I saw this billboard the other day. There was a phone number that went along with it. I’m sure they’ve received some calls about it, and I pray that they have been successful in helping people remain in the faith.
However, that a Christian organization felt the need to put this up is disturbing, not because people are losing faith (they are and it grieves me), but because it exemplifies a significant current cultural issue.
I remember the stereotypes of the ’60s and “the man”, and how much of the culture was about “the man”. “The man” was more of a bogeyman. It was about the perceived and real hierarchies of conformance and obedience. In the face of the Vietnam War, there was an understandable distrust of the government (via the draft mechanism) and the military (how it seemed unable to win that horrible war). The man could include the taxman and pretty much anybody in authority.
“The man” was an anthropomorphism of structures and systems that people perceived as unjust, unfair, obscure, untrustworthy, and so on. This was in direct conflict with many who just wanted to get along and work within the system(s). It was a cultural divide.
This, at least, is my understanding of the ’60s and its spillover into the ’70s.
I’m not sure what happened, but on both the right and left (political and social), there seemed to be a growth in trust and almost reliance on “the man”. Whether it was government care (of varying types) or government imposed morality (again, of varying types), there seemed to be an increase in support for “the man”.
The New Man
Then we got COVID and the overturn of Roe vs. Wade. We saw a severe bifurcation regarding “the man” here, where the same generic moral quandary (government mandate/rule versus individual freedom) resulted in the same response to government and power structures, whether on the right or left, and we experienced a true cratering of trust in government and power structures.
This is not to say that underrepresented folks didn’t feel this way already. It is just that now pretty much everyone feels that way.
This expanded into the general church, too, for pretty much those two issues though Black Lives Matter and LGTBQ+ also fit in here as well, though, sadly, certain other areas of concern (Anti-Asian social structures/assumptions, for example) were brought up, but mostly silenced.
Structures of Man
This isn’t a comparison of concerns or issues, but the reality that societal structures always are a matter of power and influence. No matter who is in power or a place of influence, someone will feel slighted, offended, or oppressed. If one mentions certain so-called very liberal democracies, the quiet truth is that not all feel so “free” there, either.
No human tradition, institution, or society is perfect. Most great stories are about wrestling with those imperfections, and, to me, the Bible covers far too much of human imperfection, including imbalances and failures.
So, what does this have to do with losing faith in God? On the surface, nothing. However, if we look at the reasons people lose their faith in God, it isn’t because of God. It’s because of people.
My greatest fear as a pastor is that people will cease to or choose not to believe in God because of me. I am far too aware of my imperfections (depression and anxiety tend to keep them front and center).
No Godly Structures
The reality is that people are often horrible examples and should not be followed. Institutions, from the Church of the Nazarene (my denomination) to the Roman Catholic Church to the (Various) Orthodox Church, do their best to be faithful to their understanding of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, but they (we) often confuse culture, nation, society, economics with God, as if God is blessing anything short of the Kingdom of God (and all of it is short of the Kingdom of God).
I hope the first question is why a person is losing their faith by listening to their story and not just cajoling them back “into line”. I know I’m guilty of this, for the record. How we help people untie their formative structures/histories from God is a mix of wisdom, counseling, and a whole lot of guidance from the Holy Spirit.
Most of us are not equipped to do this, which is sad, as that may be the greatest skill set needed. This isn’t the Four Spiritual Laws nor the Romans Road (still good tools). It is the willingness to sit and/or walk with another person’s story to help them unpack where they were deceived into certain beliefs about God, and where God is.
I understand all too well that this is a slippery slope. Where do sin, righteousness, and holiness fit in? I’m wrestling with that question. How much of our church tradition and culture are derived from our interpretation of the Scriptures or the Scriptures at all?
Some call this deconstruction. That’s fine. I deconstruct and rebuild regularly. Perhaps, it is too many years of Lean and 5S. Is (this) still working as intended? Is it still healthy? Is it a stumbling block? If yes, remove, reform, or maintain (with good justification). If no, why are we asking (this may indicate a different issue)?
Our Image of God
The last step is when we make God in our image. The (Protestant Traditional) Second Commandment against idolatry along with taking the Lord’s name in vain (Third Commandment), seem to be the larger issue regarding losing faith in God. We often lose faith in God because we’ve made God to look like us, and we know how we are.
Our institutions, traditions, interpretations, wounds, scars, triumphs, and sorrows are not God. All too often, however, that is exactly how we treat them.