CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP ALLOWED AMERICA TO DETERIORATE
By Mike Heath
February 25, 2007
In the November 2006 movie “Déjà vu” Denzel Washington’s character, Doug Carlin, is pictured in three versions. The time travel movie portrays Carlin, a police investigator, solving a murder and Ferry bombing in New Orleans. An FBI team has developed a time travel machine that allows Washington’s character to go back in time and stop the murder and Ferry bombing. The first version of Washington investigates the murder, the second stops it, and the third walks up at the end of the movie and experiences a bit of “Déjà vu.”
The real life actor Denzel Washington evokes the most positive feelings in people, according to George Barna, a Christian pollster. Barna recently released the findings of research that invited participants to rank 16 public figures, including politicians, entertainers and ministers. While Britney Spears had the least favorable image, Washington was ranked at the top.
The survey found that Christian leaders are not known to people generally. 72 percent of the respondents had never heard of Rick Warren. 57 percent had never heard of James Dobson. Barna concludes, “the low visibility of Christian leaders coincides with other studies that indicate Christianity is losing its hold on American culture.”
Denzel Washington’s character in “Déjà vu” goes through three versions. We’ve seen two versions of Christianity in America. Will we see a third?
The first version of Christianity was muscular and comprehensive. It not only informed the private thinking and Sunday-lives of citizens, it contextualized and defined experience for Americans at every level of the social strata. This version of the Christian character in America started in 1620 with the creation of the Mayflower Compact in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It died off as America broke from England, and established herself as an independent nation.
For 231 years America has seen the second version of the Christian character. This more timid and retiring version is characterized by grace. The first version was more concerned with law and judgment. You wouldn’t be to far off to think about the two versions in Old and New Testament terms. The character of the first version was more interested in principles, law and culture. The second version of Christianity is more attuned to senses, emotion and “love.” (I don’t hold to this incomplete and overly simplistic view of the Testaments, but it is helpful to draw out these distinctions here)
In the Denzel Washington movie the first version of the Doug Carlin character investigates and listens. The second version is more assertive and active.
It is just the opposite for Christianity as America has developed.
The character of Christianity started out strong and assertive. It has fallen into a befuddled state, unsure of whether her claims can withstand the scrutiny of science. Many believe … Christians included … that Christianity has been tried by science. They believe that Christianity has been found wanting.
Is this true? Has science proven that Christianity is useless, or false? Certainly powerful voices in our culture say that this is so. The visual media reinforce the assertion through science-based programming, modern dramas and secular news programming that doesn’t assist the viewer with their understanding of the real world. The print media does a better job, but even here much about the way we think and live our lives is ignored.
The insightful early twentieth-century thinker C.S. Lewis wrote, “If we wish to be rational, not now and then, but constantly, we must pray for the gift of Faith, for the power to go on believing not in the teeth of reason but in the teeth of lust and terror and jealousy and boredom and indifference that which reason, authority, or experience, or all three, have once delivered to us for truth.”
We have been lazy. It is easier to flit from “expert” to “expert” than to remain rational. Lewis gets it right. To be rational we must pray for the gift of faith. Rational Christians don’t stop believing in the teeth of lust, terror, jealousy and boredom. Rational Christians hold on to the truth once delivered to them by reason, authority or experience. They don’t walk away from their faith because the National Geographic Channel entertains them with a sixty minute interpretation of things. Real Christians think and believe.
I think many modern Christians do neither in favor of entertainment.
George Barna writes of his poll, “The survey statistics suggest that perhaps Christian individuals are more attuned to matters of culture and entertainment than to matters of faith.”
What will America look like if this trend continues? What will America become if the more timid version of Christianity remains dominant? It is reasonable to conclude that a weak and private version of Christianity will not be sufficient to engage a people who derive their values and morality from the visual entertainment media.
The first version of Christianity benefited from the fact that sermons were accepted by the village as both entertainment and moral perspective. The cacophony of voices that assault us in our media age hollowed the character of Christianity. This was allowed to happen. Christian leadership allowed it to happen.
The question we moderns face is whether Christianity will arise in a third version with the character of both the Old and New Testaments combined.
In the face of rising violence, greed, corruption and disorder I pray she will.
© 2007 Mike Heath - All Rights Reserved
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Michael completed a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in religion/philosophy at Roberts Wesleyan College in 1985. In 1989 he became Executive Director at The Christian Civic League of Maine.
In 1992 Michael was the Republican nominee for Maine's House of Representatives in District 85. He's participated in dozens of candidate and issue campaigns since 1990.
Mike speaks each week all over Maine in churches, civic groups and on college campuses. Mike is often quoted in Maine's daily newspapers and frequently offers the League's perspective on national, statewide and local radio and television news programs. He produces a daily two minute radio commentary program called "Faith Matters in Maine." It airs statewide and can be heard online at www.celmaine.org
addition to having been published in many of Maine's newspapers, Heath
maintains a popular blog called www.mikeheath.net.
He makes his home in South China with Paulie (www.paulieheath.com),
his wife of 23 years.
What will America look like if this trend continues? What will America become if the more timid version of Christianity remains dominant?