There are two issues to consider here. One, of course, is whether the Tar Heel State was somehow excluded from the 21st century and is still living in the 1950s while most of the rest of the country occupies 2012. Other recent headlines and events emanating from there seem to reinforce the possibility. The church whose pastor is responsible for these hateful (if barely intelligible) remarks is located less than 40 miles from Charlotte, the state's largest city. Sad — and scary.
The other issue at play is the poisonous effect that religion can have on a society. A few months ago, I tried (with very limited success) to articulate this in another blog post, borrowing the agnostic concept that there is a difference between belief and truth.
Let me be clear on a few things. First, I'm not agnostic — that should be clear from the posts I've written about faith — and I disagree with the premise that the existence of God is unknowable. Indeed, it can't be proved strictly using tangibles or scientific process, but neither can all kinds of phenomena in this world.
If that's true, however, then faith in an all-powerful, all-knowing deity who exists outside the boundaries of our physical or intellectual perception must involve more than just canned, unequivocal, indisputable, black-and-white answers to our deepest, toughest, most nagging questions about faith, morality, spirituality, and life in general.
There must be room for questions, doubt, exploration, dialogue, and personal journey — particularly in areas where the answer isn't simply known, and where different people believe different things.
That's where mainstream Christianity, and religion in general, can fail miserably — and where it loses a lot of people, particularly within my generation.
Blogger Rachel Held Evans does a great job of articulating this point, often arguing that this generation is "tired of the culture wars" being fought by Christians. I agree with her wholeheartedly. We are. Watching them over and over again makes my soul heavy. But they won't stop anytime soon, and there are two primary reasons for that:
- It's easy (and often gratifying, at least temporarily) to wage such a war in order to cast one "side" as righteous or blameless, and others as depraved or immoral. (I think this is precisely what Jesus was referring to in verses like this one, or these ones.) This is a great distraction, and it helps religious leaders project their own sins, flaws, and inadequacies onto others while building the sense of power and influence that human nature often craves.
- It's much harder to help guide hurting people in a messed-up, confusing world to the embrace of a loving, healing, merciful God — especially when these people have serious questions that you can't answer or explain satisfactorily, and especially when you're just as broken as they are.
Regardless, battles like these won't stop as long as we view religion as nothing more than a personal code of conduct — or a way to reduce difficult, complex issues to right-wrong, true-false, good-evil dichotomies that are used to judge, stigmatize, or enhance personal agendas.
People seek out faith and spirituality as a way of finding deeper meaning and hope in a life that can seem unforgiving. As Christians, we should help them do that instead of telling them they're wrong just because they're different. In many cases, that may be exactly what they're already hearing from the world. They don't need to hear it from members of a faith that's supposed to be centered on love, compassion, and humility.
That's what plants the seeds of these culture wars, which ultimately benefit no one at all, particularly the individuals and groups who wage them.