In 2019, the divisiveness and polarization of the nation also characterized the Christian church in the United States. While many Christians welcomed refugees, created more inclusive congregations and provided relief for people suffering from natural disasters, others chanted about building a border wall, warned of civil war if President Donald Trump was impeached, and labeled climate change a hoax and attacked teenage climate activist Greta Thunburg online.
Meanwhile, the number of Americans who identify as religious “nones,” those who do not affiliate with any religious tradition, continued to grow and now represents about 23 percent of the population.
In 2020, the church in the U.S. needs to do better. We need to behave like God’s people and act with the love we are commanded to show to neighbor and enemy alike. As a starting point, here are 10 New Year’s resolutions for the church.
- We will try to act more like Jesus and less like the New Testament account of men with stones in their hands accusing the woman caught in adultery.
No one is persuaded by force or self-righteousness, and hypocrisy doesn’t look good on anyone. Some feminists read this story as a challenge to the entire system of patriarchy. In Jesus’ time, adultery was an offense against the husband to whom the woman belonged, and her adultery challenged men’s rights to control women’s sexuality. Jesus refused to identify with the patriarchal demand for her death and thereby refused to join the men in the crowd in reestablishing male honor by killing her. In fact, he was willing to lose male honor in order to restore her honor.
It’s high time for the church to drop all its stones and stop acting like its role is to be judge, jury, and executioner for those who believe and live in different ways. It’s time to be more like Jesus.
- We will not demonize others – not other Christians, not our political opponents, not people of other faiths and not non-religious people.
In this moment of heightened divisiveness in American culture, many in the church have accepted the language of enmity to describe those who differ from them. When people are our enemies, we dehumanize them and mistreat them. We call them “human scum” or suggest they are in league with the forces of evil. Making people into our enemies lets us treat them in ways we’d never want to be treated, and we know what Jesus said about that.
Oh, and Jesus also said to love your enemies and do good to them; nothing about human scum there.
- We will not align ourselves with the state or be an arm of the Republican Party (or the Democrats, for that matter, but let’s not fall into a false equivalency here and suggest that this phenomenon happens equally for both parties).
“White supremacy is still intertwined in the fabric of white American and evangelical identity.”
Baptists, of all people, should know better. After all, our Baptist forebears were the primary driving forces for religious liberty and separation of church and state in this country. They knew from bitter experience what happens when church and state are wed, and, revisionist histories aside, the historical record clearly shows they intended the church to be free from the state and the state to be free from the church and for all religious belief and practice (or none) to be completely voluntary in response to the conviction of the individual conscience before God.
- We will accept facts, truths and documented evidence and reject “alternative facts,” conspiracy theories and false equivalencies.
If we truly believe God is a God of truth, we cannot engage in a discourse of parlor tricks that turns the evidence before us into something it’s not in the name of political expediency. Mark Galli, the conservative evangelical editor of Christianity Today, finally came to this conviction and spoke out on impeachment. The backlash to his editorial from the president and the Christian Right was swift and ferocious.
Winning has become more important than witnessing to the Gospel of love, peace, justice and reconciliation. The truth, not the president or Supreme Court, will set us free.
- We will not equate any leader, political or religious, with Jesus.
Trump is not “the Chosen One.” That title does not belong to any political leader. He has not had it worse than Jesus. Trump was impeached, not crucified. As the president and CEO of Christianity Today wrote, “With profound love and respect, we ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to consider whether they have given to Caesar what belongs only to God: their unconditional loyalty.”
- We will not ignore the refugees at our borders, the poor in our midst, the incarcerated in our prisons, the sick without healthcare, the struggling, the suffering and the marginalized – those whom Jesus prioritized.
Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” Likewise, James wrote: “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”
- We will resist the pull of political power.
We will not sell our souls for Supreme Court seats. Jesus faced a similar temptation in the wilderness. To have all the kingdoms of the world, all he had to do was fall down and worship the devil. The church would do well to remember Jesus’ response: “Get away from me! For it is written, worship the Lord your God and serve only God.”
- We will name and resist white nationalism.
Again and again, we have seen that a common strain in evangelical support for the current administration is white supremacy. One of the difficult truths of the past few years is the depth at which white supremacy is still intertwined in the fabric of white American and evangelical identity. The original sins of Native genocide and slavery continue to ripple, and the white Christian church has yet to grapple fully with the extent to which it is implicated and complicit in the renewed rise of white nationalism in the U.S.
We can’t teach our children to sing about how Jesus loves the little children of the world even as we participate in racist practices and institutions, including the church.
- We will work to overcome the division.
“The truth, not the president or Supreme Court, will set us free.”
We all know the country is divided, and those divisions have worsened in the past few years. Under this administration – and the president’s unchecked impulses to tweet insults and fire up his political base with racist and hate-filled vitriol – we have seen increases in incivility and negative attitudes toward those who differ from us. Certainly these divisions are nothing new in the church, and the church is right now an engaged participant in the divisiveness.
As the people of God, we have got to figure out a way toward reconciliation. That hard, hard work is our business; it’s God’s business, and we need to get aligned with God on that.
- We will work toward the Beloved Community.
Simply overcoming division is not enough for the church. We must do more. We can’t just tolerate people who are different. We must find our way toward loving and accepting one another. More so, we must be involved across political and religious differences in transforming the very structures of institutional power that keep us divided, keep us at enmity and keep us at war (both figuratively and literally).
We have to decide either to be the people of God and get on with it, or not, and stop saying we are. Of late, a whole lot of the church has not been acting much like God’s people (and I haven’t even mentioned clergy abuse and its cover-up, conversion therapy or the exclusion of women from ordination, to name but a few other instances where the church is not behaving as it should). Our counter-culture witness is not being anti-abortion or anti-gay or pro-Trump. It’s being radical love in the world.
If we’re not that, there’s not much point to Christian faith, because without that, we’re not following Jesus, and all the alternative facts in the world won’t change that fact.