2019 was a hard year to hold on to your faith
Even though I don’t particularly struggle with holding on to my faith, I can see why it is hard for people to hold onto it these days. In this time and place it seems like our faith is less than a cultural artifact (like it was, for example, five hundred years ago in Europe), and more of an individual choice. And it’s one of many. So it’s challenging for that reason. We’re also more introspective, in some ways, and even encouraged to be. Self-awareness and actualization are definitely en vogue at this cultural juncture. But on top of that, it is really ridiculous to be a Christian these days. Or at least it seems that way.
I had to call my friend the other day when I heard Barry Loudermilk of Georgia say Pontius Pilate treated Jesus better than the Democrats are treating Trump because I thought that was blasphemy in the first degree! That is exactly what using the Lord’s name in vain means! We both wondered how anyone could be a Christian in this context. How will they meet the Lord when the language that surrounds him seems so polluted? It’s not surprising, then, many millennials are leaving the faith and not coming back. I trust that the Lord will find his people, and I am determined to help. And I’m looking for the help.
That’s why I really appreciated it when the editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, the Evangelical magazine that Billy Graham published, wrote an opinion piece that argued for why Trump must be removed from office. I follow national politics for fun and hobby, so I am particularly attuned when Christianity and national politics intersect. But what I was surprised to see is that in the New York Times newsletter I receive every morning, Mark Galli’s column made the headlines—the fact that it was written at all was a big deal. For Christianity Today, this move meant a loss of subscriptions and advertising revenue. But Galli wrote the piece for his own integrity and for the sake of the Gospel. He wrote it because he thought that the Christian witness was at stake. And I’m with him.
It didn’t take long for Trump to call Christianity Today a “far left” magazine. Or for Franklin Graham to dismiss the magazine as partisan, and then to tell the world that his father, Billy, actually voted for Trump. I spoke to a Billy Graham scholar about this—he told me Billy actually encouraged Hillary to run, and at the time of the 2016 election wasn’t well enough to vote. So if Franklin wasn’t lying, he may have simply mailed in a ballot for his dying father (talk about elder exploitation), and then told us how much his dad loved Trump. That’s the definition of straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel, and it’s exactly what Evangelicals are known for doing—which is why Christianity’s Today’s column was such a relief.
I have to say that the column itself had problems, like claiming the House never let Trump voice his side of the story—they did, but he denied their invitation. It was also weak on Trump’s other moral errors. But that’s not the point, for me. I don’t except a white Evangelical publication to become woke overnight (or ever). Rather, I’m happy it’s playing its part in the small corner of the world it influences. Even if it doesn’t change Mitch McConnell’s mind, it is better to sacrifice gaining the whole world in order to not lose your soul.
I hope that Christians are softening the soil
My hope is that Christianity Today’s column softens the soil and allow seeds of faith to be planted. And the reason is because it’s hard to keep your faith grounded and it’s hard to hold on to your faith. An environment for fertile planting helps us all hold on to our faith. Even if you don’t follow national politics as closely as I do, I think these ideas influence the culture through osmosis, and as such I think it will cost us problems.
But while I wait for the culture to change in favor of the Gospel (which I am not holding my breath for), I want to offer an encouragement to you: the faith you have, the little seed of faith you have, while it’s fragile, is good enough. You are good enough. Protect the faith you have because Franklin and company are out to destroy it, and I mean that. They are making twice the children of hell that they are.
Three ways to hold on to your faith
- Talk back to the powers, don’t let them colonize our faith
So hold on to your faith and don’t let the worst of Christians keep you down. They don’t have to be your representatives, and you can talk back. Don’t let them colonize our faith for their selfish, at best, motives. Honestly, I think most white Evangelicals think they are doing the right thing, saving the culture, and protecting their kids. They are wrong and are doing damage to the Gospel, but they don’t think they are wrong—they think they are protecting their loved ones in a war against culture. I know this because I grew up with conservative Egyptians who supported secular dictatorships in the Middle East because of the protections they afforded Christians. It’s a similar dynamic. Anyway, that isn’t a defense of these people, but rather a way you can empathize with them, because by loving your enemy you allow them to do less damage to your faith.
- Find community—a practical expression of an otherwise abstract faith
But it isn’t just about Evangelicals. It’s hard to hold on to our faith because it’s fragile, it seems ephemeral, it seems abstract. It’s hard to root in concrete reality. So my other piece of advice? Ground your faith in a natural context. We need metaphysical hope; we need supernatural hope because our physical and natural surroundings are so discouraging. The world’s problems are bigger than we can handle. But we need a physical, natural environment to express that hope and to worship the One who offers us that hope.
We find that physical context in a particularity—the person of Jesus Christ. As well as a local expression of his body—the church. So do your best to find a community that can support you. Circle of Hope has been that for me, but if you don’t live here, there are more like us around the country. I just told my friend who I was sending off to Denver this week to find a community there, because it is hard to keep your faith alone. Hot coals don’t stay lit by themselves; they need to be surrounded by lit and unlit coals. That actually means the church needs people that are still exploring God and yet to find communion with God. Evangelism keeps your faith alive. Moreover, the church needs to have material benefit—being a Christian actually needs to make your life and the lives of other better. And yes, that means their material lives. We should be redistributing our income and sharing our wealth, exalting the valleys and lowering the mountains. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, by the very nature of His incarnation, has material consequence. Anything short of that is bad philosophy at best and allows for some other materialist or economic theory to fill in the gap (that’s why so many Christians “spiritualize” the Gospels and then become disciples of Karl Marx or Adam Smith).
- Listen to God’s voice, not the worst ones in your head
Finally, I want to advise you to stop doubting yourself. Stop questioning your authenticity. You are real enough! Hold on to what you have and stop condemning yourself for not having more. You are OK as you are. Almost all of us have voices in our minds that tell us we are fake, we are not good enough, we are flawed. But you don’t have to listen to those voices. Those voices aren’t God’s. Listen to a better, more encouraging voice. One that lifts you up and extols the very Spirit of God that is within you! The key to finding that voice are the spiritual disciplines: prayer, study, worship (and more). Practice those. Sit in silence (and listen for God). Read the Bible (and ask what it is asking of you). Worship Jesus (with song and dance).
It’s hard enough to have faith, stop questioning how authentic yours is. Don’t listen to the worst of Christians. Talk back to them. Give the world a better story. Root yourself in a material expression of your faith because of how hard it is to hold on to a metaphysical faith. Community, evangelism, and mission make faith practical, so does social justice. Finally, don’t condemn the faith you have. It’s hard to have faith in this era—Donald Trump and Franklin Graham make it harder. So despite their harshness, be gentler with yourself.