Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Christian Culture

What is it? Does it separate Christians from those around them? Is it necessary to learn the lingo, the vocabulary of Christianese in order to be identified with the group? Is it unnecessarily alienating to those outside (and even those inside)?

Consider the following accounts (all real encounters).

1. A Christian teen on a bus equates homosexuality to adults having sex with children. He reasons: "If it could be shown that there was no damaging effect on the child, what would prevent society from ruling that sex with children ought to be legal?" The kids on the bus who were not from a conservative evangelical background responded: "Kids can't consent to sex. Minors are protected by the law. And what's that got to do with being gay?" The Christian responds: "The Bible is clear. Homosexuality is wrong just like sex with minors. We have to obey the Bible." Who is the "we" in this statement?

2. A Christian college student explained that she and her roommate had prayed for the last year that non-Christian students would feel welcome in their dorm room. When two non-Christian boys spent an evening with them in that dorm room, they considered it a triumph of faith. You have to wonder: why would two attractive, nice college girls feel concerned that guys in their dorm wouldn't want to spend time with them? What is it about being a Christian that even Christians know they are naturally alienating and need special help from God to simply "hang out" with other people who aren't Christians? Do non-Christian kids worry about whether or not other dorm-mates will feel comfortable with them?

3. One high school group in a church I know has divided into the homeschooled and the public schooled. Kids who are in the homeschooled group are the ones who go to the mall on the weekends sharing the 4 Spiritual Laws. The public schooled kids are playing sports (and therefore seen as less committed). Even among pastors, there is division based on home educated versus public schooled. Should teen activities be ranked according to devotion to the faith? Do kids pick up parental values and then use them to rank themselves among themselves?

4. Why are high school students and college kids pushed into leadership positions? I remember in college I had barely converted to the faith and was already "discipling" two new Christians. I knew little more than they did about the Bible, yet it was considered necessary to my growth to lead right away. I actually taught what would have been heresy according to Campus Crusade had they paid attention to my Bible reading so new was I to the faith. Worse, so many kids are measured according to their "leadership" qualities. Why? What is this drive to be sure "everyone is a leader" of someone else?

I know one wonderful 20-something kid who is literally burning himself out with worry over his Bible study group. There are cliques, there is competition, there are those who turn prayer request hour into therapy sessions. You have to wonder: would life be easier on some level if everyone chilled out at Buffalo Wild Wings and watched sports over beer? Why create relational stress in your life for the sake of "leading"?

5. Barna shows that this next generation is unimpressed with the baggage associated with the terms Christian and evangelical. Some people have opted to call themselves "Jesus Followers." Does changing the name make any difference? One of the criticisms is that this cadre of Christians is known more for what they oppose than what they are for. How do Christians reverse that trend and get known for what they are for?


carrie said...

Vocabulary is identity. Lingo, as you put it, is what binds any group together. Learn the vocabulary and a lot of the mystery becomes comprehensible. You've sat in listening to gamers talk, or computer geeks, or biologists, or whatever the "group" is, religious, political, recreational, occupational. The lingo is pervasive and specific. I don't think that can be avoided.

I can't relate to any of the examples you gave in the post. We are not experiencing any of this in our church or home. I've had some problems in the past with rigid, legalistic "Christians" but I expect that happens in any walk of life. I do know people around here who judge you on whether or not you bake your own bread, recycle, compost, or buy organic. Extreme examples of group identity and behavior pop up everywhere.

r. michael said...

I have always been bothered by the "us" versus "them" mentality I find in christian circles. When Paul said to be in the world but not of it I don't think he meant that christians should develop their own subculture...with its own language and codes. For me a better way to view folks is on a continuum...the SAME continuum. While I might do better (or worse) than some in a particular area I don't see myself as fundamentally different.

this gets to my other annoyance which is not peculiar to Christians but to people in general....we attach labels to people for the purpose of relegating to the unimportant or inconsequential. christians do this under the banner of spirituality which annoys me even more (e.g. "please pray for my unbelieving spouse") as if the unbelief was the primary concern of the spouse being prayed for.

carrie said...

Further thoughts- I'm seeing in some homeschooling and evangelical circles (and other places as well) the emphasis on appearances over substance. This doesn't just affect how these people relate to those they see as non-Christians. It also affects how they relate to other Christians they see as measuring up to the external standards. Of course, I probably do it, too, so I shouldn't throw to many stones here.

There is a lot of pressure to be a certain way, dress a certain way, to act spiritually, to speak with a certain "elevated" language (maybe this is what you're talking about) about your life, and to have the same priorities. I guess this is like your example of homeschooled kids hanging out at the mall giving out tracts. That is somehow more mature and spiritual than hanging out and playing football.

Thankfully, my kids' church doesn't operate that way, so it isn't an issue. The homeschooled, private schooled, and public schooled kids all hang together. One of the reasons my son felt comfortable to go to school this year was because he already knew several kids at his school from church.

I have a friend whose well-groomed, polite (to all outside adults) 16 yr old was charged with two counts of arson for setting fires at his house. The appearances were masking a lot of anger.

As for the two Christian girls wanting people to feel comfortable hanging out in their dorm room- no matter whose to blame, Christians on many college campuses are shunned by other students. They are thought of as narrow-minded bigots right from the start. So some judging on "appearances" is happening on all sides of the aisle. Deservedly or not, Christians have been vilified in media, and my kids' Christian friends at university say it's an uphill battle to be accepted once someone finds out you are a believer. Professors can be even worse than fellow students. So wondering if you'll be accepted without hiding that you're a Christian wasn't such a stretch for the two young ladies.

Drew said...

Hi...cruising through the blogosphere and this struck a familiar nerve with me.

I would consider myself a lapsed (big time) fundamentalist who was in the charismatic prayer groups in college and so forth and the stress of maintaining order and piety in an effort to confirm to the social network (the cultus) is sooo intense and exhausting. It is like listening to someone speak when you are just hearing your next response in your mind. You cannot possibly listen to that person very well because you are imposing your own values assumptions and will on what that person is saying before they are even finished.

Likewise when one's attention is so centered on the self's fulfillment of piety, it makes actual love of neighbor difficult to do.

Paul was clear that the law condemns and Christ liberates us from it. It is so clear in Romans and Galatians, yet I did not see it there until years later when I actually allowed the text to speak to me rather than find my own voice echoing through it. Amazing that when I stopped looking for my self in things and let the things exist on their own, that I truly felt liberated and free to love. Truly then, this is what is meant by when you lose yourself, you will find yourself.

I will continue to read your blog.. Cheers!

Kansas Bob said...

I am not a psychologist Julie, but most of the behavior that you described seems to have roots in self-issues.. like insecurity, people pleasing and a lack of confidence. I can relate to struggling with these issues in my fundamentalist years.

I think that the authoritarian structure of evangelicalism (fundamentalism for sure) creates an atmosphere where repentance is king.. unfortunately people are often encouraged to repent of non-sin behaviors because of the insecurities of those in authority.

I think that it is sad when our self-issues translate to judgmentalism.. it is even sadder when they are transferred to our children.

I liked what Carrie said.. bad attitudes and behaviors are bred in all kinds of groups.. we just see the Evangelicl flavor because it is in our face so much of the time.

Anonymous said...

<<< would life be easier on some level if everyone chilled out at Buffalo Wild Wings and watched sports over beer? >>>


Hmmm, is that shallow or not? :-)

Anonymous said...

Where do you get your energy and time. You put so much energy and time into judging "Christians" that it makes me wonder what your motive is. Why is this such a passion for you. We as humans have our own believes, likes and dislikes. Why is it that it is ok for you to group people, but wrong for others. I would really like to understand your agenda, because it is very apparent that you have one. Why else would you spend so much time trying to show the "evils of christians"
You are a true puzzle.

julieunplugged said...

And you are anonymous: Why is this such a passion for you.

I do more than show evils of Christians. In fact, if you read my blog regularly, you'll know that I mostly write about other ways to see Christianity than the one I lived as an evangelical.

I mostly write to process things that have direct impact on me, my family and my community. I have been a part of the Christian world for my entire adult life and got my degree in theology. It is actually a love of mine. My readers (few though they are) are in various stages of redefining their relationship to Christianity (some in recovery from it). It often helps to have a place to process those feelings and thoughts.

...just like Christians have places to help them process how they feel about the left, atheists, democrats, gays, and how they are misrepresented in blogs by people like me. :P

So if the "agenda" I have doesn't fit you, click exit. You don't have to read.

julieunplugged said...

Drew, I just wanted to say that when I read this: It is like listening to someone speak when you are just hearing your next response in your mind. You cannot possibly listen to that person very well because you are imposing your own values assumptions and will on what that person is saying before they are even finished. yesterday, I thought it was so well-expressed. Exactly true.

Maria said...

Some people have opted to call themselves "Jesus Followers." Does changing the name make any difference?

Not by itself. The thinking about what it means to be a Christian or follow Jesus has to change. Part of learning a new language is learning a new way of thinking (and acting) that goes along with the new lingo. Unfortunately, most insider-language in evangelical circles has devolved to uncritical us-them mentality. Part of what's needed is new language that will help us think more clearly about what it means to love someone, to take one example of something pretty "fundamental" to the faith (getting in their face and condemning them might not be one's first choice). I appreciate the way you ask these questions, Julie. You're part of the process for me, at least.

Anonymous said...

I would like to apologize. I was out of line and it was mean. I reacted to what you wrote with out thinking it through. I spoke as if I knew your motives and they were not good. That was very arrogant of me to assume I knew your heart. I think we assume another person’s heart is hard or mean if we do not agree with them. An old Rabbi once said “Do not judge others until you stand in their place.” I will try to remember what it says in Proverbs, “A gentle response dissipates wrath, A harsh word provokes anger……A healing tongue is a tree of life.”

Steve said...

Well. Like Kansas Bob, I too am not a therapist, but do I get credit for spending lots of hours actually getting therapy? Ha!

Anyway. Your stories you seem to point out the weakest, most imbalanced segments of evangelical faith. We both have spent time in those places, perhaps you more than me.

I am wondering here, (and you know I love you much)whether you have had a good chance to process all this conservative church junk you have endured. And you really have endured a lot. Lots. It went on for years. Phew!

As I reflect on what you said, I am wondering again about fear. See:
for my reflections on this topic. Not your fear, you are rather fearless; but the fear of these Christian folk you have encountered. That fear stinks.

Really, in the end, its about something else, not the fear. Its about the character and nature of God; the Incarnate God, not all the failed, messy, fearfull, weird, (and some healthy) self obsessed people that try to follow Him.

Do I make any sense?

Jeff said...

nice. thoughtful and seemingly honest.
was a joy to read here, would like to return.