The Rising Tide of Secularism: A Path Forward
Micah and Jesus speak to the religious leaders of their days with similar voices. In Micah’s day,
Prophets were paid for the positive messages they delivered to the political powers of the day.
Yet great injustice existed in the southern kingdom of Judah. Israel had divided into two nations
essentially and the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 721 BC and Judah was holding on to a belief that God would never allow the southern kingdom of Judah to fall and Solomon’s temple to be destroyed. Yet priests and prophets in Micah’s day were often paid with the land belonging to widows and they condemned the poor, saying their poverty and their hunger were signs of God’s disfavor. By 586 BC, Judah was laid waste by the Babylonians and Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed as foretold by Micah for there was great injustice in the land.
In Jesus’ day, again the religious and political leaders of the day sought to keep the Romans appeased and the people oppressed. They saw Jesus as a threat to their power and positions.
He cared for the poor, healed the sick even on the sabbath, hung out with the sinners of his day, and accused the leaders of making faith a burden for the people, while using their positions to gain wealth and favor. Their public demonstrations of faith didn’t match their actions. The people were following Jesus by the thousands and he had to be stopped. Jesus affirms the roles of the religious leaders of his day, but calls them out for their injustice and their abuse of the people. This is the background for our thoughts today.
About a month ago I attended a lecture at CU by David Campbell, political science Chair at Notre Dame focused on the rise of secularism in the US since the 1980s. He pointed to a spike in the numbers of people claiming no religious affiliations in general and no ties to Christianity in particular. As Christianity became wed to conservative politics, a growing secularism began to rise. An earlier such spike in the “nones” (no religious affiliation) had followed the civil rights movement which was anchored in African American churches and mainline protestant churches…the other end of the political spectrum. So, the growth of secularism as a reaction to mixing religion and politics was common in both eras.
Campbell describes today’s “nones” this way. “Most of the people who say that their religion is “nothing in particular” or “none” were raised in a household that was at least nominally religious. In other words, they were once “somethings.” But, equally important, most of the nones are what we might call soft secularists. Most do not call themselves atheists or agnostics, which suggests that they are not totally disaffected from all aspects of religion or a belief in God or a higher power. In other words, this suggests that many of the nones are not actively opposed or hostile to religion, and that some might even be attracted to a new form of religion.”
Conservative politics and conservative religion are embraced by an ever-growing subculture of evangelicals who participate in mutually reinforcing expressions of culture. Their churches are highly innovative, entrepreneurial and adaptable, while focusing their messages on conservative interpretations of the Bible that are then used to reinforce conservative politics as that which God desires. Issues such as opposing abortion and gay rights are the defining issues for how they are to vote. They express a sense of welcoming in the context of loving the sinner but hating the sin as they would define it. Yet the practices of their churches exclude, and their politics deny basic rights. And the larger culture grows more secular.
Religion and politics of today are fueled by dividing people by faith identification, political party affiliation, support or opposition to the President, race and ethnicity, economic status, sexual orientation and the list could go on. How can we bridge the divide? Do the values we embrace at CUCC speak to a path forward? The religious leaders sought to entrap Jesus with their questions and although stumped by his answers, they didn’t want to listen. We all have family members who view the division in our country differently than we do. And my assumption is that in CUCC not all of us view the division in our country from the same perspective.
In Men’s Group, we have discussed how can we bridge the gap with those with whom we differ? Should we even try? I have a cousin who this morning is leading music in a Baptist church near Ft. Worth. He sees the world differently than I. He isn’t crazy, is educated and has reminded me that we should pray for our leaders and give them a chance to do their jobs without my questioning one’s fitness to serve, which I have done. We see the world differently, share a common faith and family and have agreed to pretty much not talk about our differences. Maybe this sounds familiar. Some observers decry this loss of a desire to work together for the common good.
In a time of growing division in our country there is a path forward and it begins with Jesus’ call to be servant. He states, “the Greatest among you shall be your servant and whoever among you exalts himself shall be humbled: and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” Humility is not such a desired quality these days. I used to joke that some ministers, including myself, thought we could write a book on humility, entitled Humility and How I Achieved it in Ten Easy Steps! I don’t think we met the criteria for writing such a book.
Yet the path forward in healing our divisions, begins with humility. One of the benefits of attending the Taize service is that you may encounter an insightful statement that can be used in the 10:00 am service. Here is such an insight. “Humility is a greatly underemphasized quality among humans. We don’t know what it means. We don’t know how to appreciate it. We don’t know how to do it. And we are not all that sure we want to have it. Culturally we’re much more drawn to the energetic, dynamic, charismatic, crowd-drawing leader. That’s who gets the headlines and the attention (especially in the age of Twitter). But if we listen closely and watch carefully, we can see in Jesus someone who is humble, but strong; humble, but charismatic, humble, but crowd drawing; humble, but dynamic. The same Lord who stilled the storm and spoke to crowds is the Lord who washed feet and died on a cross and held babies in his arms when it wasn’t even politically correct. Let us rethink humility and live it like Jesus did (from heartlight.org).
Today we celebrate Communion, the New Covenant between God and humanity, and bequeathed to us by Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed. It binds us together as community. As we have heard from our Stewardship testimonies, community is at the center of what brings us together as a family of faith. It is greater than our differences, rooted in God’s love for each of us. It shows us a path forward as it represents a message relevant to the needs of the day that rings true. Communion reminds us that there is nothing God can do to love us more and demonstrates that there is nothing we can do to make God love us less. It calls us to see in others the presence of God and challenges us to allow others to see in us God’s presence.
Listen to the words of Jesus from the Message: “Do you want to standout? Then step down. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you are content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.” God help us to simply be ourselves.