When I saw that John W. Whitehead of the controversial and Christian Rutherford Institute had written an article after the election about evangelicals and politics I figured it would be fairly predictable – Christians need to be more engaged, Republicans need to be afraid because Christians might stay home from the polls, and such. After all, this was a man who once represented Paula Jones (he wrote a book about the experience called Slaying Dragons). Imagine my surprise, therefore, when the article took the opposite tack and in one of the strongest and bluntest indictment of modern Christianity said, “Modern Christianity, having lost sight of Christ’s teachings, has been co-opted by legalism, materialism and politics. Simply put, it has lost its spirituality.”
I asked John to write about his article, the reaction to it and his continued thinking. He kindly agreed and here is what he wrote:
When I wrote my recent commentary “Christianity in Crisis” (www.rutherford.org), I did so with the expectation that I would be lambasted (as I frequently am) for daring to criticize the way Christianity is practiced in America today.
As I pointed out in the piece, recent high-profile scandals involving Christians like Ted Haggard who have had their integrity and morality called into question underscore the crisis in modern Christianity. Whereas Christianity was once synonymous with charity, compassion and love for one’s neighbor, today it is more often equated with partisan politics, anti-homosexual rhetoric and affluent mega-churches. But unlike many Christians today, Christ did not engage in politics, identify with the government or attempt to push an agenda through governmental channels. Indeed, Christ spoke truth to power and made it abundantly clear that his kingdom was not of this world. Spirituality quickly drowns in materialism and those who call themselves Christians must be mindful of the proper use of power. From the standpoint of Christ, the proper use of power is to speak truth and seek justice for all, regardless of the consequences.
To my surprise, I was not alone in my beliefs. Many of the responses from Christians across the country echoed my concern that somewhere between the time that Christ walked the earth and the church of the present day, a vital part of Christianity has been lost. Modern Christianity, having lost sight of Christ’s teachings, has been co-opted by materialism and politics. Simply put, it has lost its spirituality.
As one reader commented:
I have been increasingly frustrated by the political situation in our country. The level of “brainwashing” among those who sincerely claim to follow Christ is incredible, and I’ve felt like a man without a home so often. While I have a few friends who share my discontent, it has been difficult to find anyone who thinks well with whom I can interact. I feel as though reading your writings has afforded me this. Thank you. You have refreshed my heart this week.
This message, and others like it, confirmed that there are Christians who feel that modern Christianity is falling short of the mark.
As Christians, we are called upon to act with love and compassion. We are also called to speak truth to power.
Despite the fact that I am often upbraided by Christians for doing those very things, I continue to do so because it is the right thing to do. For example, several months ago, I wrote an article for Christianity Today about an American soldier, Patrick Stewart, who had been killed in action in Afghanistan. The soldier’s wife was engaged in her own battle with the Department of Veterans Affairs to have the Wiccan pentacle, a five-pointed star surrounded by a circle, placed on her husband’s memorial plaque. Approved religious symbols included those of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism, as well as more obscure religions like Konko-Kyo Faith and Seicho-No-Ie—but not Wicca.
I reminded readers that if we are to keep faith with Sgt. Stewart and the other brave men and women who have died in service to the United States, then we must remember that all rights hang together. That is both the genius and the strength of the American system.
While I expected criticism from Christians, I did not foresee the hundreds of emails that came pouring in from Wiccans across the country and around the world. One was particularly moving:
I’ve lived with the fear of not being Christian all my life. I’ve been threatened, put down and even suffered violence on more than one occasion and, worse than that, I’ve seen it happen to those closest to me, as though it were a punishment for believing differently than the majority of those around us. Because of this, I’ve lived every second of my life until tonight with complete assurance in my own mind that Christians were evil. Not their beliefs, many Pagans respect and even follow Jesus (Yeshua), but Christians themselves. Not for what they believe, but for how they act. I was so ready to believe this whole-heartedly to my dying day. But then something unexpected happened. I read your article. As I read through it, I didn’t realize it had come from a Christian. It wasn’t until I’d gotten halfway through with it that it really hit me: This is a Christian calling for Pagan equality. By the end of the email, I was in tears, so touched by the kindness you’ve shown with your words. I can honestly say I’m a changed woman. I’m still afraid of Christians, from experience of course, but I’ve got hope now that there are some out there who are capable of looking past the separation of our different faiths, and that’s something I never thought I’d experience. So I just wanted to thank you for that.
As St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” In other words, it’s not what you say about Christianity that matters—it’s how you live your life.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.