Church And State

It’s Memorial Day Weekend so the fundamentalist church up the street from us has, per custom, decorated its front lawn with two dozen or so American flags in its annual display of patriotism. Meanwhile, we’ve all seen those hilarious TV ads for Madison’s Cornerstone Church proclaiming itself “Nashville’s most patriotic church.”

Evidently it is, in fact, a competition.

I have as much of a problem with churches waving the flag as I have with government entities banging on the Bible. Many American churches these days have a flag in their sanctuary; some even have a color guard on certain holidays (like Memorial Day or July 4). This is just so wrong to me. To any church that waves the flag in its sanctuary I simply have to ask: where exactly are you placing your allegiance? With the things of God, or the things of man?

We live in what theologians call the “post-Christian era,” which basically means Christianity is no longer the dominant force in society. This isn’t a new idea; Thomas Merton wrote about this back in the ‘60s. It’s simply a fact of life and it means that Biblical ideas and reference points that people once had in common no longer exist. I’m not saying that’s bad or good for people, but I do think it’s been especially bad for the church because we have a lot of wackadoodle ideas passed off as Christian these days that never would have been given the time of day 100 years ago.

One of these is this idea in vogue with a lot of churches (especially evangelical churches) that they need to be “relevant.” In fact, there’s an entire evangelical Christian-pop culture magazine called Relevant featuring interviews with people like Jake Gyllenhaal, and while I don’t mean to knock on the magazine which is actually pretty good, I do have a problem with the whole “relevance” concept. Christians searching for relevance in pop culture are looking in the wrong place. It leads them to do stupid things like hold up a movie like “The Blind Side” as an example of Christian values (I cannot tell you how offended I was by that movie. I thought it was paternalistic and patronizing … but I’ll save the movie review for another time).

And it leads churches to search for “relevance” in things like mixed martial arts and karate-for-Jesus. The Daily Show did a great take on this recently, watch the video if you have a minute:

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This is post-Christian America. Churches showing how irrelevant they are in a desperate attempt to prove their relevance. Wave the flag, y’all.Outdo each other in your desperate attempt to show your allegiance to the flag of a country that wages war and tortures prisoners and pollutes God’s creation so we can enjoy a life of ease and leisure at others’ expense.

Go look for God at the multiplex, in movies that present a one-dimensional view of “Christian values” so we can all feel good about our white privilege. Whatever you do, do not challenge yourself in any way.

Because, WWJD?

16 Comments

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16 responses to “Church And State

  1. >When I think about Jesus, it's in terms of who he associated with, and who he would -or would not – if he were here today.Then: Pharisees, Money Changers, The Rich, Merchants.Now: Mega-churches, TBTF Bankers, The Rich, Retailers.Plus BP – a fitting symbol for the rapaciousness of multi-national corporations.Cheers!JzB

  2. >"To any church that waves the flag in its sanctuary I simply have to ask: where exactly are you placing your allegiance?"Amen!

  3. >If churches want to be relevant, all they have to do is return to the Gospel of Jesus: the loving fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of all people. That message is universal and timeless; it is relevant in any age.Christianity has been encumbered with Greek Hellenism, Roman and pagan pageantry, European culture, and a thousand other things which have absolutely nothing to do with the Gospel. Now they want to turn Jesus into an American. All that's going to do is create more schisms, more sects, more confusion and more corruption.Jesus said "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Well, let's look at this. He never set up any church. He said "the Kingdom is within you," and "my Kingdom is not of this world." He never said anything about dying on the cross for some stupid ransom, that was all Paul's idea.Maybe instead of trying to re-invent Buddy Christ, the solution to Christianity's "relevance" problem lies in the willingness to divorce the Gospel from the purely secular and cultural moorings that have kept it so firmly anchored in place all these years.

  4. >the solution to Christianity's "relevance" problem lies in the willingness to divorce the Gospel from the purely secular and cultural moorings that have kept it so firmly anchored in place all these years.Yes, I agree with that. I'm not a scholar but I have to wonder if these secular and cultural moorings arrived with the church's waning influence over our culture, or if they have always been there?

  5. >Seems to me that it is relevant to feed the hungry, clothe the needy, advocate for the poor, comfort the mourner, visit the sick and work for peace; isn't that what "evangelical" (having to do with good news" is supposed to be?All the church needs to be relevant is to step outside the door and practice some real religion.

  6. >I suppose they are are exercing their 1st Amendment right – you know the one that goes Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abriding the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right ot the people peacably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievance. Since you obviously don't like it, don't particpate and just keep whining.

  7. >"I suppose they are are exercing their 1st Amendment right"It has nothing to do with their "1st Amendment right". Of course they have the right. The question "where exactly are you placing your allegiance?" suggests it might be more a question of idolatry.

  8. >i love it when people throw around the First Amendment while telling me to shut up. It's kinda cute.

  9. >I’m not saying that’s bad or good for people, but I do think it’s been especially bad for the church because we have a lot of wackadoodle ideas passed off as Christian these days that never would have been given the time of day 100 years ago. the latter part of that i appreciate and thank you for pointing out; i'd sort of forgotten it as a point about the history of religions. yes, you are right. the less (truly) relevant churches become, while seeking to be pop-culturally "relevant," the more stupid ideologies they must embrace to compete, and to please scattered, disparate and dwindling hard core believers. but i have to chastise you, as a gay atheist feminist of color, for saying "i'm not saying that's bad or good for people." women, gays, atheists, non-Christian religionists, scientists, freethinkers, philosophers, mystics, and sexually liberated people ALL benefit TREMENDOUSLY and in a way that is hard to find parallel in history.ymmv, and i totally support and endorse real, compassionate, Golden Rule, charitable Christians, but come on. not having to have a doctorate in theology in order to teach at a university? Good Thing. not having to proclaim a creed or statement of faith to get a government job? Good Thing. not being told you can't work in your chosen field because of your race, sexuality or gender? Good Thing. when the stranglehold of a formerly majority and/or monolithic religion is ended, free thought and real freedom for more people is the result. and it's "good" for "most people." thanks for making Daweed cat of the week. he's thrilled, and says only those who worship Bast are really religious, anyway.🙂

  10. >I suppose they are are exercing their 1st Amendment rightIn New England we had preachers politicking from the pulpit and getting all sorts of reverential (no sic) TV news coverage.I had to write said TV professionals to remind them that tax-exempt religion and specific political speech sorta didn't go together, and gee, wouldn't it be nice if someone mentioned that on the air except for the grumblers on the local access channel at 2.30am.I hold no hope that the "secular" media in more Godly places, such as Nashville, are any better about such things.

  11. >You're right, ChiDy, we've become more democratic as we've become less doctrinaire, but I would remind you that every great social movement in history has been achieved with the help of people of faith. I think of the abolitionists, the Quakers who were suffragettes, Martin Luther King Jr. who was a man of the church…But the flip side of that is that as we have more wackadoodle theology we have more wackadoodle theology-based policy, like teaching "Intelligent Design" in schools, persecution of gay families, etc.

  12. >I totally agree with that while i might not be a religious scholar or a priest but I do wonder if these secular and cultural moorings arrived with the church's waning influence over our culture, or if they have always been there? we just cannot say anything as each new era brings with it new dogmas and new discoveries

  13. >Uhh, so the church isn't allowed to show national pride on a day where we remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to this nation?You have got to be kidding me.

  14. Jim

    >A part of a resolution by President Kennedy for Memorial Day:"Whereas Memorial Day each year provides a fitting occasion upon which our people may not only commemorate the Nation’s heroic dead but also unite in prayer for the preservation of liberty and peace free from the threat of war; andWhereas to this end the Congress, in a joint resolution approved May 11, 1950 (64 Stat. 158), requested the President to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace:Now, Therefore, I, John F. Kennedy, President of the United States, do hereby urge the people of the United States to observe Tuesday, May 30, 1961, Memorial Day, by invoking the blessing of God on those who have died in defense of our country, and by praying for a new world of law where peace and justice shall prevail and a life of opportunity shall be assured for all; and I designate the hour beginning in each locality at eleven o’clock in the morning of that day as the time to unite in such prayer.I also urge the press, radio, television, and all other media of information to cooperate in this observance."I was not not alive back then, so can anyone inform me about the Liberal protests against Kennedy for suggesting a national day of Prayer in conjunction with Memorial day? What an extremist Kennedy must have been.

  15. >Kennedy was a liberal, so he doesn't count in SoBeale's mind.

  16. >"can anyone inform me about the Liberal protests against Kennedy for suggesting a national day of Prayer in conjunction with Memorial day?"I don't know about back then. I'll voice a protest now if it'll make you happy.