It occurs to me that a very interesting phenomenon has risen out of this. It is not new or unique (something like it has happened before in Great Britain), but it is a fairly new and unique way of understanding the divide within so many Christian churches in the US.
Most of my thoughts on this are based on observances. So I have to recognize that I am speaking primarily about the experience of white Americans. That is not to say this isn't also true of other races, it is just saying it is the one with which I am most familiar and therefore the primary source of my observation.
The observation is this: many white Americans, seem to be filling in the gap of our lack of a sense of heritage with Christianity and it is not only dangerous but it stands over and against what Jesus and then Paul told us that this movement, the following of The Way, was about.
Much like our religious relatives who actually have a Jewish heritage, there has been a silent claiming of the "heritage" of Christianity. The way this Christian heritage is practiced is, obviously, heavily weighted toward practices of heritage rather than practices of faith. That is to say, like some “non-practicing” Jews who still observe certain rituals for the sake of remembering their heritage and passing it on to the next generation, Christianity has an abundance of “non-practicing” Christians who still observe certain rituals for the sake of remembering their “heritage” and passing it on. The difference is non-practicing Christians do not recognize that they are passing on the heritage and not-so-much the faith.
One of the most regular rituals is the preparation for (including dressing up) and attendance of church on Sunday morning. The unbending steadfastness of many Christian to allow for more casual dress, a change in worship style, or time of worship, while passed off as a concern for respectfulness, appropriateness and respectability from a religiously pious point of view has much more to do with upholding their perceived heritage than it does with any biblically based concern. The same seems to be true for many of the other places of resistance to change in the church.
That is where those who are advocates for the change and those who are advocates for maintaining their perceived heritage meet an impasse. We each assume the other is there for the same reason we are (to maintain Christian heritage / to peruse biblical mandates). Because of this miscue, we find ourselves frequently at impasses that, without recognition of the difference, will not reach a lasting resolution if they achieve a resolution at all. Additionally, the relationship is complicated by the issues of American exceptionalism which is so frequently bound tightly to Christian heritage, the biblical issues of Christianity being a “heritage,” and the belief of both sides that they are the ones who are honoring the religion. (All three are likely to be future articles).
Now for the part that many people are not going to like. I am not putting forth the idea that recognition of this reality (at least as I see it), will solve the impasse or provide for a path forward together - quite the opposite really. I believe that recognition of this divide will be exactly that- a recognition of a divide. Theses two understandings of what it means to be Christian are not compatible and, as sad as it is, make it not only constantly contentious to move forward together, but also illogical.
My sermon for this Sunday is helpful in understanding this (as a matter of fact, this article may become part of the message). I'm looking at Micah, where the prophet says, "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and walk humbly with your God?” Those who practice Christianity mostly as a heritage will see those things as requests (if not “nice things to say, but a naive way of living”) and those who practice it as a religion will see it as exactly what the prophet calls it - a requirement.
Followers of The Way, of the teachings of Jesus, will never settle on ritual repetition for the sake of heritage... because Jesus didn't either. The Church, as the body of Christ, must never allow itself to become a cultural heritage club, for when we do, we displace the centrality of the brother and sisterhood of all humanity with the exceptionalism and assumed privilege of a select group of people... and that's just not the way of Christ.
Part 2: Christian 'Heritage' and American Exceptionalism