “I never dress up for Easter. I wear exactly what I would wear any other Sunday. Because I don’t want to send a message that might be misunderstood, that it’s about the clothes.”

I wonder what other messages we unintentionally send. When do our prevailing culture values and practices become indistinguishable from the real message of the faith? Are we merely reflectors of the culture around us? How, we might ask, are Christians identifiable within the predominant culture of which they are a part?

Do we dress up in the values and accouterments of our culture to such an extent that hardly anyone could know what Jesus has to do with it?