There is much discussion, strategic thinking and alarm about the future of the church coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many U.S. church leaders and members — on the heels of this unprecedented experience for them — are lamenting a slow or absent return of participating members. They are seeking answers.
But rightly formed questions are always essential in the pursuit of answers.
The question most often being posed now is: What will things look like post-pandemic?
The slow-flowing answers seem filled with rightful uncertainty and enough hopefulness to keep searching.
Yet, that question alone is missing something crucial. It does not take into consideration a greater factor at play than merely what will it take to entice people out of their pajamas and back into the pews.
A more relevant and urgent question needs to be asked and wrestled with honestly. It is one that considers the pandemic to be at least as much context as it is the cause of the concerns facing many churches today.
This elephant-in-the-sanctuary question is: What will Americanized Christianity look like after an overwhelming number of those composing it have publicly revealed their willingness to ignore the teachings of Jesus — though learned and taught through the many years — in favor of highly unethical political messiahs who promise to salve their unfounded fears of social change?
Indeed, the pandemic impacted church life — especially for those congregations that are more than mere reflections of a popular political rally.
New habits were established during shutdown times — leading to the realization that earlier participation was likely quite habitual as well.
But those changing post-pandemic practices are greatly compounded by resistance to the droves of Americanized Christians who so easily compromise the very basic Christian values.
This is now on full display in the political arena in which Christian nationalism (which isn’t Christianity) seems more appealing to many than the ways of Jesus.
There are good reasons why many in church leadership roles want to keep the focus on just the pandemic itself rather than raise this more-troubling question, even when they know it’s the bigger one.
Some hope and pray that the great Christian compromise on display today — if ignored — will just go away.
Addressing these matters is challenging when members caught up in such conspiracies and fear-driven hostilities expect the minister to reflect whatever their favored talking heads on TV are stirring up at the time. Truth, for them, is nothing more than what makes them feel less threatened by social change.
They have assumed themselves to be victims. And they are looking for someone more aggressive than Jesus to save them. And no pastoral word is going to change their minds — or keep the peace.
And both beyond and within the church are those simply looking for Jesus — yet wondering why so many who claim his name are uninterested in what he said and did.
A note came recently from someone who “just came across” something I’d written. He confessed to not being of “a particular faith,” but one who believes in the message that Jesus taught.
Yet, speaking of the ugliness of the political allegiances of Americanized Christianity, he said he was “so confused as to how some Christians could fall for such obvious poison, such hate.”
Me too. Me too.
When COVID-19 is rightly understood as context and not just cause, we can deal with the reality that the Christian witness has been deeply harmed by the overwhelming number of professing believers who have jumped with both feet into a political sea of untruth, discrimination and power-seeking.
Conspiracy theories flowing from the self-appointed Christian spokesmen in America seem to outnumber their Bible stories. And everything Jesus taught his followers to be and do is considered optional if not weak and irrelevant.
We face the tragic reality that much of the public message coming out of Americanized Christianity today — by those who most loudly and passionately profess the faith — conflicts, contrasts and contradicts the essence of what it means to be followers of Jesus.
There is no amount of pleading and programming to offset that reality. Only confession, confrontation and redirection — or perhaps even resurrection — will do.
The resulting disillusionment with and disengagement from much of white Americanized Christianity today is well-founded.
It is baffling to those who expect something better than a harboring of the same fear-induced aspirations of self-preservation and social domination heard on right-wing media.
And if our message is truly something else — something more akin to what Jesus called the Kingdom of God — then some very loud, clear and compelling voices need to say so. Even if some members don’t like it.
The impact of COVID-19 has presented some very real challenges. Answers don’t come easily.
Yet, the impact of a rising culture of conspiracies and hostilities on the larger Christian witness is even greater.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.