There is a debilitating nostalgia that runs through american society and culture. It is especially pronounced in some quarters of the american church and has hindered its maturing into everything God wants it to be. Nostalgia in and of itself is not necessarily wrong, but there is a point where a focus on what was can be distracting and misleading. Two areas come to mind. One involves this country’s civil religion and the other involves the gay lifestyle.
First, nostalgia for the time when a watered down, mostly wordy christianity was the undeniable civil religion pressures large swaths of today’s american evangelicals into corrupt, misguided and fruitless political machinations. So much time and money have been spent in the last decades trying to put a christian facade onto american civil/cultural life, that it’s gut-wrenching when looked at in perspective. Even if the nostalgic assumption of earlier christian dominion was true, the effort to reclaim a past rather than putting 110% into redeeming the present is profoundly irresponsible.
A dissenter will say that, no, these efforts to politically inject a bias towards christianity into the civil religion is a redemptive activity. In reality, it is an effort to coerce larger society towards something that might “look” or “sound” christian. Did Jesus want a public facade of christianity (which has always been what constitutes ‘civil’ religion), or did He want disciples sold out in following Him in word and deed? The effort to “reclaim” america’s christian face has taken much time and effort away from the real great commission, and poll after poll concerning religious matters and attitudes speak to this effort’s dismal failure. Yet many continue to look back. They believe that activist civil engagement will procure a future in which today’s evangelical christianity can be king of the mountain once again, notwithstanding the fact that it never occupied such a place of prominence in the first place…
This longing for less religious plurality may be well intentioned, but the world as it was is never going to return. The supposed friendlier times for evangelical america are in the past. Trying to recover that, or even the much more common whining and complaining about the state of things, is misplaced energy. The Church would help itself and the world around it by focusing on serving that pluralistic reality in a way that would invite the non-believer into the body of Christ.
Another area where looking back has been detrimental and debilitating is the gay lifestyle issue. The acceptance and proliferation of the gay lifestyle is out of the closet for good. Many in the Church are rightfully burdened by this and realize that it doesn’t represent God’s best. In the past all such sexual issues were kept under wraps, and broader society, believer and unbeliever alike, helped to keep it that way. That has dramatically changed and no amount of bullying with words or guns, waving condemning posters, filing lawsuits, writing legislation or voting for anti-gay politicians is going to change that! Not only have these responses been completely ineffective, they also don’t represent an imitation of Jesus Christ. In fact, the anti-gay activism pursued by many american christians seems to be encouraging a more militant gay rights agenda that understandably sees itself as being victimized. In other words, all the activism by the ‘morality/family values’ crowd is actually spawning and encouraging their own worse nightmare.
There is no going back to the in-the-closet days, and the Church must respond in only ways that emulate Jesus Christ. What are the basics of that Christlike response? Show love, speak in love, surrender with grace, pray without ceasing or run away, as the Spirit leads. That basically eliminates all of the ultimately self-defeating political/civil activism in which evangelicals have engaged in for decades.
The main point is this. No matter how the future goes, Jesus calls the church to respond in ways that will only reflect Him. There is a lot of creativity within that, but there are some limitations. If Islam becomes the world official religion, if the Supreme Court is filled with atheists, if gays get everything they want and more, if meat-eating is banned, and if communism becomes law, there are a few basic options that the followers of Jesus have. They can write/speak, pray, love and run… That’s about it.
The wonderful and hopeful aspect of this remains that Jesus has shown us that a harmless-as-doves: wise-as-serpents response ultimately triumphs. By following Jesus’ way, you walk above the fray. Your body may be abused and killed, but your soul will be innocent of hate, retaliation, manipulation, arrogance and violence no matter how un-christian the situation may be. This is the pure spotless Bride whom Jesus desires. Stop looking back and face today’s reality knowing that His love shines brighter than any of this day’s present darkness.