By Douglas Webster
Christians in the state of Alabama are experiencing a painful identity crisis. Roy Moore impresses many around the country as an ideological warrior for a brand of conservative Christianity that has little to do with Jesus Christ and the New Testament. Never mind about the Sermon on the Mount, Moore flies under the banner of God, Country, and Guns.
He doesn’t want to be bothered with the Jesus way and he hasn’t grasped the fact that America is not a theocratic state under a generic God. Moore is an embarrassing anachronism that dates back to a form of cultural Christianity that cannot discern between prejudice and conviction. Indifference to what the Bible has to say coupled with ideological indoctrination cripples a Christian understanding of politics and government and distorts the witness of the church.
But if America finds Roy Moore weird and dangerous – and he is, America will find real Christians even more weird and maybe more dangerous. Christ-followers believe that they are resident aliens in their American homeland. Believers are no longer defined primarily by their ethnicity and nationality, but by the rule and reign of Christ. They are citizens of the Kingdom of heaven both now and for eternity. This new identity inevitably leads to a clash with secular and religious cultures. These chosen outsiders and resident aliens form a non-competitive holy community. Doesn’t that profile strike most Americans as weird?
Real Christians go beyond the sensible, modern wisdom that Americans call reasonable. They embrace revealed beliefs like the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation, the Atoning Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, the bodily Resurrection and the Ascension – the weird stuff. The Danish Christian thinker Søren Kierkegaard identified the great invisibles of the Christian faith as absurd: “Christianity has declared itself to be the eternal essential truth which has come into being in time. . . .It has required of the individual the inwardness of faith in relation to that which is an offense to the Jews and folly to the Greeks – and an absurdity to understanding.” Yes, this is why the world thinks Christians are weird, and who can blame them? Of course the world thinks the followers of the Son of God are strange. The gospel of Christ speaks of truths the world finds utterly inexplicable.
But the weirdness extends well beyond personal beliefs. The Christian witness reaches into the public sphere. From the beginning Christians have defended the poor, opened their homes to the stranger, sought social justice, cared for the weak, shown compassion to the needy, befriended the deviant, protected the unborn, rescued the infant, preserved the sanctity of marriage, and sought the welfare of their home culture. Under King Jesus they have practiced a kingdom ethic without imposing their will on others. But wait, it gets even more weird. Christians are committed to overcoming evil with God’s goodness. There have no devious or clever strategies to change the world. No big plan to outsmart the system. They are content to be a faithful presence in society bearing witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Christians have not been called of God to flee the world or fight the world. They have not been called to withdraw into their own tight-knit culture. They are not separatists, narrow-minded, and opinionated. They do not impress the world as hostile and rigid and angry. Their form of offense, the offense of the cross, is the most winsome and attractive offensiveness that human culture has ever known. They understand in themselves their own sinfulness and the fallen human condition. But by God’s grace they have experienced the power of God’s sacrificial love and the responsibility of the ministry of reconciliation. T. S. Eliot observed in the 1930s: “The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.”
Roy Moore’s brand of Christianity is embarrassing, weird, and offensive, and not anything like the real offense of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Douglas Webster is Professor of Pastoral Theology at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL.