A few years ago, at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, I had the chance to interview Marilynne Robinson. The novelist had recently ascended to national prominence for her novel Gilead and for winning the Pulitzer Prize for literature. What had she learned, I asked, from her sudden celebrity—the packed lecture halls, the awards and celebrations?
She replied, “America is much better than what you see on TV.”
Robinson went on to describe how she had met Americans in every town who were committed to civil engagement and brought to it intelligence and heart. You could watch a lot of television and not know this America exists, she said. But fame, at least her particular kind of fame, had showed her that it is still alive and well.
I have a similar feeling about the church in America—although in addition to TV, I am tempted to say, “The church is better than what you see on social media.” I would be depressed indeed if I relied on the mediated versions of Christians I encounter across the country—all too often fragile, fearful, and fractious, represented by leaders who seem to specialize in bombast and self-promotion.
But something better is going on in the church than our fast-twitch reactions show. Everywhere I go, I am privileged to encounter uncommon honesty, creativity, and curiosity in Christian communities. And very often, these communities model qualities that are deeper and more important, like holiness, faith, and love. Even more encouraging, I encounter them not just in one generation, denomination, or racial or ethnic community, but in expressions of the church across all those lines.
As Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner observe in the cover story—and as Rod Dreher and other leaders flesh out in responses to it—we are facing far-reaching transitions in American life. Not just in the public role of Christian faith, but in our country’s cultural diversity, the structure of our economy, and our deeply divided politics. Any church in a country changing this rapidly is going to change profoundly as well. It would be easy—if your vision were confined to the tiny portal afforded by even the fastest Internet connection—to give in to fear.
But take heart. Every week I get to meet, talk, pray and worship with Christians who will live and lead through all the coming changes. And I get to read essays as varied as hip-hop artist Tedashii’s testimony and Douglas Groothuis’s moving meditation on his wife’s "life sentence." CT wouldn’t be serious about journalism if we didn’t cover the shallows and shadows of our cultural moment. But I hope this issue also shows you why, on so many days, our work produces hope.
Follow Andy Crouch on Twitter @ahc
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