Certainly Christianity is losing its place of influence on society. But is the loss a result of society's changing standards or something else? To answer this question, we will first should look at a quote from Tim Keller's book, Center Church, which is an excellent book btw, to get an idea of Western Christianity's paradise lost.
For centuries in the Western world, the Christian church had a privileged place, but this is no longer true. Rather than being a force at the center of culture, Christianity has moved to the margins. 1
What is put in juxtaposition here is the idea of having privilege and being marginalized. When Christianity no longer had a privileged place in forming culture, it "moved to the margins." But such a statement reveals a myopia by Keller and my fellow Christians who follow him on this matter. For during the time when the Christian Church enjoyed its privileged place, others were living in the margins. Who were they? The answer to this question can become quite disturbing for Americans.
For much of America's history, nonWhites were marginalized. Here we could note the history of America's indigenous people along with the history of Black Americans to find some disconcerting facts about ourselves . In fact, some would argue, and with much merit, that the marginalization is still going strong. Here we should note life in the Indian reservations along with the continued growth of both the current wealth disparity between the Whites and minorities and the disparity in the incarceration rates of the prison population. We must also note that for most of the history of this country, homosexuals were also marginalized as demonstrated by the legal hurdles they have had to clear. In addition, the groups just mentioned only make up a partial list of those who have suffered in America. And this does not include the other groups who were marginalized in other Western nation-empires.
So despite how marginalized Conservative Christians currently feel or what they anticipate for the future, it is unlikely that they will be pushed to the edges to which others have been pushed. And this lamenting over the loss of privilege in society shows a self-concern that borders on self-absorption. That is we are so focussed on poor old us that we have no awareness of the plight of others when we were in the driver's seat.
But there is something else that needs to be said about the sense of loss many of my fellow, especially Conservative, Christians feel over their erosion of privilege; they don't realize that privilege and democracy do not play well together. Here we go to the writings of American-became-Israeli activist, Jeff Halper, as he discusses 'ethnocracy' in Israel. He writes,
Ethnocracy, or ethno-nationalism, privileges ethnos over demos, whereby one's ethnic affiliation, be it defined by race, descent, religion, language or national origin, take precedence over citizenship in determining to whom a country actually "belongs." 2
Granted that Halper is using this definition to show how Israel's Jewish Democracy actually resembles Eastern Europe's "tribal nationalism" rather than a western democracy, the definition applies here too. That is because of the religious based privilege American Christians once enjoyed over all other Americans. The issue here is not what procedures are being used but the extent of citizenship members which each group can enjoy. So when we have one group ruling over others in an ethnocracy that utilizes democratic processes, we have a tyranny of a privileged majority. In addition, inherent in ethnocracies is the tribalism Halper mentioned. And tribalism not only causes people to embrace moral relativity, it leads to turf wars whether those wars are fought with weapons or legislation.
Thus, Christianity's past privileged status in the West has not only shown many of my fellow Christians to be self-absorbed, it demonstrates an opposition to democracy because only those who belong to the right group have all of the rights promised to those living in society.
So what is causing the marginalization of Christianity in the West? Is it that a new Marshall is in town who seeks to imprison the old one? That is what some Christians who are prone to practicing projection tend to believe. Certainly it might be true that other groups want to fill the power void Christianity is leaving behind. But a more reasonable explanation is that as Christianity continues to try to maintain and exercise its past privileged status, it shows itself to be not just an opponent of up and coming groups, like homosexuals, it stands against Democracy itself. And if Christianity stands against Democracy in a country that claims to champion Democracy, then couldn't we say here that, to a certain extent, Christianity is marginalizing itself?
This concept of Christianity opposing Democracy when it seeks a privileged or ruling position in society is lost on some of my fellow Conservative Christians. That is because they so closely associate American History and Democracy with their Christian faith that they believe that Christianity's privileged place in determining culture's values has always been a foundational part of our democracy. Little do they realize that having a privileged status is more closely associated with authoritarian rule than Democracy. But for Conservative Christianity, authoritarianism is something we take for granted because it is in so many of our other relationships. Thus, its presence here causes no dissonance. This lack of awareness of the obvious, as well as the outside world and what it sees, only shows how inner-directed Conservative Christians can be. We have become so inward that we lose the ability to see and understand how our actions appear to and affect others.
We Christians do not have to seek a privileged place in society to affect culture. We simply have to find ways of communicating the Gospel which do not infringe on the equal status of any members of our audience. We must realize that seeking a privileged position in society is fine, but unnecessary, when society is homogeneous; but once there is diversity, that privileged status resists full acceptance of the equality of others. And our lamenting over the loss of privilege and control strikes others as being disingenuous.
One final point. Christians must choose between following one of two Jesuses. The first Jesus came as a suffering servant who was crucified and rose from the dead. The last Jesus will come as the triumphant King of Kings and Lord of Lords who brings judgment on the whole world. Those Christians who think that they must seek a privileged place in society to affect its culture are following the Jesus who has yet to come. In addition, they presume to have the right to follow Jesus as He will appear and there are no scripture verses that grant such a right or duty. So, along with our working against Democracy, when we seek a privileged position, we might also want to ask which Jesus we are following.
- Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced Gospel-Centered Ministry In Your City, pg 259
- Jeff Halper, An Israeli In Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel, pg 74