By Jacqueline J. Holness
I love America. I love that our country is expansive enough that we can drive for days courtesy of our national highway system without traveling the breadth of our borders. I love that we are free to say whatever we want and to protest injustices.
I love that we are a melting pot and can experience other cultures without leaving America. I love that an increasing number of us live relatively humdrum lives without worry of rampant religious persecution and economic marginalization. We are not a perfect nation, without question, but I am grateful to be an American.
I love the church. Even when I didn’t want to be a Christian as a child because I wasn’t done being bad (as I explained to a Sunday school teacher), I still loved coming to church. I loved hearing parables about Jesus. I remember being fascinated with “The Pearl of Great Price”—primarily because I wanted a pearl, and not because I looked forward to going to Heaven. As an adult, I love visiting old church buildings to marvel at the architecture and imagine the lives of their congregants who impacted the churches’ storied histories.
More American, Less Christian?
However, despite my love for the institutions of America and the church, I wonder if American Christians, enthralled with country and church tradition and other allegiances, have made the gospel more American and less Christian.
This summer I attended the 2012 Hampton University Ministers’ Conference, an interdenominational organization directed toward the African-American church. The theme was, “A Global Church Serving a Global Christ in a Global Age.” According to Bishop Claude Richard Alexander Jr., conference president, “There is a shift in global Christianity. The profile of the average Christian is no longer a male from the West. It is a 20-something-year-old from Africa. With the center of gravity being shifted to the Southern Hemisphere in general and the continent of Africa in particular, there is a unique call placed upon the African-American church.”
While the theme was directed toward African-American Christians in particular, I believe this theme applies to American Christians of all races. How do we ensure that we are obeying the Great Commission and “making disciples of all nations” rather than unwittingly exporting an Americanized gospel?
With the Internet and the reach of 24-hour news networks, nations across the world can be nearly as involved in our election process as we are (if they care to be involved, that is). Every election year I am saddened and perplexed by the vitriol spewed among Christians of differing political parties. Instead of aligning ourselves with Christ, it sometimes appears we align ourselves with political parties, country and flag ahead of allegiance as Christians. I love the song, “They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love,” and we should remember it during this election season.
Focusing on Christ
As a capitalist nation, has our capitalistic approach permeated the church? My father, minister of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, used this quote from Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the United States Senate, in one of his recent sermons:
In the beginning, the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ, then the church moved to Greece where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe where it became a culture, and finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise.
Does Christianity through American eyes appear to be overly focused on the money that can be made from Christian products and services? Do we most closely resemble a “den of thieves” or a “house of prayer?”
And the world over knows our racial struggles, and we have to be attuned to latent tendencies to group ourselves by race before our faith. In her book, More Christian Than African-American (Daybreak Books, 1999), Kimberly Cash Tate criticizes black and white Christians for this behavior. For example, she criticized black Christian support of the 1995 Million Man March, led by Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan: “Answering the call of a religious leader who believes our God is a fraud is insulting to him. It’s offensive. It’s sinful.”
I love America and the church, as I’m sure many of us do; but the gospel we proclaim should highlight Jesus Christ, not the American church.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service, an online, national news service for attorneys.