I have a Bible Challenge today for any of you willing to play: Please name a time when Jesus preached individualism.
Anyone who has heard or preached a sermon series on The Ten Commandments can attest that those commandments are about relationships with God and the greater community. Anyone who has read the words of Jesus might remember that he talked about:
- Loving those in greatest need
- Sharing our wealth with others including those we don’t know
This interview with Dr. Katharine Hayhoe – a climate scientist who self-identifies as an evangelical Christian is excellent in terms of her thoughts about religious faith, individualism, and climate change.
The biggest struggle I have is that in the Bible, Jesus says to his disciples, “You should be recognized as my disciples by your love for others,” and today when you look at people who self-identify as Christians in the United States, love for others is not one of the top characteristics you see. Christianity is much more closely linked with political ideology and identity, with judgmentalism, partisanship, science denial, rejection of responsibility for the poorest and most vulnerable who we, as Christians, are to care for.
People who self-identify as Christians seem to be leading the way in pushing “personal liberties” as in
- The right to live unvaccinated (in spite of the threat to neighbors, and especially to physically vulnerable people)
- The right to forego masks and social distancing (in spite of the highly contagious Omicron variant)
- The right to carry guns anywhere and everywhere (in spite the high stats on gun deaths in the U.S.)
- The right to refuse to serve people (e.g. no cakes for gay weddings)
Although many believers call themselves Christian Libertarians, I agree with those who say that libertarians affirm the absolute sovereignty of the self, while orthodox Christians believe in the absolute sovereignty of God.
God calls us into community. And while I agree that each of us has a personal relationship with our Maker, I also believe that we are called to serve each other sacrificially in the image of Christ.
I wonder – as Dr. Hayhoe suggests – if we have abandoned all sound theology. She says:
There was a really interesting recent article about the landscape of evangelicalism in the United States, and it said that about 10 years ago if you asked people, “Do you consider yourself to be evangelical?” and they said yes, and then you asked, “Do you go to church?” about 30 percent would say no. But nowadays something like 40 percent of people who self-identify as evangelicals don’t go to church. They go to the church of Facebook or Fox News or whatever media outlet they get their information from. So their statement of faith is written primarily by political ideology and only a distant second by theology.
We, in the Church, have a responsibility to teach Biblical theology. Yes, Christians will disagree with our interpretations. But at least we will be starting from the same source – the Gospels and other scripture – rather than cable news commentators who might not even believe themselves what they are promoting.
Tell me your politics, life goals, and basic philosophy of life are informed by Holy Scripture, and we can have a conversation. We can’t talk if I’m coming from the teachings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and you are coming from somebody’s treatise on government conspiracies, even if you call yourself a Christian.
Jesus never said that the purpose of life is to serve ourselves and our own. Quite the opposite. And this impacts the way we teach children, the way we run businesses, and the way we vote. On this anniversary of a terrible day in U.S. History, let’s remember that what purportedly happens in the name of God or faith or freedom is often about none of those things.
And again… Amen.