Last week, a few organizations on campus hosted a Veritas forum, which is basically a modeled discussion between a Christian and atheist representative to bring to light the issues of faith to college students. The event had a surprisingly huge turnout with around 3000 people in attendance, nearly filling up the entire auditorium.
I had the wonderful opportunity to join other Christian graduate students in the sciences and another Christian professor on campus to have lunch with the Christian speaker, Dr. Troy Van Voorhis, a professor of Chemistry at MIT. We chatted about the the difficulties of both being a believer in academia/the sciences and being a scientists in the Christian world. But the conversation shifted a bit to this questions, which I've been contemplating on ever since..."What do you think is be the biggest challenge/threat to Christianity today."
And you know what was NOT mentioned? Infringement on religious liberty. In fact, many mentioned the idea that Christianity has historically thrived in an atmosphere where it is not supported and upheld by the government. Moreover, an interesting fact was brought up that Christians are actually not a persecuted minority in the United States, but rather a powerful political force that has put many non-believers on guard for their owns freedoms that contradict Christian belief. It makes me wonder, does Christianity as a political force push people away and build up more barriers against Christ than it does good for Christians themselves.
This has been on my mind, especially in light of the #istandsunday proclamations popping up all over my Facebook news feed and Twitter feed today. Ironically, this "gather the Christians against the tyranny of religious infringement" is happening just two days before election day. Political stunt? What is our mission really as Christians in the United States? To protect religious freedom or to bring people into the light and restoration of Christ?
And that brings me back to the top of this post. I think that this kind of thing, connecting a certain political stance to Christianity is one example of what I would consider "Cultural Christianity." And in our discussion last week, it was agreed that cultural Christianity is one of the biggest challenges that we are and will be facing as believers today and in the near future. When we tie cultural values or ideas to our faith so tightly, it becomes difficult to pull them apart and say who we really are as believers. And it is most likely reason why young people are leaving the Church today. Because when a young person changes and no longer fits the cultural stereotype of the Christian culture, they leave.
Just yesterday, our pastor gave a wonderful sermon on the importance of diversity and conversation within the church. I love our church, because it truly is a diverse place theologically, with people coming from every different denomination. Even in practice, we do some pretty traditional things to preserve this diversity, for example, the church allows parents to choose whether they would rather dedicate or baptize their infants. And although most of our senior leaders are men, two women in the church have been leading short sessions in the Sunday school classes to facilitate discussion of the role of women in the church.
So lets get back to what it really means to be followers of Christ. It doesn't mean ascribing to certain political views or social stereotypes. We are theologically diverse as Christians. And that means we must respect and be in conversation with those who differ from us, whether it be views on accepting a literal 5-day creation story or that God used evolution of create the world or views on infant dedication/baptism or views on the role of women in the church...the list can go on.
Because I truly believe that if we want young people to stay in the church and non-believers to come to Christ, we need to stop setting up so many cultural barriers that are not at the core of who we are as Christians. What we need to do is embrace diversity both culturally and theologically and get back to our mission as believers, to bring restoration and light into all the world.