My last column argued that evangelical communities in Canada are not persecuted. To say so not only mocks the actual persecution of many Christians around the world, but also pushes otherwise sympathetic people away from our concerns, and, frankly, makes us look ridiculous. The Gospel is offensive enough on its own; we don’t need to help it along by behaving foolishly ourselves!
Does that mean that the discomfort many of us now experience is based on imaginary events? Certainly not.
In his book An Anxious Age, the American public intellectual Joseph Bottum, accounts for the current cultural climate in the United States, though with obvious parallels to Canada for readers north of the border. Bottum argues that those who set the cultural agenda are re-shaping institutions according to their moral convictions—as, in fact, they have always done. What marks them out from previous generations is not their “post-Christian” cultural vision—that has been true for nearly 50 years. Rather, it is the evangelical zeal with which the vision is pursued that is different. The once muted rhetoric of the “city on a hill” is now back, but the civil Christianity from which it was originally derived is gone. Provocatively, Bottum names this group the “elect,” highlighting that in demeanour, if not in religious content, the new culture shapers are very much like their Puritan ancestors.
Francis Fukuyama, the American political scientist, has coined the term “Megalothymia,” (the compulsive need to feel morally superior to others) to label the mindset that underlies the activism. The “elect” must not only be right; they must be seen to be right. As a result, those groups or individuals perceived to be out of step are not merely mistaken, but morally suspect as well: objects first of pity, then scorn, and finally, sanction. What I called “soft discrimination” in my last column.
If Bottum and Fukuyama can help the Canadian evangelical community to get a sense of what is going on, how should we respond? I’d like to suggest a two-step approach.
First imagine the worst possible future and trust in God anyway.
Here’s how Francis Cardinal George of Chicago described such a future in 2010: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” The quote has been making the rounds following George’s death on April 17.
The Cardinal’s point was not that events will unfold this way, but that if they do, the Church will still be present, seasoning society with the Gospel, and even watering society’s soil with martyrs’ blood. Why? Because it’s Jesus’s Church. Cardinal George makes me wonder how much of our rhetoric reveals a fear for the future. How much of that fear reflects a lack of trust in God? Can we not trust, that even if the worst possible future comes to pass, God will care for his own? No matter the future, that future belongs to God.
Second, take note of the present and live faithfully and fully in it.
St. Gianna Molla put it best: “As to the past, let us entrust it to God’s mercy, the future to divine providence. Our task is to live holy in the present moment.” I understand her to say, there is no point pining for past privilege, even as there is no value in worrying for a future that belongs to God. To pine and to fret are distractions from the mission of holy living here and now. They are, in short, sins.
And if in some dystopian future whether near or far, we are called to suffer (as so many of our brothers and sisters outside North America have been and are now) hopefully, we’ll rejoice that we will have been counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the Name (Acts 5:41). Until that day . . . .