Tag Archives: Christian

How to Pretend to be Spiritual

One of the high-profile mantras of contemporary culture is to be “spiritual but not religious.” This announcement is delivered with serious humility and meekness, assuring the hearer that there will be no invitation, not even a subtle suggestion, to join in the quest. The speaker righteously disavows any intent to proselytize, choosing to leave everyone else to his own search for meaning, deliberately explaining that there is no “right or wrong” in anyone’s choices. This speaker is not like those religious fanatics who love God and invite everyone else to love Him, too. This speaker is no threat to anyone’s status quo.

Christians are taken aback by such a concept. It is hard to argue with someone about an idea so malleable. The discussion is a lot like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. There is no core belief to dispute, no fundamental truth to refute. There is no substance to such an avowal.

Christians think that the person who takes this step might be on a quest for something meaningful, but to believe that “spiritual but not religious” is a quest for meaning would be a big mistake. To choose to be “spiritual but not religious” is to choose deliberately to avoid the complications of meaning or truth. This choice is, rather, a choice not to allow meaning or truth to interfere with self-worship. In other words, someone who is “spiritual but not religious” is engaged in a chiffon-like secularism. Its very softness confuses Christians who expect secularists to be hardened defenders of reason alone. This “spiritual” quest is the same thing as the secular search for truth; you know you have found it if it makes you feel good. It is Satan’s way of providing something for everyone.

Satan’s strategy is always to pander to the human ego. All the temptations to which human beings succumb are about choosing self over anything else. The temptations Christ is reported to have defused were all about self. I’m hungry—I’ll turn rocks into food. I want attention – I’ll jump off a tower without a parachute and float to the ground. I love power – I’ll do what it takes, even make a deal with the devil, to become the most powerful human being on earth. The temptation to become “spiritual but not religious” is no different.

How, you ask wonderingly, is it egotistical and self-serving to be “spiritual” when you are choosing not to be “religious” with all the ritual and hierarchy associated with religion?

The answer is that this choice is not about God or gods at all; it is entirely about personal gratification.

Those who choose “spirituality” alone most commonly reject Christianity. Often they are actually drawn to religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. (I know, I know. Buddhists claim it is a way of life, not a religion. Well, every religion either shapes a way of life or it is worthless. The rejection of Christianity is about rejecting the way a Christian is taught to live.)  They act as if to be vaguely “spiritual” is much more mature and sophisticated than to be soiled by participating in the life of the church. They cast aspersions on the whole idea that people who put their faith in Christ gather in groups, engage in shared worship, depend on the Bible, and organize in work and service. Most of all, they join in the secular outrage at Christians who believe that every moment of their lives is to be lived in submission to Christ. The idea of a relationship that permeates and transcends every moment of life is alien, and the idea of submission in that relationship is repugnant to those who want their own feelings to be more important than anything else. They cannot imagine deep happiness that is not about personal gratification.

Of course, the rejection of Christianity is justified by pointing to people who claim the name of Christ and live in complete denial of everything Christ taught. The rejection of Christ is excused because there are plenty of Christians who are not very Christ-like. Those who choose to be “spiritual but not religious” claim that they want purity, not hypocrisy, and they don’t want to associate with any hypocrites as part of their pure spiritual quest. The rejection of Christianity, or of any “religiousness” whatsoever is not rejection of anything that any religion actually stands for. It is rejection of people who don’t live up to their religious claims.

It sounds almost righteous to say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.”  The problem is that being “spiritual but not religious” is simply another way to be completely secular.  It sets up a life with “sacred” elements and “secular” elements. It makes for an interesting cultural phenomenon. A secularist completely scorns the idea of Christianity, because the secularist rejects anything not measurable in time and space. Which means, of course, that the secularist equally scorns the “spiritual but not religious.” He will, however, tolerate the “spiritual” ones more comfortably than the Christians, because the “spiritual but not religious” are completely willing to keep their spirituality in the spiritual part of their lives while keeping a high barrier between the sacred and the secular. Secular thinkers have no problem with someone who worships himself or herself, because the secular thinker understands that world view. The “spiritual but not religious” are more comfortable with secular thinkers than with Christians for the same reason. Both worship self, and both believe that spirituality is a private matter.

Christians are viewed like sand in the cultural cogs, because they bring their spirituality into everything. Why? A Christian is actually a little temple of the Holy Spirit, walking around carrying eternity and infinity wherever he goes. A Christian lives at the intersection of time and eternity, space and infinity. For the Christian, the notion of being “spiritual but not religious” has no meaning, because a Christian is the same in all settings. (Of course I know that we are all sinful saints as well as saintly sinners. So this statement must be understood as the teaching, not as a perfect reality. It is this teaching that drives Christians to assert that a business is only one of many ways the Christian serves Christ.) The standard for Christian behavior is set by eternal and infinite standards, not by how the Christian feels about something at some time. This is why a Christian engaged in commerce is not engaged in secular activity; such a thing is impossible for him. The Christian is a completely spiritual being.

Those who reject religion and claim to be “spiritual” without any real focus other than themselves are fooling only themselves. It is an empty enterprise to attempt to connect with something that is ultimately only oneself. To be spiritual without any spiritual identity is destructive, even if it does make someone feel good for a while. Incense, candles, and sacred rocks will be cold company when Satan unleashes evil in someone’s life. Long ago in a comic strip now defunct, a swamp possum named Pogo saw through the fakery of this kind of thinking. He said, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”

Just Wondering

 I was stopped in my web-surfing tracks recently by this blog title: “I’m a Pro-life Atheist, but the Pro-Life Movement is Shutting Me Out.”

After reading this post, I wanted to know if there were others like Sarah Terzo, the author of this post. A little research confirmed that, indeed, there are many atheists who actively oppose abortion. In fact, there are pro-life organizations whose membership is entirely atheist, or at least non-religious.

My survey of several posts and websites confirmed something that is disturbing. Since it manifests itself in several different ways, I am left with some questions I cannot answer. The core of the disturbance is this: Christian pro-life activists and non-Christian pro-life activists do not work well together, and the available information suggests that it is the Christians who put up the barriers. The reports of non-cooperation come from secular reporters, and I didn’t immediately find any such reports from Christian pro-life bloggers.

Here are the ways secular pro-lifers are shut out of cooperation with Christian pro-lifers:

  • When secular pro-lifers volunteer to work in rescue sites where pregnant mothers receive counsel regarding the decision to keep their babies, the secular volunteers are rejected. They are rejected even if they volunteer to do clerical work where they would have no contact with the mothers.
  • When secular pro-lifers try to coordinate demonstrations or publicity for the pro-life agenda, the Christian activists refuse to include them.
  • When a secular mother engages in counseling about the decision to keep her baby, there may not be any literature for her to read that focuses on the right to life without including Christian religious teaching.
  • When Christian pro-life advocates begin planning events or major activism, they never make any attempt to contact or coordinate with secular activists who hold the same view.

It is possible that these allegations could be refuted if a Christian activist were interviewed, but Christians have not, in the material I could find quickly, commented about even the existence of atheist pro-life organizations.

I have both Christian and secular readers, so I would really like to hear from any who care to comment. Are you aware that the pro-life movement is a big umbrella that includes both a variety of religions and completely secular groups? From your perspective, secular or religious, is there any reason all the groups cannot work together on this issue without compromising their positions on the existence or non-existence of any god? Who gains if any group advocating the right to life is shut out of the work it takes to reduce the pressure of the pro-choice advocates? I fervently desire to hear from Christians, atheists or any other group. What is your experience? What do you observe? What do you think?

I am a Christian, and I am fervently pro-life. I believe that a zygote is a human being as surely as a newborn baby or an old grandmother. My convictions are built on a combined foundation of science and faith, but I would have a hard time rejecting the help of an atheist who wanted to end the scourge of convenience abortions. I earnestly solicit your comments. What’s wrong with this picture?

A Political Party is not a Church

The big news last week was that the Republican Party is “rebranding” itself. After a little time to digest this announcement, some evangelical commentators concluded that the GOP may be distancing itself from the evangelical community, a group which has been strong in the base of the party for many years. When Sean Spicer, communications director for the party was asked about this issue, he denied that any such effort was under way and then he said, “A political party is not a church and its function is not to promulgate and support a religious doctrine.” (Read more at http://tinyurl.com/cnhwtjj)

Church members, pastors, and Christians of all stripes across the country need to read this statement and take it to heart. Here is it for your re-reading and consideration:

“A political party is not a church and its function is not to promulgate and support a religious doctrine.”

The next time I hear a Christian or a church leader complain about either party’s godless agenda, I want to shout this statement loud and clear. For much too long, far too many churches and church members have been confused about this fact. When citizens who are Christians engage in politics, they express their views, they advocate for their causes and they vote their consciences. This is exactly what God wants them to do. After the election dust settles, the elected officials sometimes keep their promises, and sometimes they don’t. They sometimes do what Christians think is right, and sometimes they doing. Every citizen has the right to expect that an official will keep his word, act with integrity, comply with constitutional and legal boundaries, and lead with humility and wisdom. Every citizen has a right to call elected officials to account on all these points. But when Christians speak and act and vote and follow up in their duty as citizens, they need to remember at all times that “a political party is not a church and its function is not to promulgate and support a religious doctrine.”

Here are some of the reasons churches ought to remember this fact:

  • Churches that send their representative clergy to Washington to advocate for social programs and grants to faith-based organizations often express immense frustration when the programs and grants are administered politically. They feel they have been led to expect one thing but they get another. They discover that the money must not be spent to support prayer or evangelism, or they discover that they must place adoptees under the parental control of homosexuals. This ought not to be shocking. If they remembered that the Church, not government, is God’s chosen agent to bring his kingdom to earth, they would not have such inappropriate expectations, and they would not waste their time trying to make the government into a church program. They would do their fund-raising among the people who want to support the mission of the Church. The strings government attaches to its money and its programs would not get in the way of the ministries of the church. Everybody would be a lot happier. (Then they could also advocate for lower taxes, given that they would thereby have reduced the application for funds. Everyone knows that not-for-profit organizations are much more accountable and transparent in the administration of their money, too, which means that less money will accomplish more good things – but that is another subject for another day.)
  • Individuals that advocate for social change in the culture and try to speed up the process by demanding the government enforce the change legally would not be so angry about the way the laws get written and administered or ignored. Christians want a lot of things to change in the culture. When they try to achieve those changes through political activism, they are denying the one power that can truly transform a culture: the power of the Holy Spirit. When immersed in political activism, it is easy for Christians to forget themselves and become aggressive and unforgiving, characteristics not on the list of gifts of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life. Remember this: every citizen, Christians included, has the civic obligation to participate in the political process, but Christians should never expect that the outcome of political activism will be the arrival of the kingdom of God on earth. That is not government’s role.
  • It is well known that politics is the art of compromise. A compromise never pleases either side. Both sides always know that the compromise is only a temporary truce. There is no peace. The issue is not settled. They simply have agreed to take a breath and step back. When the two sides step back, however, it is always to regroup and charge forward to clash again on different ground. Spiritual objectives do not allow for compromise. God’s truth cannot be compromised. If a Christian wants God’s work to be accomplished, he needs to commit the work to the power of the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that he abandons his civic role and responsibility as a citizen, but it does mean that he tempers his expectations of the political process. He does not put his trust in that process. He does his work to speak and live for Christ in the public arena, but he entrusts the conflict to the timing and progress that fits God’s perfect, sovereign will.

There are many other reasons for Christians to remember the important truth that no political group is ever the true servant of the mission of Christ’s Church.

There is real reason for churches as institutions to steer clear of politics, too. This is because the individual is the one with the vote. Churches ought to speak out as churches to provide the moral and ethical views that only churches can provide, but they should be clear that they are speaking about God’s ultimate and infinite purposes, not the current political agenda. When a church, speaking as a church, attempts to force some item in a political agenda, it pollutes the ability of that church to serve its real mission. Christ did not establish his Church on earth in order to achieve legislative and social agendas.

For example:

Bishop Mark Hanson, the Bishop of the national ELCA synod, recently issued a statement on gun control. He is for it. Had he issued it as an individual voter speaking for himself, it would have made sense for him to do that. However, on behalf of the Church, he ought to speak only with regard to the mission of the Church. Christ’s Church actually could not care less who owns a gun or who does not own a gun. Christ’s Church, the agent of Christ in the world of time and space to bring the kingdom of God near to each human being, cares about evil in the hearts of men. Christ knows that the possession of a gun is not what stirs up evil, any more than possession of a wire whisk stirs up a soufflé. Christ’s Church is engaged in a battle with Satan for the hearts of men. The Church deplores the things in our culture which deprave and destroy people’s self-respect and love for one another. It is appropriate for the Church to offer Christ as the message of hope for a dark world, and it is appropriate for the Church to ask what we can do as a culture to rear children up in a faith that gives them the gift of love as a byproduct of the work of the Holy Spirit. It is right for the Church to publicly deplore those things in the culture which promote evil and destroy the lives of individuals. When evil triumphs, a gun is only one possible weapon in the battle. It is completely inappropriate, and a confusion of the roles of church and government for the Bishop to declare that he believes a certain gun control law should be passed as a response to the triumph of evil. The role of the Church is to defeat evil, not to orchestrate support for legislation. Even if limiting gun ownership by law could be shown to reduce gun violence, the legislation would inevitably include elements association with which would sully the reputation and reduce the credibility of the Church when engaged in its real mission – to make disciples for Christ and lead many to experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

It well behooves every Christian and every Christian leader to remember:

A political party is not a church and its function is not to promulgate and support a religious doctrine.” (Sean Spicer)

Please Pass the Salt

Image courtesy of Carlos Porto at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of Carlos Porto at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

You are the salt of the earth … 
You are the light of the world
            Matthew 5:13-14 

In order to be salt and light in the world, each of us must be constantly modeling and teaching what Jesus has taught us. The point is not that we are better than anyone else, even though we are constantly accused of that attitude by the culture. The point is that we share the good things we receive through our relationship with Christ. The culture is flavored with poison and oppressed by deep, palpable darkness. Christ calls us to bring good flavor and bright light to the whole world.

Read the latest news of cultures wars and the persecuted church in Living on Tilt, the newspaper.

When we examine our surroundings, we know that everyone in the world needs what we have received. Yet when we try to share, we very often encounter resistance. The squeeze and the smash that I described last week are realities, and they have been realities since the first Christians were arrested in Jerusalem. One of the greatest challenges for Christians from the very beginning has been government. When someone in the crowd asked Jesus about taxes, the stage was set for the ongoing friction between Christians and government. Christians still ask today how we are to differentiate between what belongs to Caesar (government) and what belongs to God.

The fundamental question, however, comes back to Christ’s call to be salt and light and to make disciples. Christ gave us the ministries of being salt and light in order that we might complete the only real job he gave us: making disciples. Eugene Petersen, in his contemporary paraphrase of the Bible says: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20 The Message)

Christians who live in the USA are more fortunate than Christians who live in countries where the government has the goal of eradicating all religion, or all but one religion. The government defined by the US Constitution encourages citizens who belong to any and all religions or no religion to express themselves and to participate in electing leaders and shaping the laws of the country. Contemporary Christians living in the USA have every right and the civic responsibility to help elect political leaders and to participate in the shaping of laws for the nation. The US government is designed to provide opportunity for the discussion of any and all issues that affect citizens, and the government is intended to allow anybody to participate.

Christy McFerren, in her excellent book First Steps Out: How Christians Can Respond to a Loved One’s Struggle with Homosexuality talks about the way Christians have participated in the national conversation. She says, “The political system was never intended to be a means of discipleship.”[1] Sadly, Christians have been mistaking the government for a means of making disciples for a very long time. When the emperor Constantine became a convert, he decreed that everyone in the empire had to become a Christian. He set a bad example of the value of good government, because his action created a perception Christians struggle with to this day: the perception that if the government can compel people to become Christians, it will somehow be Christ’s agent of transformation in the world. Every Christian could rejoice that Constantine came to know Christ, to be forgiven of his sins and to experience the blessing of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in his life. Every Christian should have pleaded with the emperor not to pretend that people could be saved by government decree. It is impossible to comprehend all the damage to the Church achieved by that single decree.

In the USA, there were many Christians who rejoiced on the day that George H. W. Bush announced the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. I was not among them. It scared me to think that the tentacles of government would extend ever deeper into Christian ministries in the US. The history of that office and the problems that have arisen related to what is or is not permitted if a faith-based organization is receiving funds from the government have validated my original unwillingness to celebrate that idea. One of the things that office did was to confuse a lot of Christians into believing that the government had decided to participate in the discipling of the nation. Christy McFerren is absolutely correct when she says that discipling is not the work of government.

We Christians who want to be salt and light, who want to be busily sharing our faith and leading others to faith must shun the involvement of government in that work. Here is a fact: anybody can hand out food to hungry people. Here is another fact: only a Christian can share Christ. Unfortunately, if the government bought the food and paid the rent on the building where it is handed out, the Christian who shares the food may be forbidden to share Christ.

The government has a compelling interest in the welfare of all citizens, and it has always tried to provide a safety net for people in need. The Office of Faith-Based Initiatives was not established in order to accomplish the Christian mission of discipling the world. The Office of Faith-Based Initiatives was established in order for the government to be able to claim that it served more people who needed a safety net. This office is not the sole source of support for most of the ministries that receive money from the government. The government spends a little less on each person served by the agency the government funds, while the government still counts all the people fed as fed by the government, thereby getting credit for feeding the hungry. The government did not decide to make grants to ministries in order to promote discipling.

However, and this is an important however, when government money comes in, freedom to make disciples goes out. The old adage that “he who pays the piper calls the tune,” applies here. The government will not give money to pay the salary of a missionary whose work is to make disciples. The government will only give money to be used for purposes consistent with the government’s definition of “general welfare.” The government does not care if a Christian or a Hindu or an atheist hands out food to the hungry, but it has no intention, nor should it have any intention, of making Christian disciples among the hungry that are being fed.

I have a several friends who work in charitable endeavors related to a church mission of making disciples. Each of the agencies for which they work receives government funding in one form or another. The degree of government interference in the actual work of making disciples varies from agency to agency, but the fact is that when push comes to shove, the government does not pay for prayer and Bible study. The government does not pay for someone to explain to a client why Christ died. The government pays for handing out food, or clothing, or health services, or adoptions, or etcetera. Some individuals have even been told that they may not pray with someone who is asking for food or shelter, yet for Christians whose mission is to serve Christ and make disciples, the most natural thing in the world is to pray with someone in need. Anybody can hand out food, but only a Christian can share Christ. I don’t mean to say that they tell the people no help will be forthcoming unless they join in prayer. I simply mean that when any Christian sees someone in need, the most natural response is to say, “Let’s pray about this situation,” and after prayer, proceed. If the government is funding the work, people may or may not be free to do that.

In years past, the freedom to pray or not to pray may have been taken for granted, but not so much now. When Hope Christian School in Albuquerque, NM, rejected an applicant because his family did not meet the school’s definition of family, the school was within its rights to accept or reject any applicant for any reason whatsoever. The rejection was rooted in the school’s interpretation of a Christian view of family, which meant to most readers that the school was expressing a religious value. Even that observation might have been argued over and then let go except for one thing: the school had received a federal grant for school administrative projects. Those projects were unrelated to the admissions process, and none of the money was to be used for promulgating religion per se. Yet a spokesperson for the ACLU proclaimed almost immediately that the school had no right to exclude anyone on religious grounds because it is a federal grant recipient.

The ultimate decision about the requirements for compliance with the terms of the grant does not lie with the ACLU, but the cultural implications are clear. If you read the news, you will quickly discover that the culture and the government increasingly believe that if you receive government money, you must adopt the government’s value system. If it ever was a good idea in the past to use the government in the church’s mission to make disciples, to spread salt and light in the culture, it is not a good idea any longer.

How shall a Christian relate to government?

Christy McFerren speaks to that question, too:

“If we as the Church were to stop being afraid and do the hard work of relationship-based discipleship, the laws and officeholders who govern us would eventually reflect what we fight tooth and nail for in every election cycle. … Discipling nations starts with hearts. … our message of hope and unconditional love should not be a byline on our political talking points – it should be the main thing people hear.Until we change this … the Church will continue to lose her potential to touch the hearts of the individuals all around them.”[2]

In plain language, the church must not hand off to the government the work of making disciples. It must not hand off to the government the obligation to pay the financial costs of making disciples. The church must not confuse success in changing laws with success in transforming human lives. The church must make disciples and be the salt and light in the culture that Jesus taught us to be. Christians must act as grateful stewards of God’s provision and Christians must support the costs of making disciples. When we do our work, the government will become what a government should be, not because we got more votes for our position, but because the people running for office and voting for officeholders and making laws and enforcing laws and adjudicating laws are listening to the guidance of the same Holy Spirit.

The current president has made it clear on more than one occasion that he believes it is his calling to fundamentally transform this nation. I could speculate on his objective based on what I can see, but that is not my purpose here. My point is that the mission of the Church is to make disciples, which will result in the fundamental transformation of the whole world by the power of the Holy Spirit. The president is committed to using the government to accomplish his purposes, and I do not think Christians should confuse his purposes, no matter how charitable they may appear, with the purpose of God. As Christians, no matter what the government is up to, we must reject the idea that government is God’s chosen agent to bring his kingdom to earth. The government is not established for that purpose. God’s only agent for bringing his kingdom near to every person on earth is you and me – the Church. We dilute our power and our purpose if we think for a moment that we can corral government power in the service of the Kingdom of God. God’s agent for the fundamental transformation of the world is the Holy Spirit, and God’s plan for accomplishing that objective is that each of us should be completely committed to making disciples as we share Christ wherever we go.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. Matthew 28:19-20 NRSV


[1] McFerren, Christy First Steps Out: How Christians Can Respond to a Loved One’s Struggle with Homosexuality Kindle Edition, loc 516

[2] ibid. loc 524-536

The Squeeze versus the Smash

 

English: The Bill of Rights, the first ten ame...
The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  Matthew 22:35-40 When Jesus answered the lawyer’s question, he set his followers on a path that has intersected violently with cultures and governments over the past two thousand years. These two commandments define a life of self-denial in complete submission to God and a life of complete love of people that is as limitless and demanding as legitimate self-esteem. These laws are not about when and where to worship, what hymns to sing, what prayers to pray. These “laws” are about life itself. Christians clash with surrounding cultures and governments, because they do not put allegiance to country or to self first.

Open Doors USA annually documents the consequences of following Christ and his commandments around the world in the World Watch List, a list of the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians. It truly is dangerous to be a Christian, even though it may not seem so to a Christian in the USA. Some of the dangers Christians face are quite subtle. It is easy for Christians to be deluded. The dangers Christians face today are not really different from the dangers Christ faced in the wilderness when Satan came to tempt him. The temptation to do magic instead of miracles, the temptation to be impressive rather than truthful, and most of all, the temptation to be a marketer rather than a missionary. Open Doors divides the challenges to Christians into two categories: the squeeze and the smash.

The squeeze is cultural pressure. Scorn. Family expectations. Denial of job opportunities. The Christian who lives by faith every day, putting God first and loving people selflessly, can be subjected to almost unbearable social pressures. In countries where Islam is dominant, a Christian faces immense pressure to renounce Christ, because family and friends express their very real fear that the new Christian will be eternally punished for apostasy. If the government is Islamic as well, the government may consider a new Christian to be a threat to the nation, which exponentially increases the pressure and may lead to the smash.

The smash is real violence. Arrest, imprisonment, torture, even execution. Sometimes the government stands by and does nothing while private groups burn church buildings and private homes belonging to Christians. At other times, government officials may participate in the violence.

American citizens have not seen real violence perpetrated against Christians. The colonial forebears of the colonists who founded the country were mostly Christian, the actual founders were mostly Christian, and the culture had a Christian flavor because of the dominance of Christians in the population. Many of the original colonists had fled religious persecution in one form or another, and the founding documents embody an unwillingness to perpetuate that sort of persecution in the new country. The US government has never included a state religion, although its common language and practices gave evidence of the Christian connections of the founders. In fact, the First Amendment made it clear that while the USA would renounce the establishment of any religion, it would protect the freedom of every individual to express his faith, whether he served in the Senate or plowed a field. In theory, the First Amendment should prevent the smash from developing, but no legal framework can prevent the squeeze.

Today, the culture of the USA is less and less dominated by people who self-identify as Christians. Furthermore, among people who self-identify as Christians, fewer and fewer consider Christian faith to be important enough for their expression of it to include regular worship or an exclusive commitment to its teachings. The culture in general is becoming increasingly secular, and churches increasingly include secular concepts in their teachings. The squeeze of contemporary culture is working to suppress the free expression of Christian faith or any other religious expression. Increasingly the culture promotes the idea that being “spiritual” but not “religious” is a more mature way to live than making a commitment to the hierarchy and rules of a “religion.” Christians would not describe their commitment that way, but that is the way the culture describes it.

Cultural squeeze is harder to document than the smash. Smirking scorn at the mention of the Bible in a conversation about ethics can hardly be equated with an exploding bomb in a church building. The sometimes not too subtle cultural squeeze in the US is pervasive enough that some Christians feel uncomfortable to tell anyone the root of their views about right and wrong. Any person who confesses publicly to faith in God is subject to the same withering derision that was directed at Michele Bachman and Rick Santorum during the 2012 presidential primaries. Anyone who comments or who reads comments on the internet will quickly discover that the expression of Christian teachings will evoke mockery and disdain from other commenters. They can’t draw blood, but they could make someone cry.

It is very important that Christians in the USA be aware of the squeeze and the smash wherever it is occurring. It is equally important that Christians in the USA learn from observing what happens in other countries. There are daily assaults on the US Constitution, and the entire document is often dismissed as out-of-date and irrelevant to the contemporary world. The protections embodied in that document are meaningless if the document is meaningless. In Nigeria, after twenty years of ignoring cultural changes, “Christians suddenly realized they were second class citizens in a culture that was once hospitable to them, and is now hostile to them.” The same thing could happen to Christians in the USA.

Be aware. Be attentive. What have you noticed so far?