The world is populated with people who have all kinds of opinions. This makes for a very messy planet, as 7 billion individuals wander around with their own thoughts and opinions. While many of these 7 billion live in conditions that restrict what they can say, we live in a country that has this thing called freedom of speech. This freedom is like a two-sided sword that cuts both ways as a person or organization can say what they want, but also have to bear a contrary opinion. It is with this thought that one of the latest articles from Pastor Rick Grover of 91st Street Christian Church caught my attention. In this article, he claims American society has a growing hostility towards religious based values. Even though he states this, and continues with this theme, he also mentions not being concerned about people having differing values than he does. These two sentences are in strange opposition to each other, a contradiction that is evident through the remainder of the article.
The hostility he mentions is actually a challenge to the long-standing hold that Christianity has had in the United States. This challenge at times can be hostile, with ugly words said by all sides. For centuries, religious institutions in this country have been a major force for good and bad. These institutions have enjoyed centuries of unchallenged influence over all manners of our society; tax laws, politics, education, and so on. Now this influence is being openly questioned and must look hostile to those who believe theirs is the undeniable truth.
According to the article, part of what made him upset was seeing an advertisement for the Liberace biography that is playing on HBO. This led to a thought he had about the controversy that would follow if they instead advertised a show about a married couple that finds love and salvation in Jesus Christ. The conclusion of this observation was the common complaint about the secular media forcing their secular views upon us. The problem with this conclusion is that the Pastor does not understand what the business of popular media is about. The Christ loving family story would be boring. By contrast, Liberace was a fascinating character. He was a master musician and showman. He was flamboyant, but still felt necessary to deny his homosexuality even though looking back, how could there be any doubt. Those who make this “media is the enemy” accusation fail to understand that the media is about making money. If they could sell the Jesus family story and make a profit, they would and in the past have. Someone figured out that the Liberace story was a profitable venture and moved forward on production. For sure, in many cases I agree with Pastor Rick. I am amazed at how infantile and stupid some shows and movies are. One has to keep in mind though that the media only gives us what we ask for or they go out of business, so the righteous finger needs to point in a different direction. Besides, they have the freedom of speech as much as anybody does.
The message that Pastor Rick tries to convey about not being concerned with differing values is not supported by the content of his words.
We are FOR world peace that ultimately comes as people live in community through the Prince of Peace. We are FOR our planet and desire to be good stewards of God’s wonderful creation. We are FOR Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, atheists, and anyone else who disagrees with us, that we will all respect one another and discover ultimate Truth, which we believe is found in Jesus Christ. We are FOR marriage as a gift from God between a man and a woman. We are FOR singles that they will discover fullness of life in Jesus and not a spouse.
In summary, We are FOR anything as long as if follows the Christian path. The initial wish that all the religious and non-religions can respect one another is good, but is confounded by “Ultimate Truth” and “we believe is found in Jesus Christ.” This article tries to walk this strange line between presenting how open minded this organization is, while trumpeting a single belief system. Much of my problem with many religious belief systems is the built in tension it causes between people, since to accept another’s belief as valid as your own calls yours into question.
Organized religion’s present battle has to do with the constant drumbeat of exclusion. The Pastor is right in that a very vocal faction of the Church is obsessed with saying what they are against, rather than what they are for. The fact there is a show about Liberace breaks no law that I know of. The Pastor’s attempt at inclusiveness would have been supported if he had actually watched the show and then provided a critique. Instead, he makes a pointed remark about not watching it. What is left unsaid is why he did not. People can draw their own conclusions why, but his decided refusal does not demonstrate the gracious approach he espouses. To be honest, I do not believe religious people as a whole are ignorant and bigoted as most know they have to be respectful towards all kinds. However, if the church leaders are sincere in retaining relevancy in society, they have to understand that opinions like those in the Pastor’s article are not helping their cause.