Tracy Ullman has a skit where she is interviewing for a job. It becomes obvious that the interviewer is about to offer her the job. It then slips out that Tracy is a Christian. The interview changes direction immediately. While it remains polite and correct, it is clear that her Christian commitment is going to be a deal-breaker. The skit reflects the experience of several friends of mine, who tell me that sharing information which identifies them even indirectly as Christians, blocks a significant percentage of job offers for them.
Discrimination in employment is, of course, an old story. The majority of Americans, including Christians, are in at least one category which has traditionally suffered in this regard due to gender, nationality, race, age or various other factors. But facing discrimination just for being Christian is new. Only a few decades ago, being a member of a Christian church was often noted with approval by many employers, a sign of integrity and stability in a prospective employee. What has changed in our society to cause this shift in attitude?
Most obvious is that America is no longer a place where a majority of people have a specific commitment to a Christian church. Church leaders are not fond of featuring this demographic shift, because success in church circles has always been measured by numerical growth. But the fact is, American Christian churches are mostly shrinking. It is most obvious when looking at the age demographic. Far fewer young people have a commitment to church than previous generations. The process happened several generations earlier in western Europe where active Christians today are a small fraction of the population. It is likely a predicter of our own outcome.
Those who now have no identity with a personal Christianity nevertheless usually have stereotypes of what a Christian is. Unfortunately, the days when the pagans noted, “see how these Christians love one another” passed into history long ago. Notions of how Christians behave are more likely to revolve around an attitude of condemnation and rejection rather than a love for others. Christians are often seen as contentious, difficult to get along with, “holier than thou,” uptight, disruptive, aggressively harassing co-workers to “be saved,” rigid, opposed to all science, unreasonable, and, not least, hypocritical. Few of us would want to be around such a person.
If you are a joyful, loving, eucharistic Christian, accepting of fellow sinners, not judgmental, happy to talk about science over a beer with co-workers after work, how do you deal with this?
We need to begin with some acknowledgment that the stereotype formed because of observed Christian behavior. Much of church life has fit better with the religion of the Pharisees than that of Jesus. In short, the stereotype, while not accurate, is deserved, based on how Christians have acted. As with any group, it is impacted by the actions of small but very loud factions who receive far more attention than people who live quiet and humble lives.
One way to deal with this is to build a wall, establishing a parallel Christian world. A recent example is the Hobby-Lobby court case, exempting some enterprises from requirements because they are Christian businesses. We can build a whole Christians-only society, with its own economy, health care, transportation, shopping, education, neighborhoods, politics, media, social life, clubs, sports, everything needed for life.
We are already on this path. As the U.S. grows increasingly polarized, with Christians gathering disproportionately on the pole to the right side, we rarely talk across the gulf between the poles. It was very telling in the recent “Women’s March” that a group of “pro-life” women sharing in the goals of the march were denied a place, solely on the basis that they were “pro-life.” Dialog and diversity is no longer promoted. “To your tents, O men of Israel,” the next civil war is being organized, one based on ideology, not geography, a secession of the spirit. Perhaps a divorce between the two halves of what was America, citing “irreconcilable differences” is the best course, of mutual benefit, before we kill each other in battle, again.
Yet, as in many divorces, especially the bitter ones, it is not the separation but the question of custody that makes it difficult. As Christians, we know the earth is the Lord’s and humans are mandated to be its stewards. We cannot abdicate from this responsibility. This is ironic, because many Christians have done much to trash the earth and many “secularists” are determined to take good care of it. But as long as the earth is the Lord’s, we cannot as Christians just walk away from its management, leaving it to those who are unaware of the plan.
You can already see this is going to be complicated. We who know better and should be in the forefront of advocating for a well-balanced and well-cared for environment are instead in need of repentance and time for amendment of life. Corporate greed, the prosperity gospel, unregulated exploitation of resources, cruelty to our fellow creatures (humans included), indifference to suffering are the fruits of our politics, which we gloss over as long as a nod is given by the perpetrators to honoring life before birth and “traditional” marriage (being careful not to define the latter too specifically).
Such is the mindset of our current polarity that some will see the above as simply giving comfort to the enemy, those dastardly leftist evildoers. But what the “secularists” think is not relevant here. We must define ourselves by conforming to what the Lord thinks, as set forth most basically in Scripture. And Scripture is clear both that the earth is God’s and we are to be his stewards.
That mandate therefore means we cannot hide in a corner, but must lovingly assert God’s will, even to those on “our side.” It also is total. The whole earth is the Lord’s. We cannot be bought off by being catered to on a couple of “moral” issues. For a Christian steward, all issues are moral. A separate “Christian” society or a corner of ideology where Christians are indulged on a few issues is exactly the Pharisees compromise with Rome which Jesus so vehemently rejected.
Do we then seek theocracy, as the early disciples expected of the Christ? Jesus equally rejected that. The care of the earth is our responsibility, not a power trip nor our salvation. The history of theocracy among our sinful species is awful, from Old Testament Israel, through the Holy Roman Empire to Puritan New England, let alone modern Iran. Instead, we must be the leaven in the lump, following St. Paul. There is no theocracy, no utopia, no hallowed corner. There is only hard slugging to lead our fellow humans in love for God, love for neighbors (all of them) and love for the Lord’s beautiful earth. Never mind that those who proclaim their Christianity the loudest may be the hardest to lead. Time to take a good read at what it really means to be a Christian in 2017 and then do the amendment of life.