In times of crisis, this nation has always turned to religious leaders for help in order to understand why, as well as for comfort and healing. In a piece for the Portland Press Herald, following the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., the executive director for the Maine Council of Churches, Jill Saxby, described this role of the clergy saying, “Churches have always stood ready to help the faithful understand the complexities of having to carry on after the devastation.”
Saxby went on to say that during these times religious leaders often write sermons “with a newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other.”
I heartily agree that overall this nation’s religious leaders do a wonderful job with “aftermaths.” But if we examine the many faces of evil, I question whether many in the clergy haven’t shied away from preemptive discussions on the subject.
As a kid and a regular church attendee at the behest of my parents, I heard sermon after sermon of the wrongful behaviors that would earn you a place in Hell’s inferno. I grew up believing that Satan was a real presence in the world and that an omnipresent God knew of every temptation you succumbed to. It was a Christian world I grew up in, and perhaps it was a bit heavy on the Hellfire and brimstone, but tolerance of peoples was expected of you, tolerance of behaviors was not.
It seems in these times of political correctness that such directness in talking about evil is often avoided. Certainly, the ability to draw new attendees as well as keeping old ones from leaving a congregation has always held sway over determining the message that’s given. It is perhaps arguable that those decades of unwavering attacks by the mainstream secularist media has impacted the way Christianity has been viewed by the masses. In the neverending and costly litigation brought on by the ACLU against public religious messages and symbols, it may no longer be fashionable to be a believer. It is better to keep your views hidden so as not to offend or draw attention.
Such attitudes remind me of the story of when the Communists were purging Mother Russia of its religious heritage, a Russian poet famously commented, “You can pray freely, but just so God can hear.”
The response by many churches so as not to offend is to keep the message rosy by delivering the Good News.” Or perhaps in a more cynical phrase, “Don’t worry, be happy.”
Don’t get me wrong, I certainly understand the importance of the Good News offered by the teachings of the New Testament, but I also believe that Christian teachings must be adapted and offered so as to prepare individuals to see evil for whatever guise it chooses to hide behind. Particularly, this is needed by our young.
America’s children are exposed daily to issues and beliefs that are immoral and dangerous, although they are packaged by distributors to be vogue. Whether those issued have to do New-Age beliefs, sexual attitudes, school violence, dealing with conflict, views on criminal behavior or the roles of the believer in a modern world, I have found that far too many are woefully unprepared to take an intellectual as well as a spiritual stand for what it is they believe in. In fact, I’ve learned that far too many young people don’t know what exactly it is they do believe in. Without this, how then do we expect them to discern the basics of evil?
It is not a matter of how they judge others, but more of developing within them a strong foundation in making decisions and choices.
Although there are many within the ranks of our religious leaders, who do keep abreast of the issues of the day and are very effective when addressing the faces of evil, many others either refuse to update or educate themselves to the ways of the world and thus remain content to see the congregation smiling though unchallenged and unprepared for what preys outside the church doors.
Others hide behind the premise that religion should not become involved in politics. But what if evil is spread by offering a message of acceptability through political means? Take for instance the states that have legalized drugs. Have our religious leaders become so intimidated by what is projected to be popular opinion so as to not openly take stands against a vice that destroys so many young lives? Can they deliver a message that is both understood and accepted by an adolescent? Is any political issue worth talking about?
Certainly the Catholic Church believes so in standing up to the current administration in forcing hospitals to drop their polices against abortion.
I believe there is an injustice when we talk only about God in heaven, and not enough about God on earth. I believe that it is vital that our religious institutions put the issues out there on the table, at least for intellectual discussion and in a pertinent manner so that parishioners can see what form evil takes.
Our modern American culture has in many ways succeeded in pushing against Christianity and other mainstream faiths in order to make them irrelevant. It is time that faith becomes relevant again. For the sake of our souls, as well as our nation.