The paradoxical pairing of nostalgia and forgetfulness are everywhere in today’s American culture: Trump supporters who want to “make America great again,” one shocking @realDonaldTrump tweet at a time; hipsters who want grandpa’s vintage manliness without his Eisenhower-era values; movie fans who love period films but can’t remember the best-picture winner from last year.
Then there’s this particularly widespread memory lapse: We say we want a good society with morally upright citizens, but we forget the significant role Christians play, and have played for millennia, in the world’s flourishing. It’s something Christians themselves are forgetting. Many are increasingly embarrassed, self-loathing, and viciously infighting. At times, they’re more vocal on blogs and Twitter about the alleged good-for-nothing horribleness of Christians than the most ardent atheist.
Today’s religious freedom debates exemplify this amnesia about Christianity’s contributions to the common good. In the balancing act between LGBT protections and free exercise protections for religious businesses and institutions, federal and state governments seem poised to dispense with the latter for the sake of the former. This summer California debated a controversial proposed law (SB 1146) that threatened to drastically narrow religious protections for the state’s Christian colleges and universities, subjecting religious schools to lawsuits and loss of state financial aid for their students if they continued enforcing admissions, housing, hiring, and other policies based on their traditional beliefs about sexuality and gender. Due to an unprecedented public outcry, including from African American and Catholic church leaders, lawmakers eventually amended SB 1146 to remove its most controversial portions. For Christian colleges across America, though, the bill served as an ominous sign of things to come.
The prospect of Christian colleges and universities being legislated into secular existence has been met with a collective shrug by mainstream American culture. Never mind that universities were invented by Christians. Never mind that each year, Christian colleges and universities graduate thousands of men and women who are motivated by the ethics of Jesus to serve others. Never mind that, as scholars Robert Putnam and David Campbell point out in American Grace, “By many different measures religiously observant Americans are better neighbors and better citizens than secular Americans.”
Never mind all that. Christians are discriminatory, dumb, and dangerous, and society is better off without them.
The ‘Recipe’ for Good Faith
When that is the prevailing mentality, what are faithful Christians to do? How should believers understand their identity and purpose in a society that increasingly lumps them in with the KKK?
This is a question taken up by Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman in Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme. Like unChristian, the book Lyons and Kinnaman co-authored nearly a decade ago, Good Faith mines Barna Group data in an insightful survey of the changing landscape of faith and American culture. Both books analyze societal perceptions of Christianity, but where unChristian’s word to Christians was “make these changes and society will have a better view of you,” Good Faith’s is more, “society may never have a good view of you, but be good for society anyway.”