American Christianity is following in the footsteps of ancient Israel.
I am taking this post to depart momentarily from my series on the book of Exodus. I do so to call attention to a recent article published in Atlantic magazine by the author Peter Wehner. It is titled: The Evangelical Church Is Breaking Apart: Christians must reclaim Jesus from his church.
I do so to recommend your reading it. There is a serious crisis going on in America’s evangelical churches. They are being torn apart by politics and cultural issues taking priority over Jesus and the gospel. You may not agree with Wehner, but I think he is right on target in analyzing what’s happening in the evangelical world, and to some degree in American Christianity as a whole. Mainline Protestantism and Catholicism are not immune to these kinds of factional forces.
When I read an analysis like this, my mind goes back to the Hebrew prophets like Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. They picture an ancient Israel that placed Israelite nationalism, spiritual complacency, prosperity, and the worship of false gods/values above the values of justice, righteousness, and a compassionate commonwealth. The prophets called for a radical change of mindset and of public spirit.
The Israelites ignored their prophets. In fact, partisans within both kingdoms fought strongly to silence the prophets. The result? Both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah had no strength to resist invading foreign powers. They were wiped off the political map of the Middle East.
We encounter a similar story in the Judean/Galilean commonwealth of the mid-1st century. Political and religious factionalism tore that commonwealth apart, leading to the launch of a disastrous revolt against Rome. It resulted in the fall and destruction of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 CE and the destruction of the Temple.
Factionalism played an important role in that downfall. We get the sense in ancient accounts of the siege of Jerusalem* that terrorizing factions within the city may have done as much to ensure the city’s fall as did the besieging Romans.
I fear something similar awaits American Christianity as a whole if it continues in the ways that we see today. Today’s Christians will so discredit the name of Christianity that future generations will eschew anything containing the Christian label. We will have produced a spiritual antibody in the public spirit that will ensure future stalwart resistance to anything Christian.**
The more I read the Hebrew Bible, the more I come to believe that it is essential reading for interpreting our own spiritual condition accurately.
* The most extensive account of the revolt and the fall of Jerusalem is the account given by Josephus in his The Jewish War.
** Something like this happened in the European Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries. Enlightenment values like rationalism, promotion of science, and rejection of supernaturalism were in part spiritual reactions to the violence and religious wars of the Reformation.