From the Daily Tennesean:
Every day now it’s possible to meet Christians too embarrassed to call themselves Christian.
I encountered some the other day at a local church.
”Call me a follower of Christ — anything — but not ‘Christian,’ ” one Christian woman said. She put air quotes around ”Christian.” Two others nodded grievously.
They are not ashamed of being Christian. They just can’t use the word anymore. To them, ”Christian” is tarnished, radioactive. To them, it’s synonymous with Republican anger, corporate power, and Bible sound bites opposing all challengers to traditional America. […]
As never before, evangelical Protestants own the label Christian, even though they are outnumbered by other churchgoers. Why don’t the others take back ”Christian”? What happened?
What happened is the non-evangelicals lost a Thirty Years War of spiritual marketing, a war over the Christian brand name and the Bible, too.
It happened gradually. In the ’70s, ”Christian music” surfaced as the willing soundtrack for a bold, new, market-oriented evangelical faith. Its message was Bible-based and energetic. People took notice. In the ’80s, the Moral Majority happily stepped into the public square to equate political conservatism with Christianity. In the ’90s, the Christian Coalition deepened the public impression. All the while, ”Christian” came to be associated with theologically conservative Bible colleges too.
This ”Christian” makeover was reinforced every Sunday across America with the rise of nondenominational megachurches. ”Christian” is now the preferred identity of millions who attend these non-aligned (but Protestant) congregations, which reject historic identities such as Methodist or Church of Christ. They’re just ”Christian.” And theologically conservative.
The mainliners, progressives and liberals hardly knew what hit them. They had led the way after World War II — the religion of the establishment in the ’50s, then the religion of progressive political reform in the ’60s. They took risks. They dared to face America’s traumatic social changes. They honored the nation’s emerging diversity. But they lost their unity as a result. Then, sometime in the ’70s, they stopped quoting the Bible in public.
Perhaps liberals lost confidence in the old authority of Scripture — or at least forgot how to use the Bible to challenge fundamentalism itself.
This abdication was costly. Scripture is full of passages that embarrass political conservatism. Page after page, it says God cares about the underdog and the weak. It warns against national arrogance and folly. Jesus blesses the peacemakers, the poor in spirit, the poor in society. Pray in secret, he said. Today, judging from the media, the Bible is largely associated with a theology of suburban isolation, spiritual warfare and tax cuts.
The Christians I meet who forsake ”Christian” are caught in a cruel irony: Their Christian faith explains the way they are. It’s not their style to get in your face. They don’t have a taste for smack downs. They’re ambivalent about power. They’d rather do neighborhood good works than talk about culture war. They’d rather read the Sermon on the Mount than the Book of Revelation. Sociologist Nancy Ammerman calls them ”Golden Rule” Christians, believers who prefer action over doctrinal purity. They stand for values they associate with Jesus — kindness, fairness, care giving, trust in providence — traditional values that are fading fast in a culture of celebrity capitalism, casinos and cutthroat profiteering.
In the 24/7 media world, a permanent culture war grinds on, a noisy scrimmage of symbols. ”Prayer in schools” and ”God Bless America” are powerful symbols. So is ”Christian.” The Christians who reject ”Christian” ought to rejoin the national conversation and bring their Bibles. They’ll be cheered by what they find there in the Prophets, the Psalms, the words of the Galilean. They’ll discover something else: The word ”Christian” doesn’t appear in the Gospels at all.
Things are more complicated in West Michigan. Traditional Reformed Calvinism isn’t precisely “mainline” (the Reformed Churches of America probably are; the Christian Reformed Church, no) but they don’t really have anything historically in common with American Fundamentalism & Evangelicalism except the CRC & company’s theological conservatism (of a particularly Reformed stripe). However, the evangelical “we are Christianity, everyone else is The World” movement has long creeping tentacles and infiltrates everywhere. You’d think the last thing that Calvin College needed was a Campus Crusade for Christ, but there it is. I wonder how long it will be possible for the Reformed Christians of West Michigan really maintain their distinct identity from the expanding marketing monstrosity which defines itself as “Christianity” itself?
As for witch hunts, the Reformed groups tend not to so much expel individuals for deviation as to constantly fragment. Interestingly, the smaller the fragments the more angrily conservative they tend to be — the mellow RCA is much bigger than the intense CRC, which is itself much bigger than the freakitudinous Protestant Reformed Church, and so on. That’s kind of a cheering thought.
I have no point here, just wanted to link the interesting article I got from Blogopotamus! and add a few random personal musings.