The Church of What’s Next

The social justice churn and rhetoric that I read on Facebook and Twitter remind me of the 1970s and 80s. Nothing is new except the catchphrases: then, racial prejudice; now, whiteness. Then: sex discrimination; now, LGBTQIA rights. I can name activists, now quiescent, who were once as fiery as the ones I read online today. I can hear their voices in my memory.

Every activist post, every tweet, is amen’d by a crowd of sympathizers, who chime in with their own tales. They express jubilation, sometimes, and sometimes frustration and pain, over the suffering, dwindling mainline churches — and fury at those churches’ inability to lead nobly enough, and effectively enough, to eliminate sinfulness in their members and in their structures. Only some sinfulness, you understand, the kinds that the activists themselves are targeting.

But the driving out of all sinful attitude and action was never going to be possible, and it won’t be possible in whatever movements and initiatives come next, no matter how many times the word revolutionary is slapped over banners and titles, trumpeted in speeches and sermons, and parroted in a never-ending stream of social media output.

Be careful what you jeer at. What will you do when it’s gone? Will you find that some detested church had a greater stabilizing influence than you realized, that its governance was the product of greater wisdom and humility than you’d recognized?

When I was a teenager, a pretend hippie in the 1970s, living in comfort and safety in my parents’ house, I made fun of the nuclear family, Mom-and-Dad-and-2.5-picture-perfect-children and the house and yard, saying those words in an adolescent sing-song.

“We grew up during the war,” my mother said. “You realize how important things are when you know you may not be able to have them.”

World War II, she meant.

At another time she told me, “There were two things everyone looked at in the paper, but no one talked about. The map of the front, and the list of casualties.”

That was her adolescence.

O activists of the 2020s, do you think you will eliminate sinfulness when no one before you has been able to? Do you think that, if you succeed in building a new movement, ego and power hunger will not arise among your peers? Do you think you will not succumb to temptations?

I think that, if you achieve any power and influence, over time your movement and organization will fill up with the currents and distractions of ego, greed, vanity, attention-seeking, and power hunger, and an In Group and Out Group mentality will arise in which some, even many, of your leaders and rising stars will know exactly what arrogance they can express, what people they can target for ridicule, what age-old prejudices they can indulge among themselves. Maybe they’ll try to hide it all from you, and maybe you’ll be fool enough to miss it, or maybe you’ll know perfectly well what has happened.

Maybe you’ll try to preserve and strengthen the movement you created, because you believe it does more good than harm, even with its many faults. Maybe you will hope that future leaders will keep steering it in the right direction, despite all the counterforces that undermine it from without and within.

If you do, you will have a church like all the ones that came before you.

The evil you resist: where does it reside?

Are you sure?

February 3, 2021 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths

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