I was appalled by the May issue of Harper's
magazine, which contains articles about The Christian Right and its War on America, Christianity's influence on economics, and a report on megachurch New Life Church in Colorado Springs.
Article writers like Lewis Lapham ("Notebook: The Wrath of the Lamb") and Jeff Sharlet ("Soldiers of Christ: 1. Inside America's Most Powerful Megachurch") paint a picture of Christians as an army of empty-headed morons pinning their beliefs on a non-existent God as a way of justifying their political conservativism. That's a simplification, of course, but I'd say it is a pretty accurate sum-up of their basic premises.
Obviously I disagree with the foundation on which they build their cases, being a Christian myself. However, at the same time, I am forced to acknowledge that, at least as far as Christianity in politics goes, they bring up some issues that can't be dismissed. Personally, I think something terribly ugly happens to Christianity when it makes its way into the political arena, and I start to understand why Jesus always avoided getting embroiled in politics, and would hide himself away whenever he suspected that followers and adoring crowds were planning to make him king. He said his kingdom wasn't of this world, and I wonder if sometimes the political Christian Right has forgotten this.
Sharlet's article in particular was very damning, quoting Pastor Ted Haggard of New Life Church as saying things like, "I want the church to help me live life well, not exhaust me with endless 'worthwhile' projects." What?! Since when is the church, or God even, a vehicle for making sure you maximize the potential of your life? And yet that's exactly what's being taught in church these days. I went to a church last Sunday, where above the stage where the worship band was leading us in a rock-concert style praise session, was a large banner that read: "Imagine creating the life you've always dreamed."
Books like "A Purpose-Driven Life" are blockbusting best-sellers. I am constantly hearing, in Christian circles, the idea that "God has a big call on your life." I've heard Jeremiah 29:11 quoted prodigiously: "For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." I've heard that God wants us to be happy, he wants to help us fulfill our dreams, and so much more besides.
I haven't heard an awful lot about making sacrifices to help those in need (though I personally know Christians who are doing this; too bad they get far less press). I haven't been strongly rebuked for my lack of compassion for the poor. It's rarely been suggested that maybe God's "big call" on my life means working behind the scenes, never getting recognition for the things I do, and perhaps just living out my days in quiet faithfulness to him, giving to those in need, comforting those in distress, staying faithful to my spouse, and teaching my children the ways of the Lord. These aren't the sort of topics that make for dramatic sermons, I guess.
Sharlet also describes Pastor Ted as aligning himself with the idea that spirituality is a commodity. As such, says Sharlet, "[Ted] knows that for Christianity to prosper in the free market, it needs more than 'moral values'--it needs customer value." Sharlet also quotes Pastor Ted stating that "evangelical" stands for "pro-free market," :pro-private property." This is certainly news to me, and not particularly welcome news at that. Without going into my personal politics, I am absolutely opposed to any definition of Christianity that has nothing to do with the person of Christ. I don't care if church has no customer value. I don't want
it to, to be honest.
I am not against capitalism per se. But I'm firmly against using Christianity as a defense for it. That's not what Christianity is for. And that's not
what "evangelical" means.
Having said all this, I was ultimately very disappointed in Sharlet's piece, not because his writing was bad (it was hardly that), but because his bias was clear from the beginning. There was nothing whatsoever that could be called objective about his reporting. His careful phrasing of every description of New Life Church and the people in it, not to mention Colorado Springs in general, is absolutely calculated to generate maximum levels of disdain and contempt for all
So naturally I can't completely trust his portrayal of his subject. But because I've been in the arena myself, I know that some of what he says is partly true. And that's the part that makes me incredibly sad.
Because, you see, I want people to know the Jesus I'm just starting to know myself, and how can they when they read about New Life Church in Harper's
. I want people to know the comfort of a God who, though wild and untamable and utterly beyond my control, is there for me when I need him. How can I explain it? How can I make anyone see what I'm talking about without coming off like a total weirdo myself? I can't, at least not to those who don't know me. But those of you who do...have I given you cause to think I'm crazy? To think I'm stupid, gullible, or prone to uncritical acceptance of any belief? You know I haven't. And if you know that, then you should at least consider what I'm telling you. Consider that it might
be true. That maybe, just maybe, there is a God out there and we need him. That maybe, just maybe, Jesus really was something completely different than ourselves, and yet very much the same. And that maybe, just maybe, there's a reason to believe that the things he said and did are worth investigating for yourself.