An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
I've had no fewer than 6 people separately suggest this article to me...after I'd found it by way of my own wasted time surfing. Ahem...I don't mean the article is a waste of time, but rather that I waste time usually. Anyway...clearly this article is popular.
I've known about the "Internet Monk" for a long time now and in fact I rather suspect I've blogged about something he's written once or twice. Presently he's headlining a reposted oldie suggesting answers to "Why do they hate us" (evangelicals that is.) I think it goes along rather well with the much hyped Evangelical Collapse article.
I don't disagree with much of anything he has to say here, but I think there is one point I'd add and this is imply this: Ummm...you should expect to be hated.
Secularization is not a social phenomena that will foster intolerance for evangelicals alone, oh no, make no mistake about it. They are of course a vocal and highly visible target - you know, the squeaky wheel that gets the oil - but let's not kid ourselves into thinking that we are going to be able to dress up and retain "o"rthodox Christian values and theology and thereby make it more palatable to an ever increasingly secularized society. You may make it less "threatening", but I suppose that just depends on how far the secularization process leads.
I agree that voracious participation in the culture war has particularly painted a target on Christians armed in that fight, but it seems to me that you really only have two options: give up and let the dreaded "other" side win, or you seek to eliminate the need for such hotly contested battles. In other words: quit allowing and encouraging the government to have such much sway in our lives such that we become worried about the policies it will enforce upon our personal lives and the lives of others.
In my mind, what is most concerning about the bleak future for evangelicals that iMonk paints is NOT that people will abandon it and it will collapse, but that government will seek to stifle it legally in some way. Isn't this the logical extension of a strong and heavily endowed government in the hands of "Public leaders [who] will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society."
All too brief mention is made about this frightening possibility: "Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good." This prophecy ought to concern us very deeply and I'm surprised it is so quickly glossed over in the post. It seems to me that this is a huge point.
You've heard the illustrative proverb: "First they came for the Jews, but I wasn't a Jew..."
Any homes schooling families out there? I'm sure you can all relate to us stories of the odd looks you sometimes (often?) get from people when they learn that you are homeschooling your kids; looks that say: "Isn't that bad for children, education, and society?" Didn't matter if you were evangelical, did it?
I simply do not believe that by "finding new forms of Christian vitality and ministry" we are going to witness an evangelical phoenix rise up from the ashes in a new and more relevant form. I don't think the answer is to scramble to find ways to not be hated by a culture that by any sane account hates God, but rather to make sure you are being hated for the right reasons. Anything "new" and "exciting" will titillate for awhile, but a firm faith grounded in rich traditions and sacrificial love may go down in flames too, but a thousand witnesses around it will be saved.
My overall point is: if the future is as bleak as iMonk makes it out to be for evangelicals, well we should all be worried - or in faith NOT be worried.
You see my impression of the direction in which the ideological free market is heading is one where consumers don't care to see a new and improved Christianity, on the contrary, they have no interest or perceived need for any such product at all! At best the hippest Christians will be seen as well dressed and "cool" Amway salesmen and at worse they will all experience the ugly side of an intolerant "public policy." Either way, I don't care if you listen to all the hottest rock music, use all the most relevant and high tech techniques in your worship (of course you wouldn't call it worship...surely there's a hipper name than that), vote liberally, or even eschew all that you can about evangelicalism, if you proclaim the Incarnation and Resurrection you will be seen as insane.
It was the blood of martyrs and NOT their willingness to be appealing that became the seeds of the Church. I don't think we'll reach that point again (then again, did the Orthodox Christians in Russia around 1913 say the same thing?), but I also recognize that all four Gospels records more than once our Lord warning us that we will be hated.
It's easy to be hated for the wrong reasons - we are good at that. Much harder to be hated for Holy reasons. But make no mistake, this culture has a hard time suffering true Sanctity. The paradox is that at the same time, deep inside us all, I think we have an innate sense of need for the Holy.
So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, "the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion," the report concludes.
One of the more probable forms of influence the govt will use (and has used) is taxation and regulation. Right now, churches benefit from a huge tax "subsidy". In other words, we are only 15 minutes away from some newspaper writer finding some horrendous story, say, about Catholics, and then the govt. will use the tax subsidy (or the courts) to enforce politically acceptable organization. For example, if you want to be tax-deductible org., you have to let women, gays, whatever, exercise a proportionate amount of leadership.
And the same tax subsidy is largely behind the idea that "churches can't speak out politically." But what a tremendous "self-muzzling" this represents!
Already in churches, pastors and church councils have to spend way too much time talking about sexual abuse of minors, and -- important -- they must discuss it in legal, and not spiritual terms, and oftentimes when there hasn't been any abuse. In other words, we must view such abuse through the lens of how an attorney would look at it, rather than how our Lord would look at it. And the list will grow, relating to: discrimination, financial fraud, health (i.e. using a single chalice), licensing of pastors, accrediting of education, etc. In fact, a lot of the groundwork is already laid. In this way, the secular govt doesn't do anything overtly hostile, but just slowly snuffs the inner life out of the church's civil organizations: parishes, dioceses, etc. Example: I would already argue that because we see "church" in terms of a "parish organization with a priest (who has an MDiv) and a building", we have already made it very difficult, insofar as urban planning departments have made it nearly impossible to build a church unless the parish is HUGE.
To combat all of this, we would need to truly look at what our faith really consists of, and note carefully how our civil government tries to frame that faith, such that it can be monitored, taxed, regulated, and thereby made to express American civil values, and not necessarily spiritual values. The existence of such a frame is not even suspected by most people, and few are willing to imagine a life outside that framework.