Christian churches in America are social clubs. We do a nice job of providing excuses for people to exercise their instincts as a social animals. There are bowling teams, softball teams, basketball teams, the ladies auxiliary, youth groups and various boards on which to serve. We put on nice pot-luck dinners and serve coffee after worship services where members gather to discuss everything, except the content of the holy ritual they just attended. We discuss the sermon by noting it wasn't too boring, but the delivery could still use some work. We do a good job administering the rites of passage. Baptisms, confirmations, marriages and funerals legitimize our existence as religious institutions.
Indeed, the church should be a comfortable place where the soul can find rest and a sense of belonging. But it should also be a place where our human foibles are constantly challenged, where spiritual growth is front and center, where comfort does not become complacency, where the status quo is continually examined and questioned. Yes, like Jesus did.
While we may be well acquainted with the basic concepts of our particular denomination, what isn't clear is how they apply to "my" life - family, neighbors, co-workers, community, state, country and planet. Are we transformed by our church experience to deal with these issues as the "New Beings" we're supposed to be? Does the Gospel message really speak to the human soul, or is it just platitude - without any real practical application to life's complexities. What we understand on Sunday gets lost in the fog of daily life. That's because what we profess to believe has not been internalized in a way that raises our consciousness and deepens our commitment to living lives of holiness (wholeness = a fully integrated body, mind and soul).
The Christian church in America is not what it confesses to be. It's like a shell washed up on the shore. It displays a solid exterior, but internally it is devoid of the material needed to sustain viability. In other words, it's dead.
The ultimate proof? How else could Donald Trump, a candidate who so fervently embodies anti-christian beliefs and attitudes be elected President? His "Two Corinthians" comment aside, the president-elect doesn't even bother to feign a religious life or knowledge of Christian principles. His expressed values and attitudes embody the concept of "missing the mark", which is the original meaning of the word, "sin". We won't attempt to enumerate his transgressions here, since nearly every word and action bears witness. His contempt for Christian values is palpable.
If churches were truly alive with the Christian message, they would have mounted a response so loud and vehement, the candidate would never have made it past the first primary. If Pastors took seriously their prophetic responsibility to speak for truth, their voices would have shaken churches from Spokane to Cape Cod. If individuals and congregations were actually infused with the Holy Spirit, their collective Christ consciousness would have reached out to enlightened the better angels of all Americans.
Here's what Jesus had to say:
You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
So where then was The Conference of Catholic Bishops - the same Bishops who otherwise never hesitate to declare positions on doctrine? Pope Francis has made it clear where he stands, but aside from criticizing Trump's comments on immigration, the Conference has been shamefully silent. And where were the family values-centric Evangelicals? Why were they silent about the President elect's adultery and his amenability to sexual assault?
Is the fear of changing cultural norms so great these Christian leaders would subvert their basic principles to the point of enabling one they would normally dismiss out of hand? Does their service to church doctrine, which prohibits abortion and denounces homosexuality, imprison their ability to recognize a greater danger to the world at large? If so, it is in its effect, a betrayal of Jesus' message and ministry. It is a betrayal by those who are supposed to be most responsible for the spiritual welfare of humanity.
"The church should stay of of politics!" they protest, "Our purpose isn't to influence." And the instant response is - "Then do it! Stay out of politics". But of course, that's not possible. We, all of us, religionist and atheist, Christian, Jew and Muslim are involved in politics, whether we want to be or not. Don't want to participate in the world of politics? Move to another planet!
In truth, many Christian leaders have no problem endorsing candidates. We've seen how Evangelicals are not shy about politicizing current events and extolling the virtues of selected politicians. Certainly positions taken by the Catholic Church on social issues have a political component, even if it isn't positioned that way.
Yet, the issues that contributed to the failure of conscience in the recent election, are really just symptoms of the church's deeper dis-ease. The real malady festers below the surface. It is a systemic dysfunction that dooms any effort to positively influence human attitudes and behavior. With the exception of a few little known protestant denominations, Christian churches remain enmeshed in a world view, theology and religious language that has not changed in five-hundred years. We've modernized the appearance of our buildings, but have neglected to transform the infrastructure.
It is precisely this cultural dislocation that is responsible for the church's present state of impotence. The election of Donald Trump was symbolic of that impotence - the ineffectiveness of the Body of Christ to engage the power of the Holy Spirit in confronting intolerance with an updated mythology (language & symbols) that effectively expresses the ideals of love and compassion. Even if good intentions are present, the means to effectively act on them is not. It's like trying to power a modern high-speed train with steam. No matter how much is generated, the train won't budge.
The Church needs to find a new voice - a new mythology - that speaks to the spiritual and emotional needs of the world today. Antiquated vocabularies and symbols no longer serve their function. The authoritarian hierarchical model on which churches have relied for centuries is no longer effective. Even some in the corporate world are beginning to understand this. Monolithic organizational structures are antithetical to the Gospel. Instead of following the business concept of bigger is better, churches need to become smaller, with as little bureaucracy and paid staff as possible. Using 12-step groups as a model would be a good start. Their minimalist self-supporting structure has worked well in keeping them focused and effective in their primary mission of supporting individuals for spiritual growth.