The church’s exile from mainstream culture is going to be hard, but the Bible makes it clear that she wins in the end. The gates of hell shall not prevail against her. That is the source of our hope at this time, and so it is pastorally cruel and theologically irresponsible for Christians to obscure this truth with endless complaints about “the church’s” past behavior and present inadequacies. By all means, call out the moral failings of Christians, congregations and denominations, left and right; but be specific, do so without slander and vitriol, and make a clear distinction between the church and the specific failings to which you allude in order to promote clear thinking.
In 2014, I wrote an article for First Things entitled “A Church For Exiles.” My purpose was twofold: to argue that the future status of the church in the West would be that of an exile community on the cultural margins of society; and to suggest that my own branch of Christianity, the Reformed faith, offered the best model and theology for surviving such a status.
At the time, some decried the notion of exile as defeatist, while others were irritated by what they saw as my Reformed chauvinism. To the latter, I must probably plead guilty; all I can say is that declaring my own wife to be the most beautiful woman in the world does not mean that I have insulted every other woman on the face of the planet. To the former, I note that what once appeared to be catastrophic pessimism now seems, if anything, somewhat understated. Freedom of speech and religion are now under huge pressure. Society’s moral imperatives are in seemingly constant flux and always suffused with outrage. And as our dominant cultural institutions impose new moral standards retrospectively, without a statute of limitations or any sense of punitive proportion, our situation as religious believers looks bleaker now than when I wrote the article. The institutions of cultural power are all dominated by those who despise us. We are set for internal exile.
Yet despite this forced march to the margins, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of our current situation is the endless blame game religious people are playing against themselves. Exile might be bearable if it were not proving the context for civil war. The Christian right excoriates the left as the left returns the favor, often via Twitter (that medium ideally suited for accurate representation of others and careful assessment of opposing viewpoints). David French commented on the personal attacks from the right that were a factor in Beth Moore’s exit from the SBC, while anyone who has dared to question the emerging social justice orthodoxy might well face an angry left demanding his or her firing. This is not to say that all criticism of Moore and others is illegitimate, but it is to note a rather unpleasant truth about the loudest voices in the conservative Christian world: They seem united only in their apparent belief that a posture of righteous indignation and demands for extreme sanctions against those who hold different opinions are essential parts of courageous Christian discipleship. In today’s social media Christianity, hatred is love and slander is sanctification, as Orwell might have put it.