24 April 2014

"Every knee shall bow...

American and Christian flags; source. (c) Kaihsu Tai.



... and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." For years I've happily sung this chorus, based on Philippians 2:10 and 11 (context). I also love the song "Every Knee Has Got to Bow" by the Fairfield Four. But exactly how would this come to be that every knee and every tongue would follow this pious imperative? And exactly how would I persuade any non-Christian today that this would be a happy outcome, in view of the behavior of those of us who've already kneeled and confessed?

Source.
This is probably a perennial puzzle for all Christian political scientists, at least those who are not hypnotized by some evangelical version of socialist realism. It came back to me again when I read an article on the BBC Web site, "Eight arguments about whether the UK is a Christian country." By the Philippians 2 standard (every resident of the country has confessed that Jesus is Lord), the UK doesn't get the label Christian, despite Christianity's huge embedded advantages: the nation's monarch is officially designated "Defender of the Faith"; old cathedrals display rows of regimental standards demonstrating the tight historical bond between faith and patriotism; the national culture is saturated with Christian references; and not least, a statistical majority of people are still willing to claim that label. Surely the UK belongs on the list of nations historically formed by Christian civilization (as even some non-Christians readily acknowledge, including to the BBC). But it's hard to argue that the trend lines are heading toward 100% Christian knees and tongues.

When I read the BBC article, I remembered a Sojourners article from earlier this year: "I Hope We Never Become a 'Christian Nation' Again." As author Stephen Mattson points out, some commentators lament the USA's supposed post-Christian decline into moral decay. The evidence cited for this decline often includes the loss of Christianity's social and political privileges. This approach, as Mattson correctly notes, seems to treat Christianity as a sort of brand whose market share is slipping based on corporate metrics. He charitably doesn't go off on one relevant tangent--how the snide and corrosive rhetoric of too many Christian celebrities contributes to that slippage.

Mattson suggests a change of perspective: "What if instead of a post-Christian nation, we're actually a pre-Christian one?" My gloss: What if Christian faith, divested of social advantages, is now free to earn--not demand, earn--the attention of non-Christians by blessing and forgiving and admitting mistakes and crying and celebrating with complete honesty--in short, by offering Living Water? What if we became known for refusing to smear the reputations of those we disagree with? What if we paid taxes for the common welfare with an eagerness equalled only by our stubbornness in refusing to pay taxes for torture, warfare, and any other form of death-worship? I continue to think that rather than sounding gloom and doom, we ought to be proclaiming a new "golden age of evangelism."

However, I still find it hard to think in political terms about what it will look like when we really do win "every" heart. Would the church become the government? Please, no--we've had some truly awful previews of what it looks like when Capital-C Church Gains Power. Would we have Christian anarchy instead? That has a bit of a romantic attraction, but, really, that would only be sustainable if evil itself were abolished. In my happiest fantasy, Jesus himself would return to put a gentle end to the religion industry, abolish all hierarchies and conceits of power, and simply gather us around himself. After all, we confess that Jesus is Lord, not that Christianity is best, or will someday beat all the other brands.

So maybe it's a far-off dream, although a biblically defensible one. But the nice part about it is that we can start rehearsing now.

Cue the Quakers.



What Thy Friend John "would like to hear at meeting."

"Years [plural] of the evangelicals."

"Are American Christians Really Being Oppressed, Or Are They Just Whining?"

In case you were wondering, "US is an oligarchy, not a democracy" (BBC). "Is American an Oligarchy?" (New Yorker.) "Scholar Behind Viral 'Oligarchy' Study Tells You What It Means" (TPM).

"Climate change is the fight of our lives--yet we can hardly bear to look at it."

"Celebrating the Life of Stan Thornburg."

In the midst of the difficult Ukrainian situation, we get this totally artificial and bizarre bombshell: "Israel stops US-led peace talks citing Palestinian unity." Apparently we only negotiate with people we already agree with. Interestingly, journalists refuse to drink the Kool-aid.



Moscow Friends are considering a new call to prayer, addressed to the world family of Friends. We'll consider it this coming Saturday at business meeting. If we approve a statement, I'll post it on this blog. (Update: here it is.)



For dessert: Ray Charles performed by Samantha Fish and band at the Ukrainian American Cultural Center in Whippany, New Jersey.

2 comments:

bicosse said...

If I said that I was a Christian on the grounds that I had a Christian heritage and self-identified as Christian and had been baptised as a baby and had married in church, I think most Christians would say, no, that's not enough, I need to show some sign of active Christian faith and practice.

So, does the existence of large numbers of such people in the UK make Britain a Christian country? I don't think so. Active Christians are definitely in a minority here, and they seem to have a strong sense of going against the flow of the wider culture.

I haven't heard this 'Christian country' rhetoric from mainstream British politicians for a long time, probably not since the Rushdie affair in the late 80s. The current revival seems to be an attempt by Conservative politicians to steal the clothes of their radical-right anti-European-Union rivals UKIP (the UK Independence Party).

I find the BBC article oddly old-fashioned. It ignores the spread of privatised, individualistic spiritualities of the New Age, therapeutic, personal-growth, self-empowerment type which may well be the dominant form of popular spirituality in Britain today.

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you for these reflections. Your observations probably also apply to the recent comments from Justin Welby, reported here among other places. The trend toward eastern and alternative spiritualities was already well covered in Kenneth Leech's book Soul Friend (1977), and I'm sure by many other observers I'm not familiar with.

I hope that the unanticipated consequences of this political opportunism, if that's what it is, include a lot more public dialogue. Here in Russia, all these themes are very relevant at this very moment.