Generous Orthodoxy  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

God and the media

There is no more heartbreaking situation in the church today than the utter failure of the mainline churches and the conservative evangelical churches to communicate with one another. They might as well be in opposite planetary orbits. And the situation is getting worse.

This thought is occasioned by the uproar concerning Richard Mourdock, the Republican Senate candidate from Indiana, who said that a life conceived by rape was "something God intended to happen." I was in the car most of yesterday and listened to the satellite cable channels. One of my favorite stations is POTUS (Politics of the US, or President of the US), but yesterday I was so angry listening to it that I wanted to pull over and telephone them (I would have, but I have tried that several times before with NPR and never got on, so I've given up). Pete Dominic, the afternoon host, is an immature hothead, but intelligent, so I listen to him occasionally. Yesterday he was taking off after Mourdock, with good reason, but the level of contempt for belief in God was at such a high level that I was shocked. A good many conservative/fundamentalist Christians called in, trying to explain what Mourdock might actually have meant, and it was rather touching to hear how hard they were trying to testify to their faith in God. They never got half a chance, though, because of Mr. Dominic's volleys of disgust. He wasn't just arguing with the Mourdock stance. He was heaping contempt upon the very idea of faith in the God of the Bible, and he obviously thought his point of view ("God is in everything...God is love...God is my family...God isn't some dad in the sky who controls everything...") was the only one that could even conceivably be held by an intelligent person. His hapless callers, who tried hard to be polite, were utterly squashed.

The problem here is that the callers represented a simplistic, almost rote form of Christianity where the Bible is not really wrestled with, but used as a source of slogans and platitudes. This large population does not seem to be familiar with the idea that even for the most faithful Christian, problems and challenges arise that seem to have no clear resolution in this life. It is interesting that these callers almost always seem to be white. African-American Christians (according to my observation, at any rate) tend to have a much more profound, even sophisticated, understanding of the mystery of evil--for good reason. When black Christians speak, there is more respect--partly out of political correctness, but partly out of their credibility as sufferers.

In any case, there are two major problems here. One is that the representatives of the media almost never pay any attention to serious, responsible Christian thinkers (notable exceptions in the print media: David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Nicholas Kristof). They pick on the easy targets.( This is also true of the "new atheists," as has often been noted.)

The second problem is that the Christian churches are making very little serious effort to present themselves with strength. We are so busy distancing ourselves from one another that we make to impression whatsoever except with our scandals and our schisms.

If I were young enough and in a position to be a church leader today, one of my top priorities would  to try to have regular conversations, maybe even pulpit exchanges, with 1) an African-American pastor in a non-mainline congregation and 2) a pastor in a conservative evangelical/ nondenominational church. I have one particular friend/colleague/conversation partner in the second category, and we argue about many things, but there is no doubt in the minds of either of us that we both love and are loved by the Lord. If there was a crisis I could call upon him, and he upon me.

The "Christian Right" thinks that the mainline, "liberal" churches are enemies, not really Christian. The liberal churches think that the congregations on the right are somewhere between uneducated and downright dangerous. There is some modicum of truth in both views. Given the present situation, however, with both groups regarding one another with mistrust and disdain, the credibility and influence of the Christian faith can only decline.

As a postscript, I once again recommend David B. Hart's little book, The Doors of the Sea (Eerdmans), as the best discussion of the problem of evil and suffering presently available. If only every serious Christian could read and ponder it, we would not have so many people saying such inane things about rape and abortion, and we would not have such a gap between Christians.