As I have pondered the question of why anyone should listen to the Church, I have actually come up with many more reasons why one would be skeptical of the Church's message. It's an unfortunate list to think about.
#1. We have no clear voice to begin with. As I stated yesterday, we are a divided Church. How can a body speak with any authority when it does not have any sort of unity or shared upon definition of what is right and wrong?
As I thought about Christianity and politics, I thought about the two major groups working in society: the Christian Right and the Christian Left. Both movements seek to influence government policies. Both groups believe very strongly that their basis for doing so is grounded in the Biblical witness. Yet, the two groups disagree on nearly everything. It leaves an outsider very confused as to what a truly Christian voice is. And these two groups actually represent the extremes. There are a whole host of Christians who fall somewhere in the middle who, quite frankly, aren't as outspoken but who still have particular understandings of what it means to relate one's faith to the public square. When you add these, albeit quiet, voices, the confusion grows.
#2. Part of this stems from the fact that we have no agreed upon definition of what constitutes the Good News of Jesus Christ (the Gospel).
Is it God's reconciliation of the world unto Himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus?
Is it Redistribution of wealth (Jim Wallis)?
Is it God's solidarity with the poor?
Is it God's sacrifice of Himself as the God incarnate Jesus to pay for our sins? (Similar to the first, but phrased a little different.)
Is Salvation accomplished by God alone, or do we have a part to play in it?
Is the Gospel about heavenly matters or does it apply to earthly things as well?
#3. Depending upon what one's view of #2 is, it influences the ethics one practices--particularly how one views the commands and instructions of God given in the Biblical witness.
Does the Law focus on the individual?
On the community?
On the nation?
Does one follow the Law out of fear or out of love?
There are obviously some laws which are followed and others which are not. How does one differentiate between what is God's ongoing command and what can be left behind? For instance, why is it possible for a Christian to remove certain dietary restrictions? Answer: Because Jesus made all foods clean. Not all laws are quite so clear cut which adds to the confusion.
With no clear cut understanding of what the Gospel constitutes and how one puts together Christian ethics in the larger community called the Church--as defined yesterday by the Augsburg Confession--the Church actually sows confusion.
#4. Much of #2 and #3 comes from the inability to come up with a shared understanding of what it means to read and interpret the Bible. More than a few methodologies abound and are practiced in American Christianity. Each has their strengths. Each has weaknesses. And we darn sure can't agree which is better. When a disagreement comes to a head--well, add one more denomination to the Christian landscape. Divisiveness and confusion once again.
#4. There is much hypocrisy in the Church. The news media in our country is always ready to jump on a scandal, and the Church provides plenty of fodder. Sexual abuse by clergy. Mismanagement of funds by church leaders. Congregations fighting and splitting over doctrinal issues. All blatantly contradicting the commands of Christ and other teachings in Scripture.
Even in our passive actions, we tend to disregard what Christ calls us to. I mean, I know of few clergy who simply accept their compensation packages without scrutiny. Many "fight for every dime due to me." And who of us isn't interested in our pension plans and how much money we've saved? Which clergy among us--especially Protestant--don't like living in comfortable houses, taking vacations with family, driving nicer cars, and having expendable income to fund hobbies? Even how we live speaks volumes as to what is more important, and it proves our hypocrisy as well.
#5. Even when the Church can agree on some moral values, those values oftentimes clash with the perceived goals of a particular government. For instance, many within the Church argue that each and every human is afforded basic rights given that we are all created in the image of God. Yet, in our own nation, some of these basic human rights are denied to some because of the goal to keep everyone safe. Further, our society is based upon several announced basic rights: the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our Christian faith actually has a particular way of understanding how we can best experience these rights, but those understandings are oftentimes at odds with government and culture. One need only look at what our movie culture glorifies in order to see this.
Why should anyone listen to us when such conflicts abound? Why should anyone pay us the least bit of attention when our actions fail to match our words? In the pluralistic culture that has become the United States of America, the Church is just one more voice at a very crowded table. This list does not inspire me to give credence to anything the Church says.
As I continue to think this one through, I hope that there is an answer out there as to why anyone should listen to our voice, especially when there are more than a few holes in our proclamation and action.