We Built This City

Sometimes I look around at the state of things and wonder how we got here. Do you?

How is that we in the Church who follow the one who describes himself as the truth, end up embracing the worst of the conspiracy theories and conspiracy mindsets that seem so completely detached from the truth? How have we come to disregard logic based science, verifiable data from reliable sources and sound teaching in favor of wild speculation, innuendo and Qanon?

And if I’m honest, I have to admit that we’ve built this city. Specifically, evangelical teachers and preachers and influencers have carefully crafted the kind of culture that is ripe for the picking.

While I think there are older influences, here in North America we can start with the great cultural divide that happened at the Scopes “Monkey Trial.” This cultural moment is well documented in Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, by Randall Balmer. In 1925, a teacher was taken to court for bringing the theory of evolution into his classroom. It became an Us vs. Them story, Christians against the secular Goliath, Christians fighting to keep God from being displaced by science. The Christians technically won but they also lost as their place of influence and authority in popular culture was not only threatened but started to diminish.

Since then, we’ve created our own Christian ghetto with our own bookstores, apparel, music, roman novels, children’s cartoons and acceptable forms of art that tend towards literal or dreamy depictions of biblical scenes or Bible quotes. As pastors, preachers and teachers, we’ve made much of the “conflict” between higher education and Christian faith or science and Christian faith. For 100 years now we have told people who gather in our evangelical churches that science is often inaccurate or flat out lies when it teaches us about the nature of the universe.

This was handed down to us. Our Roman Catholic friends punished Galileo for agreeing with Copernicus’ conclusion that the Earth orbited the Sun and not the other way around. Our RC brethren were only defending the authority of God’s word and that became a tradition for evangelicals as well.

But everyone loves a David and Goliath story. Coaches get a lot of mileage winding their teams up with “nobody thinks we can beat State” and Pastors have discovered we can create a sense of solidarity and “we’re in this together” by creating us vs. them scenarios. Everyone is out to get you – I’ve heard that for 35 years now as an evangelical and I’ve probably preached it a time or two in my younger days. The liberals are coming for you. The gays are coming for you. The Catholics are coming for you. Hollywood is coming for you. Unmarried women are coming for you. Evolutionists are coming for you. Academia is coming for you. The anti-Christ is coming for you.

How could you not be a little paranoid growing up in a system of “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”? Circle the wagons and tighten your purity rings, it’s us vs. them and they fight dirty! Is it any wonder then that the evangelical church has been so deeply affected by conspiracy theories and constant fake news about “Them” that are out to get “Us”? Everyone looks like a threat when you’re told that unless they’re one of us and can prove it by saying “shibboleth” just right, they are coming to get you, your spouse, and your children.

I started following Jesus right after the Jesus People movement of the 60s and 70s. One of the “gifts” of that era was the imminent sense of Jesus’ return. The Late Great Planet Earth was being read by everyone and movies like A Thief in the Night were scaring the hell out of people or at least were meant to. Into the 80s we were all reading, This Present Darkness and by the 90s we started the Left Behind series of books. If this isn’t creating a culture of fear, paranoia and a belief that there are conspiracies happening all around us, some human, some demonic, what else would?

As evangelicals, we’ve been training people for 100 years (or much more as Christian leaders) to be primed for such a time as this. We already believe it’s us vs. them. We’ve already been convinced that the world is conspiring against us. We’ve already been taught that God won’t rescue us from anything we don’t figure out for ourselves. We’ve long been waiting and watching for the mark of the beast which we’ve named every decade (or less) as a super computer, a micro-chip, atm cards, former President Obama, one or more of the Popes, some rich dude you’ll never meet and the Teletubies.

C.S. Lewis warned us, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” I would say the same about conspiracy theories. We have historical evidence conspiracies have occurred, and good reason to believe they continue to exist but an excessive and unhealthy interest in them is not the way of Jesus.

I’m not sure how we untangle this mess but I am pretty sure it begins, or at least OUR part begins, by owning our part in building this city. Brick by brick, we’ve made this fortress against science and logic and reason and scholarship what it is. We’ve told people that the Spirit of God in them trumps knowledge and experience and wisdom like a magical stay at a Holiday Inn Express. We’ve told the faithful that it’s us vs. the world and we’ve characterized everyone who’s not us, as out to get us, when really they mostly would just like to be left alone. Like Daniel, lamenting and identifying with the sin that landed him and the people of God in exile, we need to lift up our own lamenting confession and ask God to save us from this holy war ghetto we’ve fashioned for ourselves.

“Holy War”

by Andrew Smith

written by Andrew Smith © 2002, 2011, 2017 Andrew Smith

We have all drunk the depths of spiritual pleasure

And we’ve all become addicted to the song of ghosts

We get so easily waylaid by the sirens and the weather

And all those things that we fear the most

And I say, yah yah we are the ghosts within your machine,

within the fog of our ambition

Searching for a language of the soul

much more so than any unifying creed or militant message

And we’re hard to hold,

like fog people

Searching for a reason to waste our lives

But I don’t want to fight in your holy war

How can I defend myself anymore

I don’t want to live in your us and them world

God knows there is only us

You say we stumble like the damned trying to touch it

I know. I know we st st stammer like fools

Struggling to articulate the inexpressible wonder

All of the beauty in this broken mirror

These are the signs, these are the pains of hunger,

the very mark of our ascendency

as we rise to that table, to that feast prepared

for the least of these fog people,

tasting a reason to waste our lives

It don’t make no rhyme or rhythm, it don’t make no rhyme or rhythm to me

Take me up, take me back to that misty mountain

with a beat and a melody

Make some sense to me, speak with clarity

in images and rhythm and colours and movement

indigenous to my world

They’re all rising up like incense

for these are the prayers of a wasted life

But I don’t want to fight in your holy war

I won’t define myself by what I’m not anymore

I don’t want to live in your us and them world

God knows there is only us

credits

from This Light Lingers | A Year of Song, track released November 1, 2017

Published by APastor'sStory

Trying to squeeze this life for all the juice I can get out of it.

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