The Way (We Wish) Things Were
The Barna Group is a well-known polling organization that focuses on Christian issues, sort of like the Gallup of the faithful. I’ve followed their polls and pronouncements for a long time now and I’ve come to see that they serve a useful purpose. My theory is that if you ever get to the point where you are feeling a little too optimistic about things pertaining to the faith; a little too cheerful that all is going well, all you have to do is check the results of their research and they will gladly bring you down to earth. So much of their data seems to be, well, depressing.
I recently read a poll of evangelicals that Barna has published. It turns out that we are strongly convinced that there is a concerted effort by, well, I am not sure who it is by but the media and Obama are in on it, to eliminate religious expression in the public square. There are whole organizations on “our side” devoted to exposing and challenging this menacing attack on freedom of religion. Fox News has an annual feature called “The War on Christmas” where they scour the country to find examples of this war. So, yes, it seems we all are sure our religious freedom is being attacked.
However, in the same poll, most evangelicals also want Judeo-Christian beliefs to be the dominant, or even the sole, religious beliefs to be expressed. While we are comfortable with Catholic or Jewish beliefs being out there we sure don’t want any other beliefs expressed.
The net effect of these twin beliefs is that we are outraged if the prayer before the high school football game is challenged and equally outraged if someone allows a Muslim prayer before the game. Dave Kinnamon, President of the Barna Group, puts his finger on the problem. We have “a double standard” he says. We “cannot have it both ways.” We can’t insist that our beliefs are out there but that no others are. He says that, in a changing America, we will have to accommodate a plurality of views. “This does not mean putting Judeo-Christian values aside, but it will require a renegotiation of those values in the public square as America increasingly becomes a multi-faith nation.” concludes Kinnamon.
In short, we are lobbying for the way we wish things were. This is a natural feeling. All people, without exception, strive to live in a world that suits them. The tensions we feel in a public expression of faith is simply the result of that reality. They key however is to not see it as a “war” but as the natural bumps and bruises of a free, and changing, society.
I have no quarrel with the idea that we can lobby that our views get free expression in the land. If organizations want to do that, fine. I just ask that we not cross the bridge into double standard territory; that we not insist that only our views be expressed out there. The details of how we should express our views in the public sector are not easy but it does seem to me that dropping “war” language is a pretty good idea.
At the end of the day there are only two things I am sure about on this subject. One is that winning people to faith in Christ by the tough and demanding one-at-a-time method is the only sure way to produce results where our faith is more widely expressed. The other is that bringing people closer to the Kingdom of God; being and helping others to be more like Jesus, is more important than talk of war.