Tuesday, March 31, 2015

CHRIST AMONG THE PHOBES

A current fad among those who are enamored of new words, is the attaching of "-phobia," "-phobic" or "-phobe" as suffixes to certain words or word fragments. Thus our current usage includes "homophobia" (fear of homosexuality or of homosexuals), "Islamophobia" (fear of Islam or Muslims) and a few others of which I have not yet heard. These words are usually used negatively to describe those who differ politically or religiously, regarding their supposedly bigoted attitudes toward homosexuals, Muslims or whatever.

I personally strongly dislike the use of the words and hesitate to use them myself. I feel that these words are often themselves expressions of bigotry by the user. Not everyone who has misgivings or negative convictions regarding homosexuality or Islam is a bigot.

Thus when the words "Christianophobia" or "religiophobia" occasionally pop into my head while reading or listening to criticisms of Christianity, I stifle myself from using them. So when I saw an article in Christianity Today online, entitled "What Christianophobia Looks Like In America" by George Yancey, 3/27/15, I was intrigued.

George Yancey is a professor of sociology at the University of North Texas and author of ­So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in the United States? I have not read his book, but I suppose the article pretty well sums up his thesis.

The article appears reasonably unbiased. Yancey speaks of the fact that Christianity's cultural dominance in America is fading, even though most Americans still identify as Christians. He attempts to look at the problem from both sides: the "growing animosity" toward especially conservative Protestants, and the growing fears among these, of their supposed increasing loss of religious freedom. He mentions surveys in which conservative Christians are rated lower than other groups, excepting Atheists.

Yancey points out that these negative rankings come from "a disproportionate number of white, highly educated, politically progressive and wealthy respondents." He says, "The fear part of this definition came from respondents who saw conservative Christians as a dark force seeking to take over society and impose Christian rule.  "Some," he tells us, see Christians as "similar to the Taliban or Nazis," seeking "to impose a theocracy on a secular nation."

These Americans hostile to Christianity see Christians in "two categories:  foolish, ignorant followers and manipulative leaders." Christianophobes do not want to do away with Christians, they simply want them to - as one said - "Keep all religion in your church, in your home, out of the public square, and most of all, out of my face."

Yancey's solutions to the problem seem to me rather disappointing and simplistic.  I'd hope that his book expands on and elaborates the options.  In the last paragraph of the article he merely challenges Christians "to convince such individuals that they have the same rights to influence the public square as anyone else" and to learn "how to communicate, and hopefully find ways to co-exist."

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I feel that the greatest need here is not for arguments to convince Christianophobes of the error of their views, but for convincing my fellow-Christians, myself included, of the necessity for self examination, for asking ourselves what we are doing to bring about these negative views.

We must recognize first of all that since the beginning, Christianity has been viewed negatively by those on the outside. Jesus said, "Do you suppose that I have come to bring peace on the earth? No, I tell you - but division" (Luke 12:15).  "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me first" (John 15:18). Paul spoke of "the scandal of the cross" (Galatians 5:11). We who follow Christ should recognize that many oppose Christianity for its claims of exclusivity, sometimes for its morality, sometimes for various theological reasons or misunderstandings.

However, these are not the complaints mentioned in Yancey's article. As I said earlier, not everyone who has misgivings or negative convictions regarding homosexuality or Islam is a bigot.  And neither is everyone who has those same thoughts about Christianity - at least as Christianity is perceived. And that's the problem. We Christians have managed to paint a picture of Christianity that looks very little like the Christianity of the New Testament - very little like Jesus.

First of all, there's the label.  While the label "conservative" is often used of our way of interpreting the Bible - i.e., "conservative" = "literal" as opposed to some radical "liberal" critical interpretations, it is understood by most outsiders as a political word.

And there are many "conservative Christians" who understood the phrase as such. To them Christian = Republican. When Christian leaders and Christian colleges endorse Republican candidates for president, when they endorse the Republican - and even worse, the Tea-Party platform, they present a Christianity that is a false Christianity, a Christianity that promotes Christianophobia.

When Christianity is presented as moralism, as an opposition to particular types of sin - often only the two "biggies" - abortion and gay lifestyle/marriage, it is a false Christianity. Yes sin should be recognized as sin, but there is a danger when only particular sins are pointed out and when the solution to these is sought through imposing moral standards on others through the political process.

We have allowed the Gospel of Christ, the love of Christ, the ethics of Christ, to be pre-empted by a vapid semi-political religion.  When I see this, when I hear this type of Christianity coming from Christian leaders, I confess that I too am tempted into becoming a Christianophobe.

I recognize that many - probably most, who claim the label of Christian, are living lives that exemplify the reality of Christianity.  I only ask and pray that all of us would - or if not, to stop calling themselves by the Name.

"Keep your conduct beautiful among the Gentiles, so that though they verbally put you down as evildoers, they may, by seeing your beautiful works, glorify God on the day that He returns" (1 Peter 2:12).

Father, help us as those who name the Name of Your Son, to live lives like His, lives of love, lives that would bring honor to Him and not shame.

5 comments:

Jay said...

Bill,

You talk about eschewing certain words, presumably as they are unnecessarily pejorative, but then you say "even worse, the Tea-Party platform". Are you not committing the same offense here?

I would think "tea party" sympathizers would be puzzled what their views on taxes and government have to do with their religious views.

Bill Ball said...

Jay,
The "pejorative words" of which I spoke are labels which are placed on others with whom the user disagrees. "Tea-Party" is a label chosen by its adherents.
I do not think that TP sympathizers would be puzzled at all, seeing that many of them identify as conservative Christians and vice versa. Which is one aspect of the problem I was addressing.

Jay said...

Maybe what I'm really asking is why "tea party" is "worse" than other forms of pollitical/religious conservative fusion.

Please understand I also don't think it's appropriate to let your politics inform your religious views, if anything it should be the other way around, but I know everyone who runs for office SAYS that their faith influences how they vote.

Bill Ball said...

So you just question my use of the word "worse"? That would take a whole nother post. I suppose it's because the TP claims to simply be concerned with economic issues.
I believe that everyone in office - especially Christians - SHOULD let their faith influence their politics. Sadly it's often the other way around.

Sherry Ball Schoenfeldt said...

In the past, I often didn't verbally identify as a Christian becuz my behavior was not in keeping with the moral teachings of the church and I didn't want to be viewed as a hypocrite. Now I often don't want to say I'm a Christian becuz so many who speak loudly about being Christians are such hypocrites as shouting hatred and condemnation is NOT Christ-like at all. (Apparently I think the worst sin is hypocrisy LOL)

I hate that a political party has co-opted our beliefs, making republicanism, fetus love & gay hate the criterion for being "Christian" rather than faith in the person & work of Jesus. I'm also pretty sure true fiscal conservatives hate that a judgmental religion has co-opted their political party, taking the focus off fiscal responsibility and putting it on so-called "social" issues that they may or may not agree with.

I think, in order to combat both hypocrisy and "Christianophobia" that Christians need to do two things: first, as you propose, we need to return to blatantly and unconditionally loving those we perceive as both moral & immoral, as Jesus did. And then, as Yancy suggests, we need to TALK to people outside the faith but not about what he suggests but about our own short-comings in representing Jesus and what He was about and what we are really supposed to be about.