In the early history of the Christian Church, heresies were a major concern. When a person or group strayed from what the church determined to be the orthodox Way, they were branded heretics. Being so branded could be dangerous—it could cost you your life!
In today’s society heresies are no big deal, and certainly not life-threatening. At most people may be branded as “wrong-headed, wrong-thinking”—–misinformed but tolerated. At worst persons may be expelled from some churches.
Some call this change “tolerance”. On the one hand, tolerance is a good thing, in that we no longer “burn at the stake” those who differ from us religiously. On the other hand, much of what we call “tolerance”, I am afraid, is better named “apathy” or “indifference”.
In my opinion, apathy is one of the greatest problems the Church has today. Not only are non-Christians apathetic toward the Church, but the Church itself is apathetic about issues that bring great harm to God’s children.
I need to define terms here: According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of apathy is: Apathy (noun) the feeling of not having much emotion or interest; lack of feeling or emotion, impassiveness; lack of interest or concern, indifference. The word comes from the Greek apatheia—-literally meaning “no feeling”.
I hear all too often these phrases from Christian persons about problems today in our large, diverse and complex society. They are warning signs of apathy that is infecting our churches and us as Jesus’ disciples:
- “Nothing can be done about it”
- “You can’t fight city hall.”
- “One person can’t change the world”
- “There’s no hope.”
- “GET REAL!!”
- “GIVE UP!”
- “What’s the use?””
- “What can anybody do about it? Nothing!”
These phrases reflect a warning about religion that is found in the 18th Century I writings of the British statesman and writer, Edmund Burke: “Nothing is so fatal to religion as indifference, which is, at least, half infidelity.” He links the indifference of the church to society’s problems as lack of faith in God!
And in the 20th century, psychoanalyst Rollo May reflects Burke’s thinking in writing that “the most tragic thing of all in the long run is the ultimate attitude ‘It doesn’t matter’ “.
All churches, from mainline to evangelical to Pentecostal, are all in danger of this attitude as they confront, or fail to confront the evils of modern day society. Jesus was pretty clear in his message as to what the church was to be about—-it was to “love God with all your mind, heart, soul and strength, AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” That Great Commandment of Jesus indicates that social justice for all, economic justice for all, and political equality for all is important. Over and over in the ministry of Jesus he brought up the issues of social injustice and threw them in the face of the rulers and high priests, just as the prophets had done before him. Long before Jesus, the prophet Micah had spoken for God in similar words: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God!” Jesus’ confrontation of injustice in the social, economic and religious life of his day is what caused Jesus’ crucifiction! It wasn’t Jesus’ preaching about love, which he did, but it was his confrontation of the social and economic issues of the domination system of his day and his actions against them that led to his death!
The church of Jesus Christ is called to do the same today if we are to lay claim to being disciples of Jesus. We are faced with a similar domination system of the rich and powerful today that, as in Jesus’ day, uses their wealth and power to become even more wealthy and powerful since they control the political and governmental system.
There are thousands of examples at the current time I could point to, but I will list just a few to make my point:
- A Congress in Washington and a legislature in Kansas that passes laws the benefit the wealthy and the huge corporations who contributed to them retaining power , resulting in the shrinkage of the Middle Class and the the reduction of the standard of living for millions of people in the U.S.
- Refusal to pass a national minimum wage that would enable two working parents to support a family. In current times this refusal results in poverty for many people.
- Witholding of the extention of Medicaid in Kansas, even though the medical profession and hospitals plead for it and point out that many lives will be lost due to inadequate medical care.
- The increase of poverty and homelessness that is worsened by reduction of food stamps and increasing use of part time employment in order to reduce need to provide benefits and thus add to profits for the stockholders or owners of businesses.
- Efforts to balance the budget rather than care for the needy at both state and federal levels.
- The use of wealth to elect those who are favorable to big business and its ruthlessness pursuit of a “free market system” that benefits the rich at the expense of the poor.
- The lies of politicians and the malicious attacks on the character of those who oppose them that we see as the midterm elections draw near, funded by the wealthy and powerful to maintain their wealth and power.
How is the church responding to these and other concerns? THE SILENCE IS DEADLY! At most, the church is trying to do something about the “symptoms” of these problems, but nothing about eradicating the problems. Have you heard the churches speaking out about the lies that politicians make in their TV ads? What would happen if the churches told the politicians—-you lie to us and we won’t vote for you because we believe in honesty and truthfulness? If the churches took such a stand, it could bring about great change in our political discourse. It isn’t happening!
What would happen if even half of the people who claim to be Christian and go to church in Wichita would write their legislators and governor and say, “if you want our vote in the next election—extend Medicaid? We don’t want Kansans dying for want of good medical care that is available. We don’t want Kansas children growing up without adequate medical and dental care. People are more important than politics!” Agreed, one Christian writing the governor would end up with the letter in the wastebasket. Thousands of letters threatening to elect someone else would get the attention of the governor and lawmakers!
This is not happening and that is why I say that the Church of Jesus Christ is not following the great commandment. It has succumbed to “apathy”, and is in danger of not being the church.
While we as the church may SAY we are trying to help, we are DOING very little. We are treating the symptoms, like feeding the homeless, but not advocating a solution to the problems that cause homelessness like the low minimum wage. We contribute money to clinics that try to treat the poor and homeless, but do not go to the root of the problem that is found in the refusal for political reasons by the governor of Kansas to extend Medicaid.
Perhaps this poem (written to be sung to the tune of “Onward Christian Soldiers” is true of the Church today :
Like a mighty tortoise moves the Church of God;
Brothers we are treading where we’ve always trod;
We are all divided, many bodies we,
Very strong on doctrine, weak on charity.
—–Quoted by David C.K. Watson, One in the Spirit
Churches banded together as the “Body of Christ” can make a difference in the world today. An historical example can be seen in the black churches during the 1960″s as they joined together with the result being the Civil Rights Movement. They shed their apathy. They took great risks. They achieved great results.
The black churches put their faith in God who is on the side of the poor, the unhealthy, the outcasts of society They put their faith in a God who desires that all of God’s children be blessed with social justice, economic opportunity, and be free from oppression by the rich and powerful. Is the church today willing to do the same today?