This video is an unbelievably compelling portrayal of where young adult Christians are in our modern world (it’s about 9 minutes long but worth every minute).
The lesson I get out of this video is that young adult Christians are very interested in Kingdom work over church work. Now what does that mean for congregations and insititutional religion? It means the “market” will force churches to exist and function out of a more missional and less maintenance posture. Churches will have to stop being the place where issues are debated and it will have to become the place where people work towards solutions. People of all backgrounds, lifestyles, and ethnicities will come together for a common good. As the church we have to prioritize that good to be the will of God in the name of Jesus Christ. But, if the church fails to put this first and let all of the other stuff that clouds our priorities go, then they will inevitably dry up.
This isn’t rocket science and we need not belabor the obvious point. This generation has an inherent belief that this life isn’t all there is. With God’s help things can be better. Lives can be changes. Salvation can actually be close to a reality in this life. And we can get to this better place together. Funny, I think there was once a young adult from Nazareth who walked around talking about these very same issues…
It’s been official for a very long time now and should come as no shocker-politics has invaded the church for centuries. Sure, there are monastic communities who offer a beacon of hope that politics can be kept out of the Christian community. But by and large politics has been the driving force of Christianity since the beginning of Christendom.
In his new book After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, N.T. Wright raises the discussion on the difference between “rights” and “dignity” both for the individual and for the Christian community. One of the issues this raises for me is how to identify just how deep American ideology runs through mainline Protestantism. This is not always a bad thing. In many cases, it is very good. But I cannot reckon with the notion that these two can ever be fully united as one “mega-ideology.” Inevitably, national ideals will serve the needs of preservation as its ultimate ends. On the other hand, Christian ideals command us to take up our cross and follow Christ (Mark 8:34-35) because, in the end, those who lose their life will save it and those who save their lives will lose it (Luke 17:33). Therefore, national ideology and Christian discipleship are never totally one in the same.
This brings us to the dichotomy of “rights” and “dignity.” First we begin with “rights.” We hear much in our contemporary world about the preservation of rights or the pursuit of one’s rights. Again I can’t help but point out the disconnect here. The “pursuit of happiness” is found nowhere in Gospel. Those are the words of the deistic Thomas Jefferson. Further, I’m afraid that talk of “rights” have been co-opted over the years in order to score political points for every cause that dares to claim it “preserves rights.” What exactly are our “rights?” Are we really due as much as we claim? Or, do we fight for the rights of the individual, often unknowingly, at the expense of the greater community. Here is illustrated another disconnect between American and Christian ideals. American ideals say that life’s ultimate goal is the fulfillment of the individual. We’ve worked very hard to reduce everything down to its individual parts. Humans are just a collection of individual cells. Molecules are just a collection of individual atoms. Groups are just a collection of individuals. Therefore, my personal rights are the ultimate ends of human life. But the Christian ideology says this is not so. Christian ideals say there is more value in being a part of a community than there is being alone. We are, in the end, better for having been part of the group. We can be something greater than we could ever imagine if we remained alone. This is why Christianity must be practiced as a corporate faith. There is no Christianity without the community of faith.
This now brings us to the idea of “dignity.” Dignity is a Christian value. There are countless stories in the Gospels of Jesus seeing through the culture’s claim of individual and group roles in an effort to offer human dignity and compassion to those who’ve never known it. Dignity is an ideal that commands the Christian community to look beyond individualism and elitism to the higher notion that all people are of sacred worth. Dignity offers the hope that life is about much more than my exterior qualities (demographic stats). It seeks to encompass the entire person and, in the end, invite the person to do the same for others.
So what’s the difference you ask? Well, put simply, rights are something governments seek to ensure in an effort to preserve itself by convincing people that their individual status is what’s most important in life. Dignity, on the other hand, is the command to love and have compassion for all persons-no matter their status. Rights often divide communities by valuing the individual as greater. Dignity commands the community to act in unison to ensure that the sacred of all persons and groups are preserved-whether the government chooses to recognize this or not.
I fully recognize that I write this as a middle-class, white male who has been afforded all the rights I can stand to enjoy in life. But I also argue that we are much more than our demographics. Further, the Christian community must seek to press beyond mere demographics in order to love as Christ loves. After all, it’s our only hope.