Rethink Christianity in America

Photo by James L.W on Unsplash

When I first arrived in the U.S. more than twenty years ago as a teenager, one of the first things introduced to me was to attend the church on Sundays. We’d made our commute by car to the church we go to in St. Louis suburb and eventually seated to listen to an hour long of programs including a sermon prepared by the pastor. Then we’d socialize after the programs and during the lunch where the church had provided for a small cost. Sometimes we’d attend the bible study groups on different days or before the programs on Sunday. Most fellow Christians I met were wonderful people on the path with God. Eventually I’d get to know more about Christianity and Jesus’ teachings. I’d received my own copy of bible and read it with tremendous zeal. One curious thing I noticed was that there are actually many different types of Christians instead of just one as referenced in the Bible. It is equally fascinating to witness how preachers, pastors and teachers can take a segment of the bible or collect different sections and expand into a specific theme for the followers to listen to. The ever changing cultural palette offers endless arrays of colors on the canvas of disseminating gospels. It is equally true that the quality of a painting reflects the psyche of the painter.

Recently New York Times published a report titled ‘Christianity Will Have Power.’ It interviewed people and families in Sioux Center, Iowa and particularly the ones with Christianity faith. It provides many insights into the thinking of the people in that region and shed some light for us, whom have been puzzled by the seemingly contradictory support of Evangelical Christians to an actor turned politician. Whose life seems to be aligned more with decadence than an ascetic approach to life as many Christians would. Several themes jump out about how the people in the region feel about the current state of affairs in America. First, there is an anxiety of becoming the less — the less in charge, less in freedom, the less in country, and the less in what has been. It includes a sense of diminishing in the religion of Christianity. Then there are the stickler issues such as gun control and legalize abortion. And finally, the idea of getting more power as it seems to be promised to them.

Christianity is one of the major religions in the world and in fact has the largest numbers of followers in the world. According to Pew Research Center, Christians in general account for over 80% of the population in the Americas. The number of Christians have been growing rapidly in Asia and Africa. There is approximate 31.7% of the world population belongs to the Christian faith. So clearly the deep seated anxiety is not about the continuation of Christianity along, but something more. Through the report, an impression of general concern is about the changes and diminishing way of life that used to be the norm. Perhaps it is the uncertainties of the future that compel people to want to hold on to what they are used to. Perhaps the old ways are comfortable because you know what to expect and you do not need to change. Throughout the ages, the history has shown us that the world, the cultures, societies, customs and behaviors change due to environment, technologies, new discoveries, new understandings…etc. The nature of life is change. Even the ways we read bible change. We now can access bible online, or through digital tablets, mobile phones instead of just the old fashioned hardcopy bible. These changes are becoming part of our lives or at least have indirect influences. Instead of resisting the changes, it might be more fun and more courageous to embrace the changes. Like the many missionaries went out to parts of the world when the world just opened up with more advanced transportation. They embrace the changes in the environment to be with another group of people who probably look quite different, speak foreign language and eat different kinds of foods…etc. It is also as much changes to the local indigenous people one day having foreign missionary showed up amongst them. Everything is in a continuous flux of changes whether we like or not, but it is possibly more rewarding and enjoyable to accept and adopt to the changes that is constantly showing up in front of us.

There also is a concern about freedom being taken away. A particular issue is about gun control as the freedom being taken away. I’d imagine a critic might point out whether they concern about the freedom to choose — namely the freedom to choose to have an abortion. I’m not condemning nor supporting either sides but rather I want to consider these issues deeper. First of all, I believe most of us make decision based on what we consider is the best option under the circumstances and to our best knowledge at the given moment. Generally speaking, we make these decisions with our underlying beliefs, assumptions and logics. So the question we must ask is “why?” There must has a strong reason for someone to opt for a surgery, a medical procedure that not only has inherit risks, health implications but also other possible issues. It could be due to the circumstances, genetics, financial hardships, rape or incest, diseases, or some other compelling reasons...etc. A story of what happened recorded in the bible says one day a condemned woman was brought to Jesus in front of the crowd supposed because a crime she committed. While most of the crowd were damning the woman, Jesus stood up for the woman and asked the crowd whether anyone had not sinned. If so, then the person who has not sinned can stone this woman. There was no one dare to declare to be such. Then he bid the woman freedom. Equally, when the less fortunate in the society is facing such choice, instead of condemning, wouldn’t any true Christian or any compassionate person offer help and support needed? Because if a person direly wants to, there are choices, but likely to be more risky to both the baby and the mother if the legalized path is not possible. Or there can be an eventual abandonment of a new born baby where potential outlook becomes just as dire. Either way, the solution does not lie in ending legalized abortion. In essence, perhaps Jesus was showing us the way is to lift up another even if the decision made was not the one you’d prefer. What that might be translates into our current world? Would it be providing the necessary medical supports as well as social supports to someone who is considering such option because in some way the circumstances or influences compel one to do so?

Then there is the gun control issue in America as in taking away the freedom. There are many countries in the world where it is not legal to own a gun or with strict gun ownership regulations. People in those countries have far fewer gun violences and simply do not view it as freedom being taken away. Does gun ownership align with Christian values? Did Jesus ask Peter and the disciples to take up arms after the last supper in order to defend themselves? Granted there was a time in the wild west where it seems wild animals and robbers can show up where without a means of defense can be detrimental. However, has our society pass that stage where we no longer have to check every moment a wild beast shows up or worse? I certainly hope so. Regardless, studies have shown gun related homicides are drastically less in countries with little or no gun ownership. One simple reason is because there is far fewer guns out there in those countries. We also have to go further and ask what were the causes for such events. Certainly on some levels it has to do with social issues among many other factors. This requires Christians (and for all facets of believers) to consider deeply what does it mean to be a true Christian. Did Jesus walked among the people carrying a sword? Would you actually claim your freedom to choose a world where violence and fear are no longer needed? The truth is eternal and it is time to be even more clear in what the true teachings are.

Finally there is the promise that there will be power given to the Christians because Christianity in the view of some, is under siege. This, as the Pew researches had shown, is not about Christianity but rather a collective impression about losing once held identity. Christianity, in fact, is the world’s leading religion in terms of number of believers. Ironically, by agreeing to this gesture of given of power, it automatically lessen the power of the received simply because the act to supplicate such gesture whether it is merely a rhetoric public act or empty promise. The most surprising is why would even the idea of having power is appealing to Christians of all people. Jesus did not promise Peter, or John or other disciples power. But of course it is rather unfair to Jesus with comparison to any less character. The question is — what is the true power expressed by Jesus? It seems more so about love, compassion and acceptance.

Would you consider our current society is uniquely different than a hundred years ago, hundreds, thousands years ago, or even more ancient times? Were the cultures, way of life, technology, finances, foods and the various facets of life differ in many ways? Life itself is continuously changing. The species evolves through time into an unique expression in a given time of history. It is time for us to see the interconnectivity between all of us. It is time to understand that there is no one single event affecting the next but rather a multitude of interconnected events influencing and moving altogether at the same time. It is time to uphold the true teachings of Jesus that is of love and compassion and align your actions to the truth without compromise because the kingdom of heaven is not transactional.