Thursday, January 17, 2008

How Good is Our Good News?

I've been moodling about my new involvement with our church's Evangelism Committee as I've been following the lectionary, with its stirring Old Testament longings for restoration and messages of hope and assurance.

Juxtaposed against that, though, is something I read on the Journeys With Jesus lectionary website. (Hat tip to RevGalBlogPal Gord.) Here's just an excerpt, quoting theologian Marcus Borg:

"'When I ask [students] to write a short essay on their impression of Christianity," says Borg, "they consistently use five adjectives: Christians are literalistic, anti-intellectual, self-righteous, judgmental, and bigoted.'"

And here's more, citing the recent book UnChristian by Evangelical social researcher David Kinnaman:

"These broadly and deeply negative views of Christians aren't just superficial stereotypes with no basis in reality, says Kinnaman. Nor are the critics people who've had no contact with churches or Christians. It would be a tragic mistake, he argues, for believers to protest that outsider outrage at Christians is a misperception. Rather, it's based upon their real experiences with today's Christians.

"According to Kinnaman's Barna study, here are the percentages of people outside the church who think that the following words describe present-day Christianity:

* antihomosexual 91%
* judgmental 87%
* hypocritical 85%
* old-fashioned 78%
* too political 75%
* out of touch with reality 72%
* insensitive to others 70%
* boring 68%"

I have to say that I generally do not find Christians, or Christian worship in my tradition, old-fashioned or boring...but speaking as a Christian, I not only understand the rest of these statistics, I've lived them. And it's a constant source of irritation to me, particularly as I travel in gay and lesbian circles, that I have to battle such generalized perceptions.

Bottom line: Among the unchurched, the "good news," as folks outside the church door perceive it, is pretty damned bad news, or at very least irrelevant news.

Here's the challenge: How does a mainstream/mainline faith community -- a community whose words and actions in the greater community are the antithesis of the popular perception of Christians -- overcome these stereotypes? Because I feel that, no matter how "out there" our congregation and others are in terms of being inclusive and welcoming to all, of helping people, of operating from a missional frame of mind as individuals and as a parish -- we're not being heard and seen by people outside our "family circle" and denomination. What's up with that? What can we do about it?


Crimson Rambler said...

Thank you LutheranChik, this is SO well's a relief to see one's one frettings laid out so succinctly! I'm taking this post to our reading group. Thank you, thank you.

Cecilia said...

Excellent post, excellent questions. I think we need to be converted, frankly. We need to have changes of heart as radical as those described in the John passage... where people drop what they are doing to follow along.

Powerful stuff. Thank you so much.

Pax, C.

toujoursdan said...

These things are definitely true, particularly in the U.S. where religious is so politicized, but I think a larger problem is the sheer incomprehensibility of Christian theology to the unchurched.

Our church services tend to use expressions and hymns that reference 18th-19th Century similes, words that have dropped out of popular use and concepts that aren't part of the larger cultural milieu. Trying to explain things like the OT attributing genocide to God, bodily resurrections, Christ's ascension into heaven "upstairs", eternal hell for finite sins, what the Trinity is and why it is important so a secular mind is tough.

People seem to respond to Jesus as a figure and his message but struggle with what Christian believe about him. They also tend to think that unless they just accept it all, they will be judged as inferior.

I admire people like Marcus Borg who attempt to explain Christian theology to the secular mind but I think there is much work to do to preserve the essence of the Christ event while reframing it in ways that will resonate to our postmodern society.