Is Christianity Ill In America?

Some Protestant churches are too soft, and others too harsh and political in their theologies. Both approaches contribute to growing secularism in America.

In his important new magnum opus, A Thicker Jesus, my friend Glen Stassen suggests that Christianity is ill in America, but in two very different ways.

One form of Christianity is ill, according to Stassen, because it is essentially theologically and ethically vacuous and fails to make concrete demands of its adherents. These are churches that seek above all "to avoid offending any members, and to steer clear of controversial issues and confrontations." The gospel is reduced to the private realm and ethics is reduced to general principles. "These churches fail to confront members in ways that provide the guidance we need in our lives, and they avoid addressing injustices and problems that threaten us." They "lack the depth of commitment and the vigor they need to avoid the decline and decay that constitute a growing crisis" (all quotes, p. 6).

Though Glen doesn't say it outright, I believe he is speaking here primarily of mainline liberal Protestantism, stuck in a spiral of decline and therefore desperate to avoid doing anything that might trigger further decline, but ironically creating further decline because of this fearful paralysis. Probably many readers are familiar with the type of churches that come into view with this analysis.

The other form of Christianity is ill, says Stassen, because it has responded to the dislocating social changes and religious diversity of our context by sliding into a "reactionary authoritarianism" that tries to find "solid ground" by identifying Christianity with various kinds of conservative ideology. He speaks of "authoritarian fundamentalism" that "co-opts the claim to speak for Christianity" (all quotes, p. 5) and then essentially collapses Christianity into various conservative and reactionary tropes and calls these Christianity. He doesn't name all of those, but I know what he would say here because we have both routinely battled this problem: Christianity as American nationalism and national security idolatry, as laissez-faire economics, as thinly veiled racism, as patriarchal sexism, as demagogic homophobia, and so on.

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SOURCE: Associated Baptist Press
David Gushee
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