Monday, May 30, 2005

Persecution or Failed Evangelism?

This Memorial Day morning, I was sitting on the couch with my wife and daughter. My daughter had loaded Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs into the DVD player. During one of the scenes my wife commented, "There is something you don't see much anymore." Not paying attention to the movie, I asked her to what was she was referring. She said, "A cartoon character praying." My immediate response, without really thinking, was, "that's probably because the cartoonists themselves don't pray anymore."

Now I have no way of knowing if an individual cartoonist, artist, or story creator has a faith or not. However, judging by content, I would say many do not, excluding Christian based media. I think most of us believe, and with good evidence, that the United States has changed a great deal from when we were younger -- let's say the 1950's through the 1970's, and maybe even into the early '80's. That is, that the majority of people had a belief in God and participated in some form of Christian religion. This had the side effect of Christian activities and thoughts being benignly inserted into TV, books, cartoons, and other media. I use the word benignly as a double-edged indictment. Benign as in harmless and accepted by those that might not have a faith. They did not seem offended by the presence of such attributes. In addition, benign in the fact that such inclusion had little impact on changing someone without a faith.

What is my point? First: perhaps Christianity is not under attack solely because it is a threat, but because so few have any meaningful exposure to Christianity, therefore have found no practical use for it, and see no relevance for it in today's world. Second, there is not some large-scale, organized attack on Christianity, but we are seeing the aggregate effects of a mass of people without Christ in their individual lives.

Maybe Christians must bear much of the responsibility for our society's turning away. I was spurred to think this morning about the real threat to Christianity, about the real cause of the demise of Christian attributes in public arenas, and about the perceived persecution of the Christian faith in the United States. There is certainly a concern, maybe even fear, among the Christian community that we are being persecuted by large segments of our society—that our freedoms to express our Christianity are being taking away or are being challenged.

I am not saying this is not the case. Nevertheless, this morning's exchange with my wife made me think about the root cause. I have often felt there is some hidden movement or some unnamed conspiracy that is at work in our nation attacking Christianity and seeking to remove its influence. Other times, I feel as if I have succumbed to the conspiracy rhetoric of the so-called right wing. (Does such a group really even exist?) I know the reasons for these feelings are that I cannot ignore the fact that Christianity is being challenged and removed from many elements of daily life where it was once present. We deal with the badly misunderstood issue of the separation of Church and State. Public prayer has been removed from public schools activities. We are forced to openly deal with the issues of homosexuality, sexual intimacy outside of marriage, infidelity in marriage, abortion, and pornography. We argue about creationism, evolution, and intelligent design and which should be taught in our secondary school systems.

Yet, I wonder if the Christian community is not fighting a perceived threat? Is an organized attack truly present? Is a wave of persecution really building? Or, is the truth the fact that we are living with the aggregate effects of lives without Christ. Just maybe the methods, or lack thereof, that Christians have implored to spread the Good News has not been so good. Maybe we have failed to show society that Christ offers healing and hope; that the moral tenants of Christianity are not heavy-handed, burdensome rules, but that they lead to personal freedom from the tyranny of sin. That imitating Christ eliminates much suffering for others. Do the majority of Christians even really believe these themselves? Do we really believe that Christ is the light and the way?

If you believed in Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say? -- John 5:46-47.

Jesus challenged the Pharisees that they did not really believe their own faith thus they could not recognize Him for the truth He was. Do we really believe in our hearts the words and methods Christ delivered to us? If we did, would we not live them out in our lives and show the world a better way.

I do believe that Satan is the true enemy. I also believe that a primary component of his strategy is to have Christians' focus on an unseen, global enemy thus robbing them of their focus on the Message of Christ, on the Truth. Our challenge is to stop fighting the darkness so much as spreading the light, to preach not about avoiding sin as a rule, but to show the freedom and inner peace that one can have outside of sin. Satan, by robbing our focus, has undermined our message. I don't believe we can win the war by fighting large battles. We win the war by winning one heart at a time. After all, the choice of life or death, of accepting salvation, is an absolute personal one. Each individual heart must believe and confess. We can pressure someone to say the words and to be baptized, but if these actions are not a manifestation of their heart, then the actions are void. Christ called us not only to spread the Good News, but also to live it. If we do not, then we will foster greater and greater numbers who do not have Christ in their lives and they will see no value or relevance of Christianity, thus they will naturally resist its presence in the world.

I know that regardless of our methods, even if we perfectly imitate Christ, we will face rejection and persecution. However, we must not let Satan use this realization to manipulate us into less effective methods, off-target battles, or from staying the course. We cannot let him rob us of our focus. We cannot change the world if we cannot change individual hearts.Please provide your comments, arguments, and insight. Am I off base? What have I missed? Is there validity to my concerns?

In our Savior's name,



Amanda said...

Very interesting....

I was having a similar conversation with a friend of mine who is not Christian a couple of weeks ago. He asked me if I thought that Christians were under attack. I quickly answered, "yes." But later I thought about it, and I didn't make myself clear. I do believe that Christians are under attack, not necessarily by non-Christians, but by evil in general.

He added an interesting perspective. He said that everyone that he talks to, Christians or not, thinks that one is being attacked by the other. He said that he doesn't see it that way, it's just that our values rub and butt heads, so we disagree, but we aren't trying to take individual freedoms away from one another.

I think you're right, Tony. I think a lot of it has to do with failed evangelism. Perhaps not in the sense of not evangelizing, but evangelizing very badly. The stereotypical Christian is a loud-mouthed, money-grubbing televangelist, and we, as regular, every-day Christians, let that happen.

I think the question is: How do we do away with this stereotype?

Tony Arnold said...

Tough question.

First we have to really know and undertand Christ -- requires constant study and prayer. Second, by constant vigilance of our individual, daily actions so that they reflct Christ.

Well, that is a full time job for me and I fail often, so I cannot say much more.

Thanks so much for posting.


Amanda said...

It is most definitly a full-time job.

Of course, I also fail daily. But I really wonder, over all, do the people with whom I work and my non-Christian friends really see Christ in me? I mean, how can I really know if I am reflecting Christ by my actions? Very rarely does someone come up to me and say, "You have the glow of Christ about you." (That did happen to me once when I was randomly walking the street in Atlanta with a friend. And it wasn't a crazy street person, either!)

Tony Arnold said...

That is really cool about the Atlanta encounter.

I agree, you do.