The situation for Christians in contemporary American culture can be described as increasing pressure to conform to secularism, an ideology not only different from Christianity but hostile to it. The circumstances did not come into existence overnight. Read Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age or a summary of his book by James K. A. Smith, entitled How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor.
Is cultural hostility becoming a situation of outright persecution? Are we headed toward an environment of “trials” similar to the exiles in First Peter, or worse? We do not have too long to wait to find out. Developments are moving at a fast pace. Secularism is an ideology that by its very nature is intensely inimical to Christian faith. Our apostolic and catholic confession is a threat to its tenets. And, of course, theirs to ours. But, as Christians, we are expected to react in love for our neighbor, even our enemy; but, we must also stand firm for our confession of faith.
What do we see on the cultural landscape? A sexual revolution has taken place that contravenes Christian ethics. (see R. Albert Mohler, Jr., We Cannot Be Silent). Our government has been active in promoting laws that would limit freedom of the practice of religion. Note the attempt to replace free exercise of religion with freedom of worship only, a change that would greatly restrict the intent of the First Amendment’s protection. Hollywood and the media have aligned themselves with secular ways of thinking and doing. Intellectuals have directed attacks against Christian theology and ethics. Though attacks on the faith are not new, today it seems more common and virulent. Science has become scientism–a philosophy that insists that only science provides knowledge. The humanities and theology, in this view, are not considered sources of knowledge.(See J.P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism). We are moving toward a brave new world of drugs, sex only for pleasure, and laboratory production and experimentation that challenge Christian ethics (See Aldous Huxley, Brave New World) We have state law that allows the killing of a child outside the womb of the mother. Our societal symbols, representing who we are, could turn out to be the condom and the joint.
In some quarters, the church has become an object of ridicule and contempt. It is in this environment that we must speak the truth and proclaim the Christian faith.
We have churches who have allied themselves, astoundingly enough, with this secular culture in the name of Christ. The result has been bitterness and hostility within the Christian community. Are churches that renounce orthodox theology and ethics Christian? Because of our many divisions, the church has not spoken with one voice, based on orthodox theology and traditional Christian ethics. Valuable energy and positive influence are lost in these ecclesiastical and ecumenical conflicts.
What are Christians called to do in this situation? Despite the obstacles and dangers and threats, we must speak out. We must push back, as writer Flannery O’Connor advises. More on this next time.
Michael G. Tavella
June 1, 2019
Feast Day of Justin Martyr, c. 165