Not a Question of ‘When?’: Declining Influence of the 21st Century Church—Part 3

James Davison Hunter, professor of religion, culture, and social theory at the University of Virginia, argues that “Culture is organized according to a framework of center and periphery.”  Hunter states,

“By and large, American Christianity has produced a huge cultural economy, but it operates on the periphery of status rather than in the center. The importance of cultural capital is determined not by quantity but by quality.  Quality is measured according to the kind of status it attracts, and status is almost always measured by exclusivity” (Hunter, 2010).

To illustrate, Hunter wrote, “. . . evangelicalism boasts a billion-dollar book publishing industry, yet the books produced are largely ignored by The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, and other key arbiters of public intellectual argument.”  This is true.  If one considers Christian television award shows, gospel competitions shows sponsored by corporations like Verizon and State Farm Insurance, Christian off-Broadway plays, situation comedies with religious themes like those created by black entertainment mogul, Tyler Perry, and religious cable television one would think the Church would have more influence and power than it does.  Hunter argues that the Church still stands on the periphery of influence.  Clearly, the commercial world is not concerned about the Church’s influence more than it is concerned about its economic impact or bottom line.

Christians often show a keen sensibility and skill to speak the language of the culture; but in doing so, are we actually transforming it?  Not really.  Hunter states, “Looking at our entertainment, politics, economics, media, and education, we are forced to conclude that the cultural influence of Christians is negligible.”  The argument whether or not Christians or the Church should have a voice in public policy and discourse is an ongoing debate however.  But here again, Hunter raises an interesting point:

“When Christians turn to law, public policy, and politics as the last resort, they have essentially given up on a desire to persuade their opponents. They want the patronage of the state and its coercive power to rule the day . . . Whenever Christian churches and organizations partake in the will to power, they partake in the very thing they decry in society.”

In other words, we can’t have it both ways.  The power the Church comes from Christ alone not the Religious Right or Left or from the world.  The Church must never forget to whom it belongs and to whom it represents.  Too often we send mixed messages to an already confused and troubled world.  By trying to satisfy and appease every angry voice and appear “tolerant” to opposing views the Church’s message becomes tainted, tangled, and misunderstood.  The Church is called to be “salt and light” in the word, Jesus taught (see Matthew 5:13-16).  The Church is called to transform the world NOT conform to it.

I am in no way suggesting that everyone may be against the church or anti-Christian, but I am strongly suggesting that one cannot deny that an anti-Christian climate and mindset exists in our culture and society.  Christians everywhere must join together and take a stand even when it may not be popular to do so.  It is my hope and prayer that Protestant Churches, independent, inter- and nondenominational, and church leaders who have been given a voice and stage in the public arena will join with our Catholic brothers in making their prophetic voice heard.  This message is not only to the U.S. Roman Catholic Church but to Christians everywhere.  God’s word has already clearly spoken through the Apostle John, “This is how we know it is the last hour” (1 John 4:18).  Does the Church know what time it is?

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