Sunday, May 30, 2010

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?