The World Turned Upside Down
An AP story out of Salt Lake City Monday tried to make the case that, and I emphasize “tried” to make the case, that recent suicides of people self-identifying as gay are the responsibility of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. There have been a couple of good face-value take-downs of the piece by Maggie Gallagher and Bobby at GetReligion. I don’t see a need to revisit the contention on that level.
What I am forced to reflect upon, however, is how utterly bizarre the contention is on a philosophical level: Suicide is nothing if not the ultimate personal choice. If this “argument” gets any traction then it can lead to only one conclusion – no one is ever responsible for anything they have ever done or ever will do.
What is almost beyond me is that people who would deny that there is an Almighty, in large part because they do not want to think their life “controlled” by some supernatural force or deity, or who claim a deity so full of “grace” that standards of behavior simply do not exist, would so readily claim that they are so easily bandied about to such extraordinary behavioral extremes by mere emotional manipulation and social pressure. Somehow believing themselves free of the forces of God, they believe themselves subject to forces with far less power or authority.
Yet, such oxymoronic contentions seem commonplace and widely accepted in our world today. How have we come to the point that simple commonsense seems so uncommon?
At least part of the answer, I believe, lies with Evangelicals such as myself and our obsession with establishing TRUTH as if it were an object instead of a destination.
Let me set this up for you just a bit. In recent months as POTUS ’12 talk has begun to become the stuff of dinner table conversation, at least among the politically observant, I have heard uttered at more dinners than not, “I wish we had someone as captivating and good as Ronald Reagan this time.” But at this point in his political development, two years before he actually won the presidency, we had no idea that Reagan would be what he eventually became.
Reagan became REAGAN in no small degree because he was presented with a unique set of circumstances that permitted him to act in ways that were not available to others. Others faced Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, not Gorbachev. I have heard it argued, and it makes sense, that information about Chernobyl, being the overwhelming event that it was, could not be contained by the Soviet mechanisms and that flow of information severely weakened its control. Reagan had the strongest, most determined, and most capable allies in Thatcher and John Paul II that any POTUS enjoyed during the Cold War.
I have been reflecting on that a great deal as I have enjoyed these several dinner time conversations and it has set me to thinking about the question I asked a few paragraphs ago.
You see, there was something of a spiritual awakening in the nation in the 1970′s – counter to, but also part of, the more liberal youth movements of the late 60′s and early 70′s. Many of us with religious roots and commitments to Christ rose up and decried the “weak” Christianity of our parents. The nightly cocktails and other minor “sins” of our parents (*SHUTTER* most of their generation — smoked cigarettes) seemed to say they did not take their faith seriously. Worst of all was the tepid, non-theological, only vaguely Christ-mentioning civil religion that was bandied about in the Pledge of Allegiance and other civic settings like prayer at the beginning of the school day.
We demanded a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” and faces that glowed like Moses descending from Sinai. And with this movement we did not rise to the defense of the civil religion because in our youthful enthusiasm and “wisdom” we did not think it worthy of defense for it was not “the gospel.”
We were idiots.
A Word to My Evangelical Brethren
People do not come to something like the TRUTH of Jesus Christ all at once – it is a process. Jesus told a parable of planting seed in good and bad soil. C.S. Lewis believed his work was as a “pre-evangelist” that is to say someone who established the ground in a person in such a way that the gospel could take hold.
I would argue that the civil religion of the United States was a large part of the “good soil” that has allowed Christianity to flourish in America for the last 200 or so years. In our efforts to rush to the TRUTH of the gospel, while counting as unworthy of defense the pre-evangelism provided by the civil religion we have turned fertile ground into weedy rocky soil. Just as the liberalism of the late 60′s and early 70′ ignored the base principles on which decent liberal thought, like that of Jack Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., laid and has turned into something bizarre; so the Christianity we have today has fractured into a 1000 little pieces fighting for turf on a field that should define what unites them.
Christianity is waning in our nation and much of the blame belongs to us. Our efforts to set down TRUTH, rather than reason for it, have resulted mostly in the loss of reason, and hence very oxymoronic claims like what this post opened with can capture public attention instead of the ridicule it deserves.
Which brings me back to Ronald Reagan. I am convinced that history may put him in the pantheon of greats with Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson. But only if his legacy lasts. The fracturing within the coalition that he built, either along religious lines, or lines over who most resembles Ronaldus Maximus (to borrow a phrase from Rush Limbaugh) is what will prevent his legacy from lasting.
Now is the moment to return to basics and unite around them. In doing so we will save the nation politically and renew the pre-evangelistic playing field which has allowed our faith to flourish. That’s the ultimate win-win.