The End of Stubborn Piety, and a New Beginning.

“[R]ising anxiety, suicide, and deaths of despair speak to a profound national disorder….”

Donald Trump with Jerry Falwell, Jr. at Liberty University in Virginia

I just read Three Decades Ago, America Lost Its Religion. Why? By staff writer for the Atlantic, Derek Thompson. I find The Atlantic to be full of insightful articles, even when I don’t wholeheartedly agree with them. This article is no exception.

Thompson recalls those enlightened 19th century pundits who predicted the death of God and advances in “scientific discovery and modernity” that would lead to widespread atheism. Thompson is a skeptic, himself. While Europe has largely gone the way the pundits predicted, The United States has resisted that prognostication – at least until recently.

Thompson blames “America’s unique synthesis of wealth and worship” and “stubbornly pious Americans” for the United States not going with the flow of the Enlightenment ascent of man from the superstitious dark ages into the light of science and reason.

While the rest of the western world has been drifting away from religious affiliation, and religion altogether, the United States seemed impervious to those forces working on the rest of the western world – until recently. Things began to change in the United States in the 1990’s, and that trend continues.

The article borrows heavily from Christian Smith, a sociology and religion professor at the University of Notre Dame, for figures and figurings of the reasons why. The shift is clear, though, and the statistics bear it out, that religious affiliation and interest in religion in the United States is waning and going the way of the rest of the western world.

“According to Smith, America’s nonreligious lurch has mostly been the result of three historical events: the association of the Republican Party with the Christian right, the end of the Cold War, and 9/11.” Smith goes on to provide some explanation for how these “events” have triggered the change. He says,

“The marriage between the religious and political right …. disgusted liberal Democrats, especially those with weak connections to the Church. It also shocked the conscience of moderates, who preferred a wide berth between their faith and their politics.”

Thompson’s article got me thinking. He is right about the trend away from religion in the United States. We don’t need data to tell us that. The “nones” are increasing while the committed believers are decreasing. That these observations come from “outside the camp” doesn’t make them false.

Thompson’s explanations for the reasons why this is may be more of a mixed bag. He (naturally) views the changes through a naturalistic lens. He may be right about some of the cause and effect, but he (naturally) isn’t likely to see the more spiritual side of those things.

I “grew up” spiritually during the mid to late 80’s when the marriage between religion and the political right was consummated. I fell out of step with it, and lost track of it, when I went to law school in 1988. Apparently the honeymoon went well.

I count myself (even today) as an evangelical (though I search for a different label). My spiritual upbringing included the experience of the courting of the religious right of the Republican Party. (Or was it the other way around?)   

Law school, however, challenged even my most sacrosanct connections, and the cares and concerns of fatherhood and providing for a growing family distracted me from other relationships. It was all I could do to hold onto God during this time, and the truth is that He mostly held onto me.

Perhaps, that was a blessing in disguise, as I didn’t grow into the religio-politico affiliation that seems to characterize a large segment of the evangelical church today. I am a more distant observer of that relationship today, so I think I have some objectivity left.

I agree (partially) with Thompson’s assessment that the congruence of the religious right and the political right changed the political landscape. It also changed the religious landscape. Perhaps, more than we might care to acknowledge.

Continue reading “The End of Stubborn Piety, and a New Beginning.”

Separating the Church from Babylonian Morality in the Race Discussion

If we fall into a politically partisan conversation, the Gospel takes a back to secular politics.

The following thoughts and observations come from and are inspired by a conversation between Preston Sprinkle and Dr. Ed Uszynski. (See Episode 877: Race, CRT, and Evangelicalism of Theology in the Raw.)

Sprinkle and Urszynski are in agreement that Christians generally are doing a poor job of grappling with the issue of race in the United States. Most Christians are vocal in their criticism of secular solutions, but few Christians are really engaging with the underlying issues.

Critical Theory, CRT and Marxist ideology and terminology are fueling the discussion in the secular culture. Identity politics, systemic racism, police brutality is the language commonly used in the secular world to frame the discussion. Whether Christians are condemning these concepts or aligning with them, Christians are not offering much in return.

In the podcast, one the two men (I can’t remember which) said that we should have different language inside the Church. We should have Gospel language that addresses injustice.

“We should have a theological understanding of the concept of justice…. We should be immersed in care and concern for vulnerable populations, regardless of color, regardless of gender, regardless of background. We should be robustly able to think about what it means to care for the least of these, to watch out for people who are being taken advantage of…. That’s a biblical idea that we should be deeply immersed in theologically and biblically.”

That, however, isn’t happening in most Christian circles. People who are engaging in the conversation are engaging in it with the secular terminology and don’t recognize that we need to separate ourselves from that secular perspective. We are defining ourselves in relation to secular concepts, rather than driving the conversation from a biblical perspective with biblical concepts and biblical terminology.

Christian are either adopting CRT in church, which is the primary, secular approach, or Christians are rejecting CRT without offering a Gospel orientated alterative. People address CRT (by opposing it), but they are largely not addressing or effectively engaging the race conversation on a theological level.

“We have done a horrible job, generally, in embracing, and believing and obeying the rich theological theme of what the Kingdom of God is designed to look like and how it is designed to function in terms of its multiethnic backbone.”

Continue reading “Separating the Church from Babylonian Morality in the Race Discussion”

A Critique of Some Reasons Why Christians Oppose Critical Race Theory

Has CRT has become a scapegoat that masks and exasperates the real problem?

Critical Race Theory (CRT) has caused quite a stir in Christian (and conservative) circles, while racial tensions remain inflamed in the United States after a summer of COVID fear and racial unrest. While we are currently in a period of relative calm, it seems like the volcanic activity continues churning under the surface, and it’s only a matter of time before another event leads to an eruption.

Since last summer, I have focused often on issues of race in my writing, and race continues to occupy my mind. Thus, when a friend recommended some episodes of Theology in the Raw on the subject of CRT and race, generally, I followed up to listen to them. I was thrilled to find the discussions civil, intelligent and enlightening.

I have listened to several episodes now, but the one I am writing about today is episode #844. I am going to summarize parts of it with some of my own comments, but I highly suggest listening to the whole discussion if you have the time and inclination.

In this podcast, Preston Sprinkle’s guest, “Pastor T”, explains some of the frustrations that black people have with white people (conservative and progressive) in the national conversation about race. Pastor T explains that the black Church is more aligned with conservatives on theological lines, but they tend toward progressives on political lines because of silence a lack of engagement with the black plight in America by white evangelicals.

Take a moment to listen to Pastor T explain (listen approximately 24 minutes):

I will pick up the conversation in the context of the reasons why Christians oppose CRT. Pastor T identifies at least areas of expressed Christians concern: 1) it leads people away from the Gospel and causes people to deconvert; 2) it is a false religion that threatens Christianity; and 3) it is a progressive ideology that threatens conservative values and the country.

The first group of people oppose CRT because they see CRT drawing people away from the church, away from Christianity and away from the Gospel. They see people “deconstructing” and leaving their faith. They believe that CRT is partially to blame.

A slightly different reason that people oppose CRT is a concern that CRT is a false gospel that is advocated with religious zeal. This is a worldview concern – a battle against a competing worldview.

This view sees CRT as racializing the world because CRT divides the world into oppressor groups and oppressed groups. It posits that people in the oppressor group can never be justified; and the people in the oppressed group are justified simply by virtue of their grievances. These are secular constructs, not biblical ones.

The third group of people might use the language of theology, but their focus is more political. They would say that CRT is not good for society or the country. They view the Black Lives Matter movement and the movement to defund the police and other policy positions as unwise, unhelpful, destructive and contrary to the Bible.

Pastor T began the discussion by acknowledging the legitimacy of these concerns. He affirms that we should be concerned about rival claims to salvation and eternal life and the basic teaching of the Gospel.

Pastor T is a conservative Christian, as many black Christians are in their theology. His observations suggest that we are separated more by race than by theology in the American Church. Perhaps, the disconnect between the black Church and the white Church over CRT in America has more to do with racial experience and perspective than the Gospel.

Continue reading “A Critique of Some Reasons Why Christians Oppose Critical Race Theory”

God’s Plans Are Bigger than We Often Perceive, and He is Working Them Out Sometimes Despite Us

God promised Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”.

In the service this morning, the message was about Joseph. As often happens, I saw something I hadn’t seen before. The depth and nuance and intricate tapestry that is Scripture often works that way.

I will get to the point, but first, I need to build the backstory. Most readers know of Joseph, so I will be brief. Joseph was the youngest of the 12 sons of Jacob. Jacob was the son of Isaac, the famous son of Abraham. Abraham was the man of faith to whom God gave the following promise:

“Go from your country [land] and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1-3 ESV)

I added the emphasis and will come back to it. In the meantime, we need to recall that Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, who were jealous of him. They plotted to kill him and left him for dead in the bottom of a well.  He was “rescued” by a passing caravan that sold him into slavery in Egypt.

We could say much about the story of Joseph, but I want to fast forward. Joseph’s life teetered on the edge of utter desperation. He experienced a series of very high highs and very low lows. God ultimately blessed Joseph and elevated him to the second most powerful position in Egypt because of Joseph’s faithful use of the gifts and wisdom God gave him.

Many years after his brothers left him for dead, Joseph superintended a massive grain storage plan for Egypt that positioned his “adoptive” country to weather a long, severe famine and provide food for all its people and other nations besides. That same famine prompted his brothers to travel to Egypt when they were on the verge starvation and desperation.

When they arrived and got inline to buy grain, they had no idea they were appearing before their brother, Joseph. Joseph asked them to go back to Canaan and bring his father, Jacob, back down to Egypt with them.


Joseph’s brothers, his father and the whole tribe returned to Egypt. When they returned and finally realized the powerful man who sent them for their father was Joseph, they were ashamed, and they feared retribution against them for their betrayal, but Joseph was gracious, and he gave them favorable living conditions until Jacob died.

This is the point of the story that was addressed in the service today. Joseph’s brothers were fearful that he still held a grudge after Jacob died and would pay them back for their betrayal. (Gen. 50: 15) They didn’t immediately go to Joseph. Instead, they sent a message to Joseph containing instructions to them from their father to say to Joseph: “’I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’” (Gen. 50: 17)

Much could be said about the fact that they sent their father’s instructions to them, rather than their own, heartfelt message to their brother, Joseph, but this story isn’t about them. It’s about Joseph.

Joseph wept upon receiving the message. When his brothers finally come to him in person and offered themselves as slaves, Joseph said this (which is the launching point for the real import of what I have to say today);

“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” (Gen. 50:19-21 ESV) (Emphasis added)

Continue reading “God’s Plans Are Bigger than We Often Perceive, and He is Working Them Out Sometimes Despite Us”

Risky Living: Good Risks and Bad Risks

Living with risk: almost 600,000 Americans have died of COVID as of April 29, 2021

(I started writing this one year and one day ago. I might as well finish what I started.)

As a child growing up, I learned to swim at a local swim club where I also spent many lazy, summer days in the water. The high dive was the ultimate challenge at the club, and the divers who trained there were the people I looked up to. The thrill of somersaulting in the air into water was alluring.

I never took diving lessons. We moved when I was still young, but high dives always called me. As a teenager, the Quarry which became my new summer hangout had a high dive and a tower. The tower was only opened on special occasions, and only the bravest of kids would jump off.

I never had diving lessons, but I learned to somersault through the air, swan dive and a host of other playground tricks. I didn’t pass up an opportunity to dive from the tower either. I was somewhat a reckless youth.

The tower is still there today, but I am told they never “open” it because of the liability. My experiences were 45-50 years ago now.

I recall these things because I woke suddenly from a dream early yesterday morning to a man curled tightly in a rotating somersault spinning in the air. At 60 years old, now, the thrill of somersaulting in the air is more tinged with fear than it used to be, and the sudden vision of it jolted me awake with Adrenalin.

Every once in a while, I show my kids I can still do it, but the body doesn’t move like it once did. I can’t bounce or curl or rotate like a 15-year old anymore.

The moment of fear-tinged thrill I felt as I woke was more like the feeling I had when I was younger when I was tempted to see how close I could jump from the high dive to the edge of the swimming pool without hitting it. The “thought experiment” conjured up the same kind of feeling.

The two things – somersaulting from a high dive and trying to jump close to the edge of the pool without hitting it – are risky things to do. A misstep doing either one might result in injury or even death.

Not being instructed in the matter of high diving, I probably had more confidence than I should have in my own abilities. I pushed myself beyond what I feared I could not do. I might have been a bit brash about it, but I wasn’t foolish. Attempting to jump as close to the edge of the pool without hitting the concrete would have been not only brash, but utterly foolish.

Life is full of risks. Just swimming in water comes with the risk of drowning. (How many times did our mothers scold us about not swimming within an hour of eating?) The mother who doesn’t teach her kids to swim, though, isn’t doing them any favors. A person who never learned to swim, for fear of drowning, is much more likely to drown in a sudden fall into the water than a person who learned to swim.

For me, swimming was as natural as riding a bike. I did it for hours every day all summer long. Swimming in the water was familiar to me, so I didn’t fear it. Perhaps, I was even overconfident in my abilities and didn’t take seriously the warnings from my mother (though I listened to her anyway because she was my mother).

There are good risks and bad risks. Any business person knows that, as going into business is full of risk.

We are currently in the sixth week of sheltering in place from the corona virus threat here in Illinois. People throughout the country are starting to get restless, calling for the governors to declare an end to the stay-at-home orders and open up the states for business as usual. Many people are hunkered down because they are vulnerable or scared, while protesters are taking to the streets in defiance with no masks, daring government intervention.

How does the risk of COVID-19 fit into the spectrum of risk? It depends a lot on you.

Financial advisors always survey their clients’ risk tolerance. People have different levels of risk tolerance. Some of us are bolder, brasher and more confident than others. Some of us are timid and scared. People with vulnerabilities have reason to be concerned. Some people are just plain reckless.

Continue reading “Risky Living: Good Risks and Bad Risks”