I have a longstanding tradition of not discussing events of the day on this blog. I will be breaking with that tradition for the duration of this post. As partial atonement, I will do my best to keep it brief. All three items involve the response of the church to a current event.
The first is the release of the Planned Parenthood videos. The initial response from the Christian community was gleeful—finally, the world will wake up to what abortion mills are doing!—followed by a baffled and crushing disappointment—where’s the outrage?
I have some hope that the disappointment will inspire us to face the facts. Our instincts tell us that normal, decent human beings should be outraged by these revelations. But the news has moved on, and not much has changed. So what went wrong? Did they not hear? Do they need to hear it again? Do we not live amongst normal, decent human beings? Or are we mistaken in how we understand the situation? (I vote for the last.)
The second is the sudden awareness of mistreatment of blacks at the hands of the police. I am afraid that society at large is far ahead of the church in being brought up short by the constant stream of outrageous revelations. But I do have some hope, precisely because the church has been so feeble and mealy-mouthed in its response. I think as a community we simply don’t know what to say, that our understanding of the situation has failed us, and for once we haven’t yielded (completely, anyway) to the temptation to retreat into some pious claptrap about how the real problem is that we’re all sinners, or whatever. Perhaps in the partial silence we’ll find the strength to do some thinking.
The third event is the hacking of the Ashley Madison website, which revealed that when it comes to sexual purity many Christians, pastors and teachers and laymen, celebrities and little-known, talk a far better game than they live. The response I’ve seen from the community so far is exactly the sort of response the commumity hoped the Planned Parenthood videos would evoke but didn’t—shocked, stunned disbelief. An unbelieving observer who noticed both would have to laugh at the irony. Meanwhile, I take heart from the fact that folks were at least shocked, stunned, and disbelieving. At least the standard which was violated turns out to not be cynically hypocritical—we really did believe our men were better than that.
How could the church have failed so miserably in this third area? I have my own answer, and I think it applies to the first two situations as well. Unfortunately, I don’t think most people will find it very helpful.
It is this: we choose to put our faith in the rules, rather than in what the rules point to. We require righteousness, but don’t train people in righteousness. When those in the community fail to meet the standard, our response is: didn’t you hear me the first time? Here, let me tell you again, slower and louder and in a very stern voice. Surely you didn’t understand me before, and once you do you will naturally do what I tell you is right. Just stop doing what is wrong. That’s all it takes.
We’ve told our men to be pure, and they’ve failed to be pure. We’ve told ourselves that ours must become a colorblind society, and blacks suffer disproportionately at the hands of police. We’ve told ourselves that good people view life as precious, and good people are not outraged by events where life is treated as a commodity and (in)convenience. None of this excuses the behavior of the people involved. But perhaps we should re-examine our faith in the power of our rules and standards.
We thought we could save the world (and ourselves considerable effort) by codifying the Christian worldview and then imposing it on everyone, Christian or not. Instead we found that not only did the unbelieving world reject it, believers began substituting the code for character—rather than exemplifying a way of life as a result of long years of training, they substitute a promise to adhere to the code, without regard to whether they are constitutionally (or situationally) equipped to fulfill that promise.
Based on my own experience, I believe that everyday people can train themselves to meet the Christian standard—eventually, and imperfectly, but with increasing success as a result of their efforts. Unfortunately, these days that almost certainly means self-training, with little or no assistance or guidance available. Teachers are all too pleased to expound the standard, and we’re all too eager to judge one another against it. But there’s precious little available to train you in how to meet that standard.