January 9, 2019

Apologizing for Christianity at Urbana 18

The recent triennial Urbana student missions convo hosted by InterVarsity and attended by 10,000 young Christians and ministry leaders featured a video apology for Christianity that you can watch here.
This video self-identifies as a “listing of ways the church has become beguiled by Babylon through its history.” A major theme at this Urbana 18 event was “Babylon” which loosely describes political systems and power centers at odds with God’s Kingdom. The video was hailed for its authenticity in admitting to Christianity’s failures. Such self-disclosure is sometimes described as essential to reaching young people.
The project is admirable in many ways. Christianity should be self-critical. The church of course is composed exclusively of sinners, of which history and current events leave no doubt. Each of us in our own way contributes to the church’s failures. Yet the video itself exemplifies some blind-spots in contemporary U.S. evangelical parachurch ministries.
“Throughout history Babylon has tempted the church with her promise,” the video’s narrator begins. “Luxury, control. And too often, we, we the church have been deceived. We have believed Babylon.”
The video cites the Me Too movement, Martin Luther’s antisemitic outbursts, corrupt megachurch pastors in East Asia, Apartheid, the Rwandan genocide, the “Doctrine of Discovery” justifying European conquest of Americas, Canada’s separating native tribal children from parents, the transatlantic slave trade, and lynchings.
“This is the fruit of Babylon,” the narrator says, “This is what we have done.”
This litany chronicles dark historical misdeeds and some recent ones in no particular chronological order. Christian complicity is legitimately highlighted. And the video merits credit for not just naming Western Christian sins, per the Rwandan genocide and corruption of East Asian pastors.
There are many other grievous failures that could be included. Rather than just faulting Martin Luther for rhetoric that would facilitate the Holocaust centuries later, Christians who were actually alive during the Holocaust and were complicit or did nothing should be mentioned. So too should today’s antisemitism and its role in ongoing anti-Israel animus by many Christians.
Many Christians during the last century were seduced by the fake utopian promises of communism, a deadly ideology that enslaved and impoverished hundreds of millions, killings tens of millions. Victims included millions of Christians while other Christians were silent or even complicit.
More Christians were martyred during the 20th century than any other century yet much of the church was silent and remains silent about those crimes and ongoing persecution globally today. Why not mention?
The video reinforces a popular narrative of powerful Christians complicit in “empire” and “Babylon.” But most Christians throughout history haven’t had much power. And several hundred million Christians today live as persecuted minorities around the world. Christians in North Korean prison camps aren’t very powerful.
Of course, there is Christian complicity in today’s moral failures of America, including one million abortions annually, and family breakdown leaving millions of children without the stability of durable marriages by their parents. Much of the church today is silent, including the speakers at Urbana 18.
It’s easy for church convos to condemn dead people like slave owners, or lament sexual abusers from headlines, or corrupt megachurch pastors far away. It’s much more challenging to confront today’s sins as they relate to participants of student missions conferences. Did any Urbana speakers mention pornography use by young Christians and their online complicity with sex trafficking?
The seeming presumption of the video lament is that Christianity must confess its historical sins before it becomes worthy of consideration by its young critics and skeptics. But the church is God’s instrument of grace, and nobody is worthy.
Sinful and mistaken Christians, with many persons claiming to be Christians, have performed dastardly deeds at odds with Christian faith. Their history should be recalled. At the same time, Christians and the church have been deployed providentially to improve the world in countless ways. Slavery, universally practiced for millennia, would still exist today, absent Christianity.
This Urbana video about church complicity in Babylon was well intentioned, but its perspective is fragmentary. The mystical Body of Christ, despite its terrible human blemishes, is still the glorious Bride of Christ, spotless in His sight because of what He did for it.
We can only approach the church as spotless Bride ultimately with reverence, gratitude and self-mortification. She need not impress us or win our favor. We can only accept our membership as unmerited blessing and divine favor.


10 Responses to Apologizing for Christianity at Urbana 18

  1. bob says:

    Healthy self-criticism is a reflection of a healthy church and Christian. It tips into destructive low self-esteem and guilt when an institution’s self-criticism becomes the defining quality by which it understands itself. Note that characters like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and other virulent secular-atheist advocates seem to be utterly devoid of this quality. The absence of this quality in the nascent gay rights movement (as Randy Shilts pointed out in his classic AND THE BAND PLAYED ON) led to thousands of needless deaths when movement leadership largely refused to renounce bath houses as breeding grounds for passing the AIDS virus. Rejecting anonymous promiscuous behavior (then) was viewed as a concession to the Puritan homophobic monogamists. Much later, and many deaths later, things changed. So younger Christians are rightly wary of any institution where self-criticism or cautions against ‘systems sins’ are not on the menu. Secular alternatives are notable in their refusal to acknowledge any serious deficiencies…such as the pure hatred for Christianity by secular saints such as Stain, Mao and Hitler and all the subsequent “joy” they brought to humanity with their God-free vision of the future.

    • David says:

      I think “Stain” is a wonderful Freudian slip for “Stalin”.

    • Harvey says:

      People sometimes imagine that there are vast organizations of atheists or gays led by prominent people. This is not the case at all. Some groups obviously exist, but relatively few belong to them. The “Gay Agenda” tends to fall into the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” type of thing and seems to be mentioned only antigay types.

      For your information, there was a big change in behavior in the summer of 1981 when AIDS was first recognized. Unfortunately, some have returned to this with the advent of medications that prevent infection, at least for the moment, until HIV mutates. Most of those who died of AIDS in the 1980s-90s were infected prior to the disease being known. As death certificates often mentioned something other than AIDS, there are no accurate statistics for deaths. My guess is that about 95% of gay men born prior to 1960 died in that period, but this is only a guess.

      The Nazis did have a religion that was somewhat pagan in nature and I would not call Hitler secular. All Protestant churches were placed under government control with Reichsbischof Muller of the German Evangelical Church as the head. The Catholic Church remained in operation, but with serious restrictions. Totalitarianism does not like churches or any organizations outside its domain.

  2. P Tyrrell says:

    My biggest problem with this video is her repeated statement, “we did this.” No, “we” did not. Individual humans or groups of sinful humans did these horrible things, and in all instances, there are stories of Christians that did stand up against them. Bonhoeffer in Germany, Shakers in early America, I will be happy to continue if needed. Partial and edited history is presented to try and heap guilt and condemnation, and provoke a desired response. But the gospel clearly says that we are not responsible for the sins of our fathers and that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus.
    As a mentor and teacher of young adults of many different parts of society, I am seeing first hand the results of such teachings. The gospel is secondary, paying for “our crimes” is primary and it is ever-changing because the crimes are defined by the ones holding the microphone.
    We need to be very careful how we proceed.

  3. Rebecca says:

    Marxist revisionist history being taught as the truth in the church is the real problem. Don’t these so called Christians know they are lying by twisting the truth?

  4. David says:

    It still amazes me how it is so politically correct to point out the “sins” of those who have gone on before us without a time of honest confession about the sins of the present. We still seem to believe that point out the errors of others who are not here is some how more important than pointing out our own sins right now. Mark put it well we are all sinners and as Jesus put it, “he or she who is without sin cast the first stone.” The church after all is a “hospital for sinners not a show case for saints.” In a hospital there is both sickness and healing. I am to busy working on my own healing to spend to much time talking about the “sickness” of others.

  5. Tim Ridolfi says:

    An apology is in order for the injustice Christianity has inflicted on many. The message of the Gospel has been spread but with the message has been compromised by this injustice. God honors a contrite heart.

  6. The Super Church, fashioned in the Babilonian empire model of compulsion and control remains the problem of christianity. The catholic dream which began in Babel and have mutated over the ages has brought untold scandals and complicity to the church. The terror lessons that present day Jihadists have taken to heart were taught them by by catholic compulsive religion. The mystical body of the Messiah, made up of faithful witnesses and groups across the globe continue in their strife with the devil and his world. They are not yet perfect and may never be, but they stand with the Messiah and his gospel and refuse to compromise its truth with the falsehood of a morally decadent world.

  7. MikeS says:

    An old pastor once sardonically remarked on “the warm feeling people get when they hear other peoples’ sins criticized”. I’m guessing that all the Urbana critiques neatly coincided with the sensibilities of the modern progressive culture, which views itself as morally pure and virtuous.

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