How Did We Get Here?

I sit in my office on this overcast Monday, wondering if the events of the past weekend in Charlottesville were a reality, or merely a bad dream. Turns out, that bad dream was, in fact, very real. I will not rehash the events or rhetoric from the weekend, but will ask an old question: how did we get here? And I want to direct that question to those of us who claim to live under the teachings of the Christian tradition. I know people of faith who disagree on what really led to what happened in Charlottesville. Some say it was the result of the rhetoric used during last year's presidential campaign, and others insist that the media has slanted news coverage so that conservatives or liberals will be blamed. Still others say that people of faith have remained silent for far too long, and therefore, we have to shoulder some of the responsibility for our country having become so polarized. Sadly, I think there is a bit of truth in all of the accusations, but I want to deal only with the last here. I have written before of the "Americanization" of the Christian faith that has caused it to become a religious belief that is palatable to, and never at odds with, American patriotism. America is not the first country to do this; history is rife with examples of civil religion masquerading as "true" Christianity. With a few notable exceptions, the fastest growing churches in America are those that infuse their services and theology with a strong sense of "America First." Churches that call into question the philosophy of manifest destiny that has again sprung up in America are accused of teaching false doctrines and are losing members at a record pace. What is the answer? I wish I knew, because I would write a best seller if I did. Politics and religion have always made for an unwholesome stew, yet we keep cooking up new recipes hoping for a tastier outcome. Perhaps we have lost the ability to catch hold of Jesus' vision because we have become too enamored of the ways in which Christianity has been used to give us what we want, whether materially, or just an assurance that, while others may not make it into the Kingdom, we certainly will. So, even though some will consider it a fool's errand, I challenge those who call themselves Christian to reacquaint themselves with the Gospels. Why? Because it is impossible to read the Gospels and make them say something that we want them to say, at least, with any consistency. In every one of them we are called upon to love one another, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and help the poor and sick and to welcome the stranger. Oh yes, one can take versus out of context and use them as a basis for separating people into "us" and "them." But another passage in another Gospel will speak to the fallacy of doing that, and one cannot read them all without seeing the thread that runs through them all: the Kingdom of God looks nothing like what we think it ought to look like, and it envisions a way of life that we don't seem to want to emulate. Maybe that reality begins to explain Charlottesville, and so much more.

~Dr. John Patrick Colatch

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