23 April 2008


As I contemplate the lethargy and placidity of the mainline protestant churches as they drift toward the rocks and shoals of secular humanism, my thoughts turn to a Kipling poem, "Et Dona Ferentes" — a phrase taken from the Aeneid:

“ timeo Danaos et dona ferentes” (“I fear Greeks and gift bearers.”)

Virgil's speaker was warning about the placid exterior of Greeks; Kipling was warning about the placidity of Englishmen.

Oh, my country, bless the training that from cot to castle runs—
The pitfall of the stranger but the bulwark of thy sons—
Measured speech and ordered action, sluggish soul and unperturbed,
Till we wake our Island-Devil—nowise cool for being curbed!

When the heir of all the ages “has the honour to remain,”
When he will not hear an insult, though men make it ne’er so plain,
When his lips are schooled to meekness, when his back is bowed to blows
Well the keen aas-vogels know it—well the waiting jackal knows.

Build on the flanks of Etna where the sullen smoke-puffs float—
Or bathe in tropic waters where the lean fin dogs the boat—
Cock the gun that is not loaded, cook the frozen dynamite—
But oh, beware my Country, when my Country grows polite!

Today, the guiding principle of many main line protestant denominations (UCC, PC(USA), ECUSA , et al.) is politeness rather than offending some non-believer. They want consensus, not Biblical orthodoxy. In all they do, they strive to be polite and to avoid offense. For them cultural and spiritual relativism is the preferred norm.

The great advantage of cultural and spiritual relativism is if all ideas and beliefs are equally valid, then argument is rendered impossible. There is no longer an agreed reality. But the relativists do not really apply a neutral standard. Rather, they demand that their agenda be accepted as the standard. It's a lot like playing a game with my nine year old, as he creates new rules and norms to stay ahead in the game.

For instance, in the world of the cultural and spiritual elites, tolerance is the ultimate goal. Oh, there are some things that even they will not tolerate, such as racial and sexual slurs or religious intolerance. Unless ...

Racial and sexual slurs (e.g., the despicable “N”-word) are to be rejected, except when rich young “performers” shower our children with the same slurs. Then it is a valid expression of a culture. Religious intolerance is to be despised, except when the intolerance is directed toward Israeli Jews and American evangelicals. The hypocrisy of the left is such that while it is acceptable for Hezbollah “freedom fighters” to target civilians, Israel may not defend itself.

To the moral relativists, it is acceptable for the world of Islam to subjugate women and make homosexuality a crime with a death sentence, but the Christian church must be totally blind to any differences between the sexes and accord total and complete recognition and benefits to those who engage in homosexual conduct.

In the PC(USA), for instance, civil law must be upheld—if it is Roe v. Wade. If the civil law seeks to properly and constitutionally protect our borders and control immigration, it is to be despised. The PC(USA) condemned Caterpillar for selling tractors to Israel, but sought out Palestinian leaders for photo ops. These were the same Islamic leaders who had encouraged their followers to rocket Israel and to turn themselves into human bombs to kill Jews. (Note: the PC(USA) later withdrew its boycott of Caterpillar, but not its apparent preference for the Hexbollah.)

“Who are we?”

The crux of the problem is that we have changed our identity—from a society who knew who we were Biblically, spiritually, and historically, into an amorphous mass that has no identification standards whatsoever. When someone self-identified as an American and a Christian, we knew who he or she was. Cultural and spiritual relativism strips the question of any legitimacy.

To quote Robert Heinlein’s character, Lazarus Long, “Spartan mothers used to tell their sons, ‘Come home carrying your shield, or on it.’ Later, that tradition died. So did Sparta.” Sparta as a society knew who it was, what it stood for, and what was needed to preserve it. There were standards of behavior, standards of conduct, and a common belief of what was right and wrong.

Until the early Twentieth Century, the protestant Church in America had certain common standards. Christ was the Son of God, fully human and fully divine. His death on the cross atoned for the sin of believers. He died, was buried, descended into Hell, and was then bodily resurrected from the dead.

While non-believers were free to practice their non-belief, we did not feel compelled to acknowledge that their beliefs were equally correct. The growing belief that “What is good for me is all that matters” or “If it feels good, do it” were to be criticized and our children were to be brought up secure in the Good news of Jesus Christ as the one savior of mankind. It was taught and reinforced from the cradle, and sustained by the broader institutions of society.

But then the West's elites began to reject the virtues of their own civilization and religious history. Religious belief was no longer worth the effort of standing firm. Our American culture, we were told, was no longer worth fighting and dying for. Starting in the 1960s, our youth were raised to believe in nothing but their own advancement and desires. There was no “right” and “wrong.” Every belief and standard was equally acceptable.

As a result of our moral confusion, we have lost our self-confidence and sense of moral honesty. Civic virtue is no longer the norm for our secular leaders and Biblical orthodoxy is no longer the norm of many of the main-line denominations. We reject and disdain controversy and real debate. In a world of “gotcha” politics, candidates are penalized for being too candid. In a society that prizes evasion and self-introspection as its supreme values, confrontation in the arena of ideas will not be tolerated for fear of giving offense.

As a result of the new call in the PC(USA) for discernment and forbearance, consensus and compromise, the greatest sin of which one can be guilty is not saying the right thing but of taking a stand and advocating for it. It is the Rodney King standard: “Can’t we all just get along?” We are called upon to be always "polite."

To be polite, we must acknowledge the equal validity of all sides of a question. To be polite, we must not challenge the propriety of the demands of proponents of one faction; to do so disturbs the peace, unity and purity of the denomination.” To call “wrong” wrong and “sin” sin is to be impolite.

The tipping point will come when Pat and Patty in the pews wake up. It will come when the passive middle feels threatened in a real and immediate way. They won't get there easily because they will twist and turn for some rationalization that will let them think things will get nice again without any effort on their part. For the PC(USA) it may be an amendment to the Book of Order changing the ordination standard, or an amendment making it mandatory that congregations affirmatively put their property in trust for the national church, or an amendment that makes payment of per capita mandatory.

Currently, the orthodox evangelicals make many of them uncomfortable by talking about fidelity to Scripture, the need to affirmatively state what it is we believe (in the form of declared essential tenets of the Reformed faith), and unpleasant issues such as abortion and homosexual marriage. They would prefer that the orthodox evangelicals just go away, or better yet, that they just shut up, stop rocking the boat, and validate a broad spectrum of beliefs and conduct.

There comes a time when we must take a stand. When we must choose obedience to and acceptance of the sovereignty of God over our own selfish desires. When we must call a spade a spade, no matter whom we may offend through our impoliteness.

Now is the time.

Oh, beware, my brethren when my brethren are polite.


Quotidian Grace said...

Stephen Carter outlined this phenomenon very well in his book The Culture of Disbelief. His thesis was that American culture tolerated religious expression so long as no one really took it seriously. That book was published about 10 years ago and is just as relevant today.

Red_Cleric said...

I love your writing and agree with you 99.9%. As a pastor of an endorsing congregation of the NWAC we are in the process of taking a fateful step.

That being said, I don't agree with what you wrote:

"...Starting in the 1960s, our youth were raised to believe in nothing but their own advancement and desires..."

It started long before that. There was the presidential candidacy of Victoria Woodhall in 1872 a "free love" advocate who a year previously wrote,

"I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can; to change that love every day if I please, and with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere. And I have the further right to demand a free and unrestricted exercise of that right, and it is your duty not only to accord it, but, as a community, to see that I am protected in it. I trust that I am fully understood, for I mean just that, and nothing less!"

There is the pendulum swing of the isolationist movement which kept us out of WW1 for a long time and had to be overcome again to support Great Britain in the late 1930's.

The topper is the Biblical account of Babel and the "everyone doing what was right in their own eyes" just before a major rain storm.

The fact is we are sinners who love self-interest best of all. We're good at protecting it. We're better at explaining why OUR self-interest is the one that should be defended. And mainline, charismatic, free-will, orthodox, or completely evangelical and bible believing are all alike in this way. We're human institutions that, without the grace of Jesus Christ to transform us, are damned.

Keep on writing. I love it.


Rev Kim said...

Great post. You're writing such good stuff! Thanks!