Lesson 1: Make Faith Great Again

a MAGA hatIf you asked me to list the two major dangers presently facing the Church in the United States, the first that would jump into my mind would be the lack of young people worshiping.  The second would be Evangelicals and conservative Catholics championing Donald Trump. Certainly, you could also mention incompetent, self-serving, and immoral leadership, but we have always had to contend with this. It has only become life-threatening in the context of the present situation.

Acknowledging and understanding the present situation has become more and more critical. People constantly bring up the state of the church, throw up their hands, and ask, “What is going on? Why are so few young people being confirmed? How can Christians proclaim an immoral con artist is God’s chosen person?”

I think the very powerful MAGA slogan indicates the answer. Whatever particular issues people associate with making America great again, they clearly are scared and panicked that the society that once gave order and meaning to their lives is gone. Because the global society has reduced everything to monetary value, MAGA measures by economic standards. However, it does not take long to realize that economy is associated with a lost white, heterosexual, capitalistic, local, Christian culture.

The challenge for the Church is how to proclaim and worship Jesus in the present global society where we constantly hear about other religions on the television in our living rooms and see them building temples down the street. It used to be a simple rite of passage to get confirmed in some Christian church. Now it is a real choice involving, not only other religions, but even a totally secular lifestyle.

The institutional Church, for the most part, does its best to ignore the challenge and goes on as if nothing has changed. Sadly, that has meant many Christians try to prove to themselves that they follow Jesus by vehemently supporting values they associate with the old Christendom. They become easy prey for those like Trump who exploit their nostalgia and unrealistic fantasies. And, of course, the resulting hypocrisy is obvious to the rest of society.

This frightening loss of identity and meaning is felt far beyond the United States. It is reflected in the success of right-wing conservatives throughout the world. In the coming weeks, I’d like to examine it in terms of the world religions.

Some of my friends in religious studies speak of it as the failure of religion, thinking we have to move on to other creative lifestyles. Some find hope in theologians such as Richard Rohr who teaches a universal Christ who goes beyond the particularity of Jesus of Nazareth. I want to begin by considering Barbara Brown Taylor’s thoughts in Holy Envy. She reflects on her growth in teaching World Religions 101.

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