September 19, 2020

Mondays with Michael Spencer: December 14, 2015

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From a sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent, 2006

Christians in America have a preference for people like themselves. In this, we’re not unlike most human beings, but that’s exactly the problem. Most 4th graders would be able to give the correct answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” As obvious as the answer would be, most of us would still like to be surrounded with people from our tribe, culture, language group, income level and, of course, worldview.

Christians like to participate in the fantasy that ours is a Christian nation in what is becoming a Christian world. Muslims, atheists, occultists and others occupying the planet get the requisite dose of rhetoric saying we love our neighbors who are unlike us, but if we’re honest, especially about our evangelicalism, we’d have to admit a strong bias toward familiar surroundings and familiar people.

Those radically, fundamentally different from ourselves make us uneasy, as if we were somehow under attack from different cultures and beliefs. The sound of the culture war is the sound of Christians- largely- declaring that they are in some way at war with their neighbors. The rumblings of culture expansion and population shifts in Europe and the American southwest brings out a kind of paranoia in some Christians remarkably similar to what one might have heard from white South Africans in the waning days of apartheid.

I am blessed to live in one of the most diverse communities in America, a place where various races, cultures and religions live and work together in the pursuit of education. For those of us who are part of the Christian mission and identity of our school, the command to love our neighbor takes on flesh and blood every day as students from Muslim, Buddhist, Communist and secularist cultures come into our classrooms and lives.

It is not unusual to watch Christians at our school struggle with the feelings this kind of diversity creates. I might find myself surrounded by Koreans speaking their language, and I am assaulted by a temptation toward resentment that they aren’t speaking English. A table of inner-city African-Americans seem too loud and their hip-hop culture seems alien and disrespectful to me. The hostile questions of an atheistic student cross the invisible boundaries I’ve set up; boundaries that demand he not find my worldview oppressive or ridiculous.

These experiences are common enough that our school might lose a staff family each year primarily to the stress and strain of relating to those different from us. The familiar rhetoric of “I thought this was a Christian school” often comes along with that resignation, insisting that a “real” Christian school would, of course, be populated by Christians in agreement on everything from politics to worship music.

. . . Evangelicals have almost totally lost the outrage that lies at the heart of the Gospel. We believe that everyone ought to believe what we believe because it’s obvious that its the truth. We have big churches, media stars and books explaining everything so persuasively that it shows just how stubborn and hostile unbelievers really are. If they would just listen to our pastor answer all the questions, it would make sense.

. . . Evangelicals have convinced themselves that the light shines in a room where it’s been patently obvious for a long time that we needed some light around here, and Christianity has the best bulb for the job. Scripture tells us that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot comprehend it.

We have convinced ourselves that every reasonable person is looking for a Savior, and that Jesus’ contemporaries should have been waiting for him with a welcoming committee. The Bible says the Word became flesh, came to his own, and no one wanted anything to do with him. In fact, the thought of God visiting this world is every bit as outrageous within the Christian story as it is outside of it.

[Atheists like] Sam Harris are right to point out the unlikelihood that such a story is anything other than a delusional mythology. Our own Gospel tells us the same story: sin had created a chasm between God and his creatures that renders the likelihood of God having anything to do with us ridiculously comic. We ought to be laughing at it ourselves, because it simply shouldn’t be. It is amazing grace indeed.

Comments

  1. I would like to be the first to say that I absolutely love that Sundays with Michael have been moved to Monday.

  2. Michael always was more of a Monday morning 10 AM guy than a Sunday morning 10 AM guy.

  3. I liked reading him on Sundays, but I don’t mind Mondays, either.

  4. This will help me keep a proper perspective through my work week, where I will encounter a myriad of world views that don’t begin to vaguely resemble that with which I have lined my comfort zone. My thanks to the Chaplain and everyone else to takes the time to visit and post here.

  5. As he did so often, Michael hits the nail on the head with this one. Where I live often when I think things have calmed down a bit and evangelicals are starting to be a bit more inclusive, some culture war or xenophobic screed pops up and reminds me that an awful lot still aren’t. It’s heartening to see some evangelical leaders push back against the exclusionist rhetoric of some politicians about the Syrian refugees, and I hope it helps to change the whole approach beyond this single issue, but I’m not sure that the majority of people in the pews are totally with them.

  6. Homogenization is a big pitfall for all of us. I just drove past two guys riding bicycles down the street. One of them was black. For whatever reason you don’t see that many black guys bike riding, certainly not professionally and not around the neighborhood either. In the 2.4 seconds I had as I drove past I eyed him, sized him up and tried to fit him into some nebulous categories. Why is he out there in the middle of the afternoon? He has a job to afford that 1500.00 bike or maybe he’s retired. That all happened before I had a chance to remember that I’m not racist and that I love everyone, whatever that means. I felt no ill will toward the man but there I was judging reflexively before I knew it. When I came to I thought to myself, ” Who the hell are you? Mind your damn business. Pray. Rejoice. Meditate, anything but searching out comfortable assumptions toward someone who seems different than you.” Mind your business. See Christ. Don’t be so pastey vanilla. Oyy!

  7. Michael had a gift for clear and perceptive commentary on modern Evangelicalism. I see the wisdom of his insights everytime I’m gathered with my “tribe”. I wish I had his boldness in identifying and calling out our skewed perceptions and priorities but mostly I just nod and keep my mouth shut and want to be somewhere else.