Bad News Church: America Doesn’t Like You

By Bob Hiller

One of my great regrets from last year’s “Here We Still Stand Conference” (There are only 165 tickets left! I’d better get some kickback for that plug…) was not hearing Steven Paulson’s interview on the Thinking Fellows. But I understand he is quoted to have said something like, “America was designed to destroy Baptism.” I have thought a lot about that quote. It is wonderfully accurate. This country is built on free choice, self-assertion, and personal responsibility. Our philosophical contribution to the world is pragmatism. All of this is opposed by a God who chooses to save with a promise hidden in a handful of water.

Well, it would seem that this past week American culture has continued to move away from more than just Baptism. Bad news, church: America doesn’t like you so much anymore. If my Twitter feed is any indication of what’s happening in the culture, the church has reason to be concerned. Among the stories I saw:

+There is a bill in California that is seeking to make any teaching of conversion therapy illegal. That is to say, no paid professional (say a pastor or Christian therapist) would be allowed to say that homosexuality is a sin from which one can be freed.

+My beloved Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) was lit up in the Yale Daily News for being a closed-off, self-serving, culturally irrelevant church body. Leaving behind the clear irony of being called elitist by, of all places, Yale, it is a sobering thing to have your sins on display. (Ironically, the response I saw to this from every corner was to begin navel gazing and talking about ourselves to ourselves…)

+Sticking with the LCMS, news came out this week from the head of Concordia Publishing House that Google ads will no longer “accept anything” related to because of the “faith we express on our website.” Our faith, as seen, for example, in our VBS material, is deemed more offensive than marketable by Google ads.

And so social media exploded! The culture has turned against the church and is now finding ways to silence her voice in the public square. Dark times are on the horizon for the church. Things are getting worse for her in America.

I guess. I mean, things are obviously not looking good for us on the cultural front. But when were they supposed to? Jesus never said, “In this world you will have trouble until 1776. Then things will start to look up! I cannot wait for someone to come up with a Bill of Rights to help me grow my kingdom!” No. Though in the past America has been friendly to her, to see the good ol’ US of A change its attitude towards the church should be no cause for her to be afraid. We’ve never feared, loved, or trusted our privilege here more than God, have we? Wait.

I don’t have high hopes for where the culture is headed in this country. But I have no fear for what awaits the church. After all, we had a Baptism in our church last Sunday! A Baptism! Do you know what this means? God wasn’t deterred at all by the cultural chess game that is afoot (and that His church would do well to avoid). He ignored all of it, showed up in water, and took this tiny baby as his own dear child! Light was shining in the darkness! Angels were singing, a sheep was returned to the fold, and Christ continued to expand his kingdom.

But that’s not going to get Twitter’s attention. It’s not even going to get the attention of Christians who occupy space there. And that is what disturbs me. We are far more interested in arguing for our rights not to sell cake and making sure our products are marketable than we are about the Gospel being given to a sinner. I know, you are ready to correct me on that. How dare I be so glib! But how much of your social media feed is filled with the promises of forgiveness and how much of it is filled with snark and fear, accusation and self-aggrandization? I repent. My feed is a sinful, self-serving mess. So is my blog.

Yet, despite the church’s fear and trust in horses and chariots, despite the culture, Jesus just keeps working. I’m not sure whether I should rejoice or hang my head in personal shame when I read of the faith Paul exhibits when he writes to Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:8-9) The word of God is not bound! Not even by Google ads! How can we be afraid? It’s Easter season! Remember? Jesus Christ risen from the dead? Judging by our reactions this week, I don’t know if we do. Lord, have mercy.

But the news in heaven on Sunday was that we had a Baptism. Take that, America!