I hate starting posts with “what this post isn’t,” but let me do it anyway.
This post ISN’T saying:
–I don’t like America – I like America. I’m not an ultra-American, but I like America, and I feel that I’m called to love America and I want God to keep changing my heart to love America more.
–Christianity is impossible – no. just…no.
–We have it so hard – nope. We have it damn easy, that’s why I’m writing this.
Through the help of some of my friends, I’ve been refining an idea, a theory. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of accountability and counsel about this, so don’t think I’m writing this hurriedly or whimsically.
But I think – nay, I’m convinced – that 21st century America is the hardest place in the world to be a Christian.
In a lot of ways, it’s hard because it’s so damn easy. But this is the problem – Christianity isn’t an easy thing to practice.
Consider this: Matthew 16:24 outlines one of the basic premises of Christianity – take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow Jesus. America, I’d argue, is one of the hardest places to do this.
There are three issues in our society today that make me think about how self-serving our culture is: the acceptance of gay marriage, the legalization of marijuana, and the fight to accept abortion. I appreciate that some of these are slightly more complex than simply people being selfish, but I think that a big portion of the people that want these things to be accepted are doing so out of mere selfishness: I want to be able to have sex with whoever I want, whenever I want, and if I get a kid and I don’t want it, I should be able to get rid of it. I want to marry whoever I want to marry, and if the law gets in the way of it, then damn the law. I want to enjoy whatever I want to enjoy, and if it’s not legal, then damn the law again.
These are a microcosm of a bigger, overarching issue: our society teaches us that if you want it, you can have it. Comfort, convenience, ease, preference, it’s yours. No matter how outlandish it is, no matter how non-traditional, no matter how foreign, no matter how much resistance it gets, you decide what you want and you take it, because you are the most important player in your own story.
Sorry, but damn it, that’s false.
And this is a massive difference between the church and the world. That’s not to say that the church should hold the world to a selfless standard – because we operate on a premise that people are selfish – it’s just the way we are. And that’s not to say that the church doesn’t ever act selfishly, because we definitely do. I do daily. But I’m saying that this intensifies that particular battle, and since that’s a basic tenant of Christianity, it’s a big deal, and it goes a long way to make Christianity more difficult.
The world says: you’re important, so take what you want, no matter what it does to you or anyone else. If you want it, you can have it.
Christianity says: Jesus is important. We come behind Him, and we submit to His authority. If He declares it harmful, then we make war on our flesh to resist these things. It’s a battle, but our view is to obey Him. It says that God’s standard is to be honored and upheld to the best of our ability, damn our own desires.
That’s hard to do in America.
It’s hard to be a self-denying, Jesus-serving Christian here.
And think about this, too – we live in a pacy society. Everything is moving all of the time – the world buzzes with social media, our access to transportation means we push every limit of time, and we try to busy ourselves with every possible thing we can. We’re surrounded with entertainment – we have games on our phones, social media on our computers at work and at home, Netflix on our TVs, numerous gaming systems, etc. Are any of these things evil? No. Of course not. But they’re distracting, and it’s easy to think about using them for our own means (constant entertainment, “me” time, etc.)
It’s just hard, man.
I’m not saying it’s hard because I want you to feel like you’re rotten for living in the society we live in, or because it’s hard to the point of threatening our lives.
Actually, let’s touch on that.
Freedom of religion is a great thing, but it’s also not. It’s nice to not have to worry about the church being shut down, it’s good to go to church and not fear for your life. But sometimes I wonder if the reason we have freedom if religion is because our religion doesn’t push any boundaries. Should we seek trouble? Not necessarily. But we shouldn’t back away from it, either. I guess that what Jesus says about persecution rings in my head a little bit: “blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account.”
Is the church even a threat to anyone? Does it even make a difference? Does it mess with people’s perceptions to the degree that they would even consider taking away the church’s freedom of religion for the sake of persecution?
I would hope that, in a manner that isn’t masochistic, the church is willing to push the boundaries of what people think is acceptable, and of what people are comfortable with. I would hope that the church doesn’t bend on the pressure of society to accept things that we believe are harmful. And I hope that stirs people up. I hope it makes people angry, and I hope it offends people – not because I hate people, but because I know that Christianity will do that. I know that the early church was hated by those that it threatened – those who considered themselves righteous.
And is it just me, or does self-righteousness run really deep in our culture today? People consider themselves good on account of what they accomplish: how much they give, how much they volunteer, how hard they work, how many people and lifestyles they accept, etc. etc.
All that is to say that we face no threat, and that’s part of what makes this so difficult. I’m of the mind that in some societies in which your life is under threat of death, you really see most clearly the beauty and worth of Jesus. Ask people in Asian countries where Christianity is outlawed why they become Christians – it is certainly not because of the nice, padded chairs, the comfortable AC, the good music, or the exceptional preaching. It’s not because it’s safe. It’s because Jesus is valuable, and I’m going to be honest and say that I don’t even begin to grasp that level of worth. I live in a place where I can hop from church to church, decide what I prefer, and go with that. I don’t have to travel miles and miles of jungle just to go worship because of how valuable Jesus is. I don’t have to sing quietly in hopes that nobody will hear, burst in, and torture myself and/or my family.
Man, I have it so easy.
And that’s why it’s so hard.
I appreciate that Christianity is hard everywhere – it’s definitely not easy living somewhere that I may be killed for my faith. The issue of what I’m thinking about here is that it’s so hard to practice fruitful, impactful Christianity in a place where it doesn’t threaten me, in a place where I can choose my church, in a place where I have a lot of entertainment to distract me and makes it a challenge to want to pursue God. It’s hard to tell what’s genuine about a person’s faith (let alone my own) when there’s nothing pressing it.