A worthy fight?

Want to know why the church is in decline in the US? There isn’t a nice single reason. The decline has been going on for decades though. A changing culture? The fact that the church doesn’t have its privileged place in the culture anymore and it has had difficulty adjusting? Generational shifts in their relationship with institutions like the church? All that and more.

One of the symptoms of a church in decline is that it spends time and energy fighting over things that just don’t matter as opposed to investing it’s time and energy on things that impact people’s lives.

Case in point would be the “controversy” over the most recent Lil Nas X’s most recent song and video. Vox has a pretty good article on this. Here’s the essence of this – There is a segment of the church that wants to bring the culture wars back. The folks who are throwing a hissy fit over his song and video probably don’t listen to rap, and wouldn’t know Lil Nas X if they came across him on the street. It’s only because the song and video triggers a supposed controversy that they are getting on their cultural and ethical high horse. I wish they held the same standard to their favored politicians, rather than turn a blind eye or make excuses when their favored politicians do something inexcusable.

When these things come up, people watch and see what the church does and says. And they don’t want to be a part of it. Why would they? There’s a loud segment of the church that is spending time, energy and resources fighting over the lyrics of a song and the accompanying video instead of proclaiming the Good News. It’s spending time and energy tearing people down, rather than giving hope. It is spending time and energy fighting over something that doesn’t matter while literally ignoring a pandemic that has killed over 500,000 fellow citizens. Why? Isn’t the pandemic far more important than what a musician is recording? No one is going to die as a result of this song. But lives have been ruined because of the pandemic.

This segment of the church spends time and energy on a song while homelessness is spiking, poverty is a real issue affecting tens of millions of people, hunger is on the rise, racism is out in the open destroying lives, and climate change is impacting lives. But hey, those are difficult issues after all with no nice easy answers. Dealing with these things require us to see beyond the fundamentalist way of thinking that there are only two options – I’m right and you are wrong. These are complex challenges that require us to move away from worrying about who is right to working together and rethinking so much.

When a segment of the church acts like this, it damages the larger church. In focusing on things that don’t matter, the church is literally making itself irrelevant. It is literally turning a blind eye to real problems that affect real people in favor of a stupid culture war that has no impact on anyone’s life and will be forgotten by next week, when this segment will be outraged over something new. That’s the definition of irrelevant.

We claim a message, as the church, that proclaims something extraordinary – God encountering us and transforming our lives, our communities, and the world. I’m not sure how fighting over a song fits into that – mostly because it’s obvious that it doesn’t.

My message for the segment of the church insistent on fighting a culture war is this – please, please, please stop! You are doing serious damage and making it more difficult to proclaim a life changing message. Spend your time and energy on something that actually matters – doing something that will improve people’s lives, give them hope, comfort them, or show compassion to people who are dying or are outcasts. If we do that, people will pay attention to what we have to proclaim because they will see we are serious about it. Right now, there are segments of the church that are showing through their actions that they don’t take what they preach seriously. They are just interested in being right. Transformation is too important to be wasted on a culture war fight. Too many people’s lives are at stake.   

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