Page 29. While discussing the problems of the "modern" church, Smith says:
Within the matrix of the modern Christianity, the base "ingredient" is the individual; the church, then is simply a collection of individuals. Conceiving of Christian faith as a private affair between the individual and God--a matter of my asking Jesus to "come into my heart"--modern evangelicalism finds it hard to articulate just how or why the church has any role to play other than providing a place to fellowship with other individuals who have a private relationship with God. With this model in place, what matters is Christianity as a system of truth or ideas, not the church as a living community embodying its head. Modern Christianity tends to think of the church either as a place where individuals come to find answers to their questions or as one more stop where individuals can try to satisfy their consumerist desires."
Perhaps it is this obsession with the individual which holds us back? I am not completely sure how to connect all the dots, but this consumerist tendency that is now central to the church as well, certainly keeps us from addressing larger social and moral issues. I know a lot of Christians who do a lot of "good" in their community. They feed the hungry and donate money and clothes to the poor. They are concerned to help their neighbor during a crisis, and might be some of the first to stop and help someone clearly in need.
Yet, those same Christians, in my opinion, often vote in ways that actually perpetuates some of the social ills. I am sure they would dispute this, but it seems inconceivable to me that Republican tax and economic policies are congruent with their heart for helping people in need. Not that Democrats offer some magic solution, mind you, but voting for tax cuts and a system that rewards wealth and opposes health care for the middle and lower classes seems contradictory.
I think one of the key issues might be individualism and the ability for so many to compartmentalize their lives from that broader context. Individualism, after all, is the rallying cry for the GOP. Moral issues become mostly sexual or drug and alcohol use--economic choices and systemic problems are just "policy." When faced with a person lacking an individual meal, they respond. When faced with a system that rewards corporations who exploit those in need--they are unsure what to do. Compassion, then, competes with the cold, hard, capitalist ethos. Hungry, and I will feed you. But if you are harmed by policies that help me, I will do little. Or perhaps more accurately, I don't know how to do anything because it means asking questions about how I have what I have, and how I live my life.
Bono, in the endorsement for Jim Wallis' new book says:
I had always been skeptical of the church of personal peace and prosperity ... of righteous people standing in a holy huddle while the world rages outside the stained glass.Bono and Wallis think the tide is changing. I hope they are right.
Opening my Sojourners and I see a review of The Missing Class which explores those who are
the “near poor” or “missing class”—households that fall between the stable middle class and the impoverished. Their household incomes range from $20,000 to $40,000.
Our “missing class” neighbors don’t qualify for, in the words of Newman and Chen, the “dwindling government-provided benefits for the truly poor,” such as public day care, Medicaid, and welfare. But they also lack the means to afford their own quality child care and services. They may have higher incomes, but the stability of homeownership and significant savings eludes them. Those with health insurance are “weakly insured” and have inferior health options. While they may not receive direct subsidies, their security is woven closely to the quality of government spending and institutions—human services, neighborhood schools, libraries, policing, and economic development."
Where is the church discussion about these "near poor?" Where is the framework to talk about how individuals work their asses off and lose ground in a system that values and rewards individualism? How do we have a discussion about the contradictions between a belief system that says we are all equal because of what God thinks of us and an economic system that pits us against each other?
I think the church, as a community, can do much on this and other issues. But it will require a sea change to do so.