It should come as no surprise that a recent opinion poll among younger people shows great skepticism if not outright resistance to Christianity. Given the preponderance of mainstream media reporting on a minority of U.S. Christians such attitudes make sense.
The research done by George Barna and released in September shows the younger generation, ages 16-29, views Christianity as judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned and too political.
Assuming the impressions of these young respondents are shaped by the media they would only know about the extreme ultra-conservative brand of Christianity. Most Christians in the U.S. are not that. Most Christians believe in an authentic, inclusive and welcoming gospel in the thousands of communities where they worship.
I suspect these young opinion poll takers are responding to what I call a political philosophy masquerading as gospel that is wrapped in religious rhetoric and painted red, white and blue.
One of its chief cheerleaders is Ann Coulter. She has dismissed most of the Bible and the words of Jesus defending the poor, the widow, the prisoner—the least among us—and spewed her venom that has little or nothing to do with orthodox Christianity. But Ms. Coulter and her ilk are the ones to whom the media gives most of its attention.
Recently on CNBC’s “Big Idea with Donny Deutsch”, Ms. Coulter said America would be better off if there were no Jewish people here and that Christians are “perfected Jews.” The whole conversation was offensive which, I suspect, is what the media loves about her. But there used to be a time when such words of hatred and intolerance were not given any public platform in the mainstream media.
No longer. Now we have newspapers and news channels giving extended coverage to those perverting the gospel with attitudes alien to its reconciling heart. The Wall Street Journal last year gave front page coverage to Christian Zionists. The recent “Values Voters” summit in Washington received great attention from the media not for the “Christianity” they represent but the political power at the ballot box they wield.
The majority of faithful Christians in the U.S. have nothing to do with James Dobson and his Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins and his Family Research Council or John Hagee and his Christians United for Israel.
Most American Christians struggle each week to apply Biblical truths in their daily lives. They seek to follow the words and actions of Jesus reminding his followers about taking care of the widow and the orphan, the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked and visiting the prisoner.
The National Council of Churches is made up of 35 diverse and differing Christian denominations — from Methodist to Orthodox, from Lutheran to Quaker — embracing 45 million American citizens. More than half of our member communions do not ordain women and their positions on human sexuality span the spectrum. Yet the NCC has been blasted over and over and over by the extreme religious right as being “leftist” and political. Sadly, much of the media has bought the image. We get very little notice, despite the fact that in the typical American community, it is these NCC-related churches who form the very backbone of local religious life.
What really threatens the extreme right is our member churches’ ability to disagree on many issues yet come together on such matters as living wage, racism, health care, justice for women, and an unjust war in Iraq. It is a multi-partisan organization that threatens those who are “triumphal dominationalists” such as Ms. Coulter. Those who are convinced they’re right and everyone else is wrong feel undermined when people who differ are able to cooperate and collaborate.
But isn’t that what America was supposed to be about? Weren’t we founded to offer freedom of religion and not be dominated by one particular group? There are some signs that the toxic message of the extreme right of American Christians may be faltering. I hope so.
It’s time we get back to celebrating the diversity this country has held up to the world for more than two centuries. It’s time to recover the American values of justice, freedom, forgiveness and reconciliation so that we may authentically hold those values up for the rest of the world to see.
Those American values happen to be Christian values. You can also find those values in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Koran and many other sacred texts of numerous faith traditions. Our country, our world, will be better off if we recover those values. And our young people would not be skeptical or dismiss Christianity as a negative part of America.
The Rev. Michael Livingston is president of the National Council of Churches USA and executive director of the International Council of Community Churches.