We hear this term a lot in church lingo, its part of “Christianese,” if you will. This idea of “culture” and giving into it. That culture is the enemy of bible believing Christians. And what they really mean by “culture” is; secularism. Culture to them, essentially means living your life outside the church community while refusing to conform to their approved behavior and lifestyle.
Facing your fears.
One of the most eye-opening moments of my deconstruction was meeting atheists and finding out they’re good humans with a moral ethic rivaling (or exceeding) most evangelical Christians I know. In fact, when I think about the most devoted evangelicals in ministry that I still know personally; and I try to picture them being friends with an atheist, it makes me laugh out loud. There’s no way. Can you imagine? They can’t even maintain friendships with other Christians who leave their denomination! A relationship with someone of different beliefs?? Gasp! But see, they would label this as giving into “culture.” *insert eye roll here* Reminds me of those “coexist” bumper stickers and how pastors would preach they were a threat to Christianity because the great commission or something blah blah blah. We’ve giving into culture if we accept that people are “allowed” to believe anything different than what we believe! Uh huh, right.
Listening to ex-Christians turned atheist, and life long atheists has been crucial to my re-understanding of the world at large. It’s amazing what happens when you begin to listen to to the thing you were taught to fear. Something inside you shifts. There is a new found freedom, when you realize that love, and kindness, and acceptance exist outside of Christianity.
This labeling of secularism as evil is also another way of keeping Jesus in their white American gospel narrative. The cognitive dissonance required to ignore the culture Jesus was born into is the same dissonance needed to ignore the cultures of indigenous people, immigrants and black Americans.
Please don’t go.
Lastly, and maybe most notably, the fear of culture preached from the pulpit reinforces the thing most important to churches in America: numbers. See, pastors and denominational leaders know that Christianity is a system based on experiential faith. Those of us who’ve lived that life know, that you spend your life moving from one supernatural experience to the next. Each one orchestrated to keep you in that pew, and coming back to that pew. I’m not saying it’s all fake (although there are people who feel that way, and they are certainly entitled to that), but it does seem awfully precarious. A faith that relies entirely on the willingness of the believer to buy into an experience.
And perhaps it is this precariousness that keep pastors so preoccupied with numbers. Which brings me back to my original point. If you’re trying to keep people in your church pews and more importantly, paying tithe, then of course you’re going to teach them that the life outside that community is unsafe. Have I, personally, become so disenchanted that I can dismiss it all as smoke and mirrors? Not entirely. But I have a healthy respect for those that have. And I listen to their stories, no matter how painful, or how complicit they make me feel.
The call is coming from inside the house.
And so dear church, culture is the not the enemy. It’s not secularism. So let’s stop hiding behind your fear of dwindling numbers and tell the truth. Your enemy is the very theology you cling to. The twisted way you’ve warped scripture into your preferred context; without any regard to history, literary style or authorship. The way you’ve chosen carefully to make sure women remain second class citizens. That LGBTQ+ are denied their very humanity. That people of color and indigenous people are completely erased. Because if you “don’t see color” you don’t have to sit with your whiteness and feel uncomfortable. The phrase “cancel culture” in this instance takes on new meaning. Christians, you can’t just cancel all culture that doesn’t fit inside the sphere of influence you’ve created. That’s not how humanity works. Dare I say, that’s not how belief works.
All humans deserve to be seen, heard, loved, and not just accepted but affirmed in all their wholeness. And if you truly believe what your bible says, that all humans are made with the Imago Dei, the image of God- and God is love- then this concept should not be so difficult for you.
And yet here we are.