Morality-Policing and Bible-Thumping: Christian Culture—the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

   

Image by Jonathan Percy

But one curious exchange between a fellow teacher and a student stood out above all the rest. This teacher, a Christian (perhaps “frumpy” by nature or because of churching), saw a student dressed in brown and white sheets in toga-like fashion around his body with a hole cut out through which he put his head. “Oh!”, she exclaimed, “what are you!? A disciple!?” “No,” the student awkwardly replied. “I am a Roman.”

What the teacher had seen in the students garb was what many of those raised in churches and forced to endure through Christmas and Easter plays. Cheesy-Christian costumes meant to mimic and retell the stories of Jesus, the disciple, and holiday traditions through terrible acting and chalk-board scratching songs meant to make parent’s hearts melt—or deaf.

I knew this all to well because I was one of these students forced to endure silly costumes and cheesy-churchy-plays. And while communities are certainly free to express their “creative” tendencies (albeit not a very affective ministry tool however), it becomes a serious problem when such church-cultures are projected out onto “normal” society.

But this is the least of such projections. All to often, as a byproduct of Christians gathering together, Christian church culture is created and imposed on others. Perhaps one of the more humorous and detrimental is “christianese.” All kinds of terms, from the intellectual, theological terms of sanctification to the simple terms of “amen”, “salvation”, or “sin” can often be used without Christians themselves understanding them fully, let alone being batted around to non-Christians.

But even worse is the imposition of Christian morality on those who reject Christ. To them, such morality-policing and Bible-thumping, is little more than self-righteousness and legalistic garble. As a youth, I recall many acquaintances (non-Christians steeped in sin) being chastised by a mutual friend for cussing or talking about sex. Did this imposition of law lead these people to the truth of the scriptures or the forgiving grace of Christ? By no means. But often enough, is this not what the church does to society and people of no Christian standing whatsoever?

Why are we surprised when people get drunk, have sex, cheat on their wives, have abortions, remain in homosexual relationships, steal, and murder in our society? Is this not what we should expect from people lost in a world of sin and a lack of ability to do otherwise? No amount of imposition of Christian culture or morals will ever change people. The blood of Christ is the only fix for such naturally occurring evil inclinations.

Perhaps what we ought to do is love people—tell them they are sinning—but love them nonetheless. The warts of sinful society ought not deter us from lovingly and relevantly coexisting with the lost so that we may win them over.

The sword, preaching hell, fire, and brimstone, and church isolation and manufactured pseudo-culture are not winning people to Christ. Perhaps we ought to try an old tactic used by Christ himself. He did not seek to convert through force, imposing new laws for a more moral society. He loved, served, and called sin-sin the entire time.

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 Are their any boundaries to imposing Christian morals on secular society?

Can Christians coexist other religious views and non-Christians?

Did you have any churchy experiences as a youth? 

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  • I think the creation of the Christian sub-culture was intended to lift up and edify the Body.  Of course, many people doubt that even that is being done through things such as Christian music, movies, or books.  I was birthed out of that culture myself.  And, I don’t look back on my upbringing with any regret or disrespect.  It’s not the way I want to raise my children, but it is definitely a big part of who I am, where I’ve come from and where I’m going.

    I’ve always said that righteousness does not precede salvation.  Without Christ, there is no reason for me to live with any kind of moral uprightness other than societal approval and acceptance.  I have no expectations for unbelievers to live with any degree of the morals or values that I hold dear to as a Christ follower.  If they do, that’s great.  But, it’s not because they are dead to the flesh and alive in Christ.  I think we can encourage Christian morals through how we treat others, but we can’t impose them on anyone (unless it’s in accordance with the law of the land). 

  • Anonymous

    Pearls before swine. A harsh word some would say but this seems like something Christians like to do. Trying to impose Christian morals is a lost cause. Discussing morality from a Christian viewpoint is not. The problem seems to be the imposition of our morals on others without them asking. This is rude and lacking love. Christian morals are for the church and should be exercised in community.

    The churchy experience happened to me at an early age with Sunday School and childrens’ church in the Southern Baptist tribe. I’m grateful for learning about the various stories from the Bible but I think a great deal of it has hampered my spiritual life. The religious baggage that one acquires is difficult to get rid of. At 43, I’m still trying to get rid of the language and habits that would hinder loving God and loving neighbor. 

    I like how you spoke of the Christian pseudo-culture. I’ve never thought of it that way. I might be convinced if you tell me why it is a pseudo-culture as opposed to a sub-culture? I think either way the church needs to move beyond the Christian ghetto to engage the culture in more subtle and subversive ways.

  • Well said @popparables:disqus , but as one who was raised in the super churchy-isolationist context, I think that it can be incredibly detrimental—especially as kids get out from under-neither their parents and see the world for themselves. This is no doubt why we have such a high level of Christians who leave to go to college and never return back to the faith. 

    But I believe you are right on the money with how we interact as a people to this world. We need to change people not governments. We need to build relationships, not legislate more laws to restrain what is already natural to evil hearts. This is why I am opposed to any form of legal actions against same-sex marriage—not because I support homosexual behavior, but because laws won’t change people. We need to preach the gospel and change lives. 

    Thanks for all your thoughts!

  • Well said Jeffrey. In many ways it is a sub-culture by definition—academically at least. Sub-cultures function within a wider culture which they pull from to create their own context and story. But Christians who create “sub-cultures” don’t see what they are doing as such. They see themselves as separate and independent—isolationism at heart. They create their own clothes, own music, movies, and everything else you could imagine. This is done, not in “reaction” (in their own mind), but as a creation of an independent context. 

    But no such independent context exists within a wider culture. And taken further back, no independent context exists at all since we learn from each other throughout human history. 

    So while in reality it is a sub-culture by definition, it is actually a pseudo-culture in the sense of what Christians claim it to be—isolated, indecent, pure, unadulterated by “evil worldly culture.” This is false. And an important one at that. 

    To go further (if you are still reading after such a long response), all religions and religious movements are broken down into some basic elements—theology, cosmology, forms, and structures. The first 2 are straight forward. Forms are the expressions of theology and cosmology—e.g.worship, prayer, etc. Structure follows the hierarchy through which people learn about theology and cosmology. 

    The important note is, NO FORMS OR STRUCTURES of an indecent nature existed in the early church—they adopted and changed these according to the culture around them and we always have. And in my view, that is a good thing as long as our theology and cosmology are not swayed to alter according to culture. 

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for clarifying, Jonathan. I think I like pseudo- over sub-culture regarding Christian isolationism. I guess my inner Bonhoeffer finds such things as both silly and troubling. I firmly believe the church should be in the world but not of it, yet we do a terrible job encouraging the artists in our midst. Many Christians expect ‘religiouos’ art to be properly sanitized but I think whitewashed is a better term. Artists should be stretching our views of God and the world not offering sugar coated rehashings of pop culture.

    One question, is a hierarchy necessary for people to learn about theology and cosmology? Also, can ‘worldview’ be used instead of  ‘cosmology’? I agree, that theology and cosmology/worldview should remain true to orthodoxy. The way you’ve expressed things here provides a nice balance between orthodoxy and orthopraxis. I believe eh Body of Christ will find many expressions depending on cultures. The issue it seems is how that expression of the Body of Christ emerges from the church.

  • Well said. The four fold division is a what all religions divide under. There will always be a structure as long as one person is teaching another or people are learning from one another. Cosmology, at its’ core, is how the God expressed by theology interacts with his creation or people/worshippers. Thanks for all your thoughts @jeffreyroop:disqus 

  • Well said. The four fold division is a what all religions divide under. There will always be a structure as long as one person is teaching another or people are learning from one another. Cosmology, at its’ core, is how the God expressed by theology interacts with his creation or people/worshippers. Thanks for all your thoughts @jeffreyroop:disqus 

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