Religious identity in America continues declining. One survey found that 35 percent of Americans now identify themselves with no religion, and that 44 percent of millennials view themselves similarly. (Christian Century, January 16, 2019)
It’s obvious that whatever the Christian church has been doing is simply not working anymore.
The future of the church, if it is to have one, must look a lot different than it appears today.
A young Christian who writes for the Religion News Service, Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, reflected on faith’s future. In a recent opinion piece he came to the conclusion that the face of tomorrow’s disciple would look a lot like Lady Gaga.
Well, I didn’t see that coming.
I didn’t know that she identifies as a Christian. You don’t automatically think of traditional Christian values when you hear some of her music.
So why does Graves-Fitzsimmons present her as the poster-woman of Christianity’s future? Perhaps because she feels passionate about issues she thinks Jesus would feel passionate about. Some of those mentioned in the article include LGBTQ rights, climate change and immigration. Younger Christians are more in tune with such subjects and will shape the future of the church, if they still find themselves in it.
Lady Gaga might be an affront to those born in the Bible belt a couple of generations ago. You won’t find her song lyrics in Sunday School material.
Yet, borrowing from Pope Francis, “who am I to judge”?
Indeed, maybe I can learn something from Lady Gaga. She feels very passionate about correcting injustices to people. Jesus felt the same way.
What We Can Learn
Can advocating for the oppressed and binding up the wounded link us more closely to the Gospel today than polishing up and reciting our catechism?
Jesus once gave a simple answer to a tricky question. When asked whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes, he famously replied, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22:21, CEB).
Some hardcore traditionalists have interpreted this as meaning that there is a distinction between the spiritual and the worldly. Caesar didn’t tell Jesus how to run his church, so Jesus shouldn’t tell Caesar how to run his empire. A Christian should focus on spiritual/heavenly things.
I think this is a misreading.
A Christian may render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. However, it’s also the Christian’s duty to remind Caesar that he’s not God.
Jesus died so that this world, not heaven, would be redeemed. He confronted both the political and religious establishments, and they conspired to murder him. If he hadn’t cared so much for this world, he would not have pushed back against injustice. We would never have heard of the cross.
But he did care, and he did confront. Those who follow Jesus follow his example. We don’t focus on prayer and Bible study just to get our heavenly ticket punched. That type of thinking kept blacks enslaved and women subordinated, in the name of a God who ruled in heaven but was mysteriously silent on earth.
Accordingly, Christians have the duty to challenge social issues that challenge Jesus’ kingdom. We may not all agree upon what they are. For that matter, we may not all agree on tenets of faith and lifestyle. But we must all agree that this world is worth saving. Joining Jesus’ church means joining in the confrontation of Caesar’s empire.
This, to me, is the only way faith can be relevant in today’s culture. Future generations will not be impressed by how well we pray, read the Bible, recite creeds or sing. Rather, they will be impressed by a faith that compels people to confront problems instead of contributing to them. A faith that heals and reconciles instead of injuring and dividing will draw people together. That’s because it reflects the heart of Christ.
The existential shock of imagining Lady Gaga as the face of Christianity’s future is slowly ebbing away. The lesson is learned.
If we believe in Jesus, we’d better prove it by actions of justice and mercy that are as shocking today as they were in Jesus’ time.
That way I’ll recognize the face of Jesus in tomorrow’s Christians.