Simon Cozens has an excellent post entitled Christianity versus American Christianity on his blog, God School. (Hat tip: Richard at Connexions.)
Cozens begins by quoting a New York Times article about the Rev. Gregory A. Boyd, a megachurch pastor in Minnesota who has begun preaching that churches should not be so involved in politics. As a result of his sermons, Boyd has seen membership drop by 20 percent. Some former members of Boyd's church have openly criticized him for not being sufficiently supportive of Republican causes and candidates.
Cozens makes the argument that American Evangelical culture has produced a separate religion, "a syncretic folk religion, based primarily on American nationalism," with a morality grounded in "a highly selective and individualistic reading of the Old Testament," mixed with "bits of consumerism, Zionism, Republican political values, and corporatism for good measure."
This religion is completely separate from the historic Christian faith, says Cozens. It's not a branch of Christianity, not a form of Christianity, but a different religion entirely.
The salient point from Cozens's post is a quote from the original New York Times article:
"When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses," Mr. Boyd preached. "When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross."
Seeming to underscore the point, Friendly Atheist points to a news item about Nichole Shultz, an atheist college student in Burbank, Illinois, who has reached an out of court settlement with the city after she objected to an image on the vehicle sticker required by the city. The sticker depicts a soldier kneeling before a cross. Burbank mayor Harry Klein had previously stated that the cross represents not Christianity, but fallen U.S. soldiers.
The mayor's statement should send chills down the spine of every Christian. To suggest that we should think of the cross as anything other than a symbol of Christ's victory over sin and death is a threat to the church's autonomy. It may not have been the mayor's intent to threaten the church, but it is a fact that the way we use words has an effect on our thinking.
I've seen something similar happen in my own hometown. I came home from college for Christmas break in 1990 to find the town embroiled in a controversy. Every year the historic Rice County Courthouse in Lyons, Kansas is decorated for Christmas. Among the decorations are four large displays, one on each side of the building. One of these displays was a nativitiy scene. Someone from the county objected that a religious display on public property was a violation of the separation of church and state. The vast majority of the townsfolk wanted to keep the display, but to avoid running afowl of the Lemon Test, civic leaders began saying that the display was simply a rural or pastoral scene. Many residents adopted this line. The nativity scene was essentially removed -- with the blessing of the very people who thought they were supporting it -- even as the physical display remained. There is more than one way to remove religion from public life.
When civic religion oversteps its bounds, when government officials try to make Christian symbols subservient to their own political agendas, Christians should resist. Jesus is not a tool to be used at the whim of the powerful. When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses.
Labels: pop religion