Hoping to stay cutting-edge, Relevant Magazine has decided to invite blogger Kurt Willems to “write from an anabaptist perspective on issues surrounding church, faith, and theology in a post-Christian culture.” In his opening column Kurt was brilliantly able to include at least seven anabaptist clichés, make numerous references to “empire”, celebrate the marginalization of the church in the US, condescendingly comment about a popular Christian song that celebrates the uniqueness of God’s greatness, and demonize Constantine (which is a requirement for all neo-anabaptists).
Nothing seems to excite neo-anabaptists more than the prospect of the church being pushed to the margins of society. It is from the margin that the church will supposedly finally return to its pure, spotless, and “authentically Christ-centered mode of humility, enemy-love, and justice.” Once the church is freed from the entanglements of the “marriage of empire to faith” and securely marginalized, people will be undoubtedly drawn to join our new-found “alternative culture.” Of course we can’t have too many people join our alternative culture lest we find ourselves not on the margins anymore.
Dreaming of how great the church will be once it’s on the margins is utterly foolish. There are numerous examples from all over the world of Christian communities on the margins of society. Consider the recent report by my colleague, Faith McDonnell, on the plight of the minority Christian community in Pakistan. Faith writes:
Pakistani Christians are disadvantaged and victimized in every way. Dhimmis, treated as second-class citizens, they live with grinding poverty and Muslim contempt, deprived of education and employment opportunities. Vulnerable to threats and lacking the means to defend themselves, they are the inevitable targets of Islamist attacks, even victimized by those who are supposed to protect them, merely because they are Christians.
Having your children kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery or denied education and basic human rights does not fit with Kurt Willem’s fantasy vision of the marginalized church, but it is the reality in many places.
Perhaps Kurt is under the delusion that the “post-Christendom” culture will retain the Christian values while rejecting the source of those values. The Christian values might last a generation or so, but when the salt and light are driven from the culture, the decay and darkness return. In many post-Christendom nations of Europe the church abdicated its responsibility in many core areas of society, such as healthcare, education and family life, and allowed the state to fill the void. The impact has not been fully realized, but if the demographics and economic decline is any indication–the future is not bright.
Even here in the US, as many in the church seeks to defend the sanctity of marriage and the value of human life within a culture that is still at least nominally Christian, it is met with antagonism and hate. Will the “Jesus-followers [who are] creating a beautiful alternative culture” help and defend the Christian wedding photographer who faces choosing to place obedience to the teachings of Christ over State demands that she photograph a same-sex wedding? Are the neo-anabaptists willing to stand with this guy…
…as he defends the life of the pre-born? Sadly, on these issue, many neo-anabaptists hide behind a wall of obfuscation and conformity in the name of non-confrontational Christianity.
While many neo-anabaptists refuse to be confrontational on numerous social issues, they are extremely confrontational when it comes to the issue of violence and war. The historic and important contribution of the pacifist strain within Christianity should not be overlooked or devalued. In many areas they have provided an important balance to the Just War theorists. However, it is important to note that the anabaptists have been able to thrive not in spite of “empire” but because of it. It is the sons and daughters of Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Pentecostal Christians who serve as police officers and soldiers to defend the freedom to be pacifist.
Kurt might be right that we are moving towards a post-Christendom America, but he is not right that this is something to be celebrated. On the contrary, in the post-Christian America there will not be more peace but less, there will not be more love but less, there will not be more hope but less. The church in the age of Nero lived on the margins, but they were set ablaze to lighting the streets of Rome too.