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This Month's Scripture Verse:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-5


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When Squeezed, Is The Church "Wimpy, Wimpy, Wimpy"

Not too long ago, those who made Hefty garbage bags ran a commercial that compared their bags with a generic store brand in the following way. They showed the generic store bought bags eventually breaking after a certain amount was put in and this was followed by the chant, "wimpy, wimpy, wimpy." Afterwards, a person was stuffing everything but an M1A1 tank into the unbreakable Hefty garbage bags while the chant, "hefty, hefty, hefty" could be heard.

Though the Church cannot be compared, except by some critics, with garbage bags and how much can be stuffed into them, the question of how the Church stands up to pressure is an important one. Pressure for the Church comes when taking a stand costs something. And if the Church becomes wimpy and intimidated by people, regardless of who is pushing it, we need to speak up.

Those who can pressure the Church come from one of two groups. The first group are individual people while the second consists of the status quo. Individuals can make the Church feel coerced by threatening to  leave. Such losses mean more to a church than just a smaller congregation, it results in less income. The main rub between individual members and a church comes when a church challenges its members on personal morality. Another conflict between the two revolves around the worship service styles.  The question here is whether the worship service is oriented around making the attendees feel good about themselves or does it direct the congregation's focus on God.

The second group that can push the Church is the status quo. The status quo consists of the combination of those with wealth and those with authority, that is the rich and the government. There are a variety of relationships between the wealthy and the government from a combative one  to one where one group rules through the other. Here, the potential clash is whether the Church will speak out against the neglect or oppression of those in need which results from the reign of the status quo. In America, the consequences for the Church that come when challenging those with wealth and power can be similar to that of challenging individuals when they sin, that is the Church can lose members and thus revenue.

I can only speak for the Conservative Church here because that is what I am mainly exposed to, but the Church does have a mixed record when standing for what is right. It has demonstrated that it can be stronger than hefty when dealing with an indivudual's sins but worse than wimpy when challenging the status quo.

Why the difference? The answer can be found in the word syncretism. Syncretism is the act of trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. If you hit the peg hard enough, you will insert it but not without doing violence to either the peg, the hole or both. Syncretism allows the Church to hold on to unbiblical values while preaching the Gospel. The Church most often employs syncretism when its allegiance to the Gospel does not lead to challenging sinners to repent.

Here, we want to focus on the sins of the status quo. These include creating an economic system that robs people of their jobs, homes, and democracy. The latter is difficult for some to see at first but one only needs to see what is happening in countries like Greece and Spain before one could perceive it happening here. In Greece and Spain, the governments must decide whether they will serve their foreign investors or their people. Note that these foreign investors lent these countries money on one condition, to make a profit. And that is what most help is based on in our global economy, can the lender make money off of helping the people in need.

Certainly the above is an oversimplification of what is happening but it has much truth. In this country, while Conservatives are slaughtering those in need on the altar of the bottom line, both them and the "liberal" Democrats are funneling tax money to the wealthy. The channeling of funds takes many forms including the revision of tax laws and the implementing of unnecessary and even harmful policies--especially foreign policies requiring military interventions--that require the purchase of goods and services provided by certain corporations. Here we see how the status quo feeds itself at the expense of all others without including the bailouts, relaxed regulations on financial institutions, Obamacare, and tax breaks that have consolidated wealth to those those at the top and thus, in a world of limited resources, robbed others of the chance to make a living.

So why is the Conservative Church so silent about sins that kill and rob multitudes of people while it is quick to make stand up to individual sins especially if those transgressions are sexual in nature? What is holding the Church back from preaching the same kind of hell-fire sermons to those whose riches depend on theft and murder as it does to individuals who hurt just a few through consensual activities?

Here, we must return to syncretism. But we must delve a little into the details of how conservatives hold non compatible ideas. We should note that it is common for people to project their life experiences into their religion. For conservative Americans growing up in a prosperous capitalistic society, patriotism has been preached as being involved with something greater than oneself. In addition, Conservatives are naturally receptive to authoritarianism. So here we have the ingredients that can greatly alter one's faith. We should also note that the status quo wraps itself tightly in these viewpoints.  Thus, it is a personal allegiance to and comfort with capitalism, patriotism and authoritarianism that makes the Conservative Church hesitant to challenge the sins of the status quo. Questioning these three is taken off the table for many Conservative Christians.

The problems that projecting capitalism, patriotism and authoritarianism onto the Gospel are undeniable to their often invisible victims; thus, it is hard for the Conservative Christian to see. What does the Conservative Christian risk when he/she employs an uncritical approach to capitalism, patriotism, and authoritarianism? The danger is that unless we let the Gospel change us into becoming honest brokers enabling us to challenge our old ideas and philosophies, we are in danger of accepting another gospel to stand alongside the Gospel of Christ. That second gospel is the gospel of self-exhaltation. Believing that the system one grew up in is God's system makes one feel very good about oneself. And that good feeling is what makes it so difficult to pry capitalism, patriotism, and authoritarianism loose from its mismatched joining with the Gospel.

The Conservative Church does have a mixed record when it is squeezed by today's world. This record tells us that you should not cross paths with the Conservative Church unless you are part of the status quo. The reasons for the Church's inconsistency are personal and apply to each believer.  And thus the Conservative Church will need all of the help it can get to become hefty when pressured by those with wealth and power to remain silent.

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