How we live practically is in partnership with what we believe and proclaim. Christians (evangelical, Catholic and Protestant) have voted in majorities to be governed by policies of cruelty. How can this be? How can it be that Christians affirm policies of racism, war, economic segregation, ecological devastation, fear of the other and indifference to the poor? How can it be that Christians have turned against the refugee and sojourner in our land? How can Christians accept that health care is less than a human right? Christians accept this when their leaders refuse to preach against it for fear of conflict, and when their congregations refuse to embody an alternative role model for fear of someone leaving.
A recent survey of Church leaders revealed four patterns of what was truly “valued” by their church members: Personal comfort (what I have) through friends, routines and sense of ownership; privacy (my spirituality) with no intrusive questions or challenges; pride of possessions (what we have) in our church buildings, objects and space; and transactional relationships (what we get) in asking God for things and having our needs met by others.
Compare this with the core characteristics that originally were practiced by Christians. Indeed you will search almost in vain for congregations defined by these alternative Christian practices: The practice of nonviolence as a way of life, governing word and action, politics, entertainment and conflict; the practice of self-emptying, decentering the ego through an affirmation that service to the other is more important than self gain; and the practice of economic sharing with the poor. It is not about charity, rather it is about the whole 100 percent — what values are we funding through our assets? What does our budget say about our priorities? How are we fulfilling our responsibility and connection to other?
Christian theology has failed to create a way of life capable of discerning how to be Christ-like in American culture. For example, which Jesus are we talking about? The Jesus of Desmond Tutu or Joel Osteen? They are two different Jesuses with two different practices of life. Which God are we talking about? Zeus who threatens thunderbolts from Heaven if we disobey or a presence of universal benevolence, compassion and kindness? Are we talking about an object out-there or a living organism in which we live (as in a womb)?
These questions matter, as do the behaviors that are practiced by people of faith. The crisis of Christianity today is its complacency with the politics of cruelty dominating our society. Perhaps, since Easter will soon be here, we might each ask the Christians we know to please stop crucifying Christ again.
Rev. Rich Lang is the District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church in King County and can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.