I just returned from a yearly theological conference put on by the three ELCA synods in Texas and Louisiana. This year's topic was preaching, and we were blessed with a dynamic presenter Len Sweet. Of course, I didn't agree with him on everything. In fact, we are quite divergent in our methodologies. Yet, I do know he wants very much for our churches to thrive. I know he wants us to follow Jesus as Jesus' disciples. I commend him for that.
But I disagree with some of his methodologies--most particular, I disagree with what he considers the Gospel.
Perhaps early on in his first presentation, I became jaded, and here is why:
Early on in his presentation, Sweet used a Yahoo! search bar clip to present his case that we as Christians are viewed negatively by the surrounding culture.
"This is what the culture thinks of you..." Sweet elaborated. Most of us simply sat and stared at this without challenging it. And, of course, it is true that there are Christians who are judgemental, hateful, mean, stupid, self-righteous, intolerant, easily offended, annoying, ignorant, and arrogant. There are more than a few adjectives we could add to this list. Many pastors deal with congregation members who fit these adjectives, and sometimes we tend to be a bit too agreeable when someone shoves something like this in our face. (Full disclosure: there are a few congregation members out there who believe their pastors can indeed fit these adjectives as well!!!)
But being the type of person I am, I did not readily swallow Sweet's assertion. In fact, the presentation bothered me, so later that evening, I decided to have a bit of fun on Yahoo! I didn't do what I did because I don't believe Christians can't be this way--they can and are!!--but I wondered just how accurate such a thing could be? I wondered if there wasn't something else to be discerned from Yahoo! searches. Here is what I discovered by simply changing one word in the search query:
Why are atheists so...
Why are whites so
Timothy Keller says this in his book Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (emphasis mine):
Religion, generally speaking, tends to create a slippery slope in the heart. Each religion informs its followers that they have "the truth," and this naturally leads them to feel superior to those with differing beliefs. Also, a religion tells its followers they are saved and connected to God by devotedly performing that truth. This moves them to separate from those who are less than devoted and pure in life. Therefore it is easy for one group to stereotype and caricature other ones. Once this situation exists, it can easily spiral down into the marginalization of others and or even to active oppression, abuse, or violence against them. (Kindle Location 331)
See any stereotyping and caricature in the screenshots above? But I would argue, it's not just religion that causes this. It's any person who believes he or she is above reproach and morally superior to another. And if these screenshots are an indicator of culture--or an indicator of those who put together the algorithms at Yahoo!--then, there are some folks whose hearts are traveling down that slippery slope of the heart.
The cure for such a slippery slope is the Gospel; however, I think it is enough to stop here and let it simmer for a while. I think it is enough to stop here and reflect upon that which has been seen for unlike Sweet, I will not see what Yahoo! is doing as a reflection on Christianity because if Yahoo! is doing what I see it doing, it tells us more about Yahoo! than it does about reality.