No Place for Outsiders

Matthew Sheffield over at The American Conservative notes something very interesting about the GOP, and as it turns out, the American church of just about any political persuasion:

As conservative author Dinesh D’Souza, a Christian immigrant from India, has described it: “Whenever a Gujarati or Sikh businessman comes to a Republican event, it begins with an appeal to Jesus Christ. While the Democrats are really good at making the outsider feel at home, the Republicans make little or no effort.” That’s also true of people who do not believe in any faith.

Even if non-Christians do not take offense to being excluded, at the very least such public displays of Christian belief at ostensibly secular events certainly do not encourage them to participate or to become enthusiastic. National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg (who is Jewish by ancestry although he is non-practicing) described the phenomenon well in a 2012 column:

I’ve attended dozens of conservative events where, as the speaker, I was, in effect, the guest of honor, and yet the opening invocation made no account of the fact that the guest of honor wasn’t a Christian. I’ve never taken offense, but I can imagine how it might seem to someone who felt like he was even less a part of the club.

Sheffield notes a problem that appears to plague the GOP — that it has become the conservative churches at prayer with little room non-Christians in its midst. I would go farther and note this is a problem with virtually all American churches, conservative and progressive. They still embrace an understanding of the culture that demands church and culture work in tandem, that the culture do most of even much of the work of “catechesis” and forming believers and belongers. Nearly the whole of the culture war has, I think, been over this ground. The church — and this includes the conservative church — wants to operate from a position of power and privilege, having mobilized the culture on its behalf to do the essential work of forming people to be followers.

Followers of what, I’m not sure, since American churches have gotten the story of America mixed in with the story of Israel and the story of Christ, the promises of America mixed in with the promises of God, and have come to tell a tale of glory and power in which God and Grace are present only in mighty and powerful acts of state.

American Christians want people who have already been formed when they show up for worship. This, I think, is why the church does not know how to welcome unbelievers, non-believers, and post-beleivers into its midst. Why the church is so cold and callous toward strangers who aren’t recipients of charity. It doesn’t really know how to help people meet Jesus. It doesn’t really know how to

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19–20 ESV)

The church is slowly and inexorably becoming a minority in America. Does it become a withdrawn, frightened, angry, and resentful minority as Sheffield seems to suggest? Does it seek influence and importance only in activism and progressive politics, as too many slowly dying liberal churches are? Or does the church confidently proclaim the truth, knowing that the work of forming believers and belongers is returning to the people it has always rightfully belonged to — the church itself? A generation will likely have to pass away before the church in this country can stand on its feet with some confidence that it proclaims a truth dependent neither on political success or social acceptance.

I’m occasionally asked what being Muslim in America gave me, and the answer has always been (more or less) clear — I was a member of a religious minority that could not rely on a sympathetic culture to teach and reinforce what we taught ourselves and our children at all the mosques where I worshiped. I knew Muslim immigrants who feared and resented what that meant for their children’s faith (I appreciate the concerns of religion conservatives), but we had no choice and had to forge ahead anyway. To live and worship openly knowing our neighbors feared and mistrusted us and that the culture worked against us.

And to be glad about that. Because we were being God’s faithful people.

Christians in America need that kind of courage. A confident, relatively cheerful courage that doesn’t panic when Starbucks changes its cup designs. And too many don’t seem to have it.

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