Tag Archives: American Christianity

The American situation as a crisis for my faith


(warning: long autobiographical essay coming!) I grew up as a Pentecostal kid in a very secular post-catholic West-European country, the kind of place where Christianity and religion as a whole was seen by most people as something of the past, protestantism as a faraway historic religion, and evangelicalism as a weird cult that only exists elsewhere if that world is known already, which probably isn’t the case.  These things have changed a bit now, and I’m afraid not always for the better. The perception of ‘religion’ is even worse in certain milieus, but the attention of the anti-religious mafia has by now switched from old Catholicism to Islam due to sociological switches. And I fear that ‘evangelicalism’ instead of a noble unknown is now known to a lot people now as one of the contributing factors in the rise of the US president Donald Trump, who might be one of the least Christian persons in power I’ve ever seen and regarded by most Europeans as a dangerous madman. Which only increases the impression of certain people that religion is dangerous and makes people dumb and aggressive.

The sad thing is that Mr. Trump is the exact opposite of what one should be able to expect from a Christian, but it seems like not everyone is able to see that. Which is a problem, since I am a Christian, and I do not feel represented by whatever he represents at all. But that is for later, let’s first continue my story.

I must admit that it is not always simple to be a part of a minority faith in a secular world. I’d always be ‘different’ anyway, so it’s rather hard to separate what comes from my faith, and what comes from me just being me, the AD(H)D introverted boy who didn’t care about most things that get the general population excited, boring stuff like football -soccer for the US-ians-, cars, violent movies, oversexed nonsense, etc… but who was more into nature, art, science and philosophy. I always just assumed I’d be different for too much reasons, and assimilating without being seen is something I learned at a much later age. I do remember being kid in primary school in Lier, when everyone who was Flemish was supposed to be ‘catholic’, even though it was mainly cultural and traditional, most kids being completely unreligious but baptised as a baby where I was religious, but unbaptised. The only non-catholics in school apart from me were Turkish immigrants who were Muslims, which was an easy category unlike me. Even with the term ‘protestant’ I was an alien, an outsider, or even ‘neither Flemish nor Turkish’ as someone once described me.
(I know these things have changed by now. Now there will be much more immigrant kids of different religions at that school, and completely non-religious kids as well. The inevitable process of dechristianisation has reached a much further point by now, while more religious immigrants have integrated themselves even in smaller Town, and that includes a lot of different Christians too.)

Church was another world. An enclave from a different world. A tiny one, but it was connected to the wider church worldwide on a lot of continents. Sometimes there were missionaries in church bringing their story. Or bible smugglers, which was a big thing in the eighties when there still were communist regimes where you could be killed for being a Christian. The idea of Christianity as a persecuted minority was a logical one, but there was also a willingness to follow Jesus. The Pentecostals in Flanders did still have a lot of influence from the Jesus People and other Christian hippy movements, who had the crazy idea to take Jesus and the bible serious, even in the radical things. Just letting the bible say what it says was a big thing. And I believed it. And I read the gospels. And I saw something more impressive than what the world around me could give. Something more interesting than drugs and sex, than money and status, than sports and entertainment,…

I found among other things traces of The God I believe in is the Creator of the multiverse upholding it at every second, and the source of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. The God who is Love and Justice. As a Christian I believe that the incarnated Christ is the most accurate representation of God. Radical love for all, including oppressed and marginalised, like women, the poor, Samaritans, strangers,… and the oppressors, like the Romans and the mob that lynched him: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ (although there are rather uncomfortable words about riches)

This is what makes Christianity more Real to me. A love deeper and more radical than our human instincts. As David Wilkerson whom I liked to read as a teen said to gangster Nicky Cruz, ‘you can cut me in a thousand pieces and they will still love me’. As Shane Claiborne whom I loved to read as a twentysometing exemplified by living with the homeless in his city, or with almost being bombarded along with the Iraqi by his own country. Like Corrie Ten Boom who came out of the nazi concentration camps to preach about forgiveness and reconciliation. That is what inspired me because I knew it was True, an calling to me.

This is what always kept me a Christian. The sparks of a Greater Reality that shone in this love stronger than hate and division, and also the glimpses of a Reality bigger than our worldviews, which included the supernatural healing presence of God in different dimensions and in different ways.

As a teenager my father started a church plant with Vineyard, which is theologically more evangelical but still charismatic. I still went to the Pentecostal youth camps and events though, and had my friends there, until somewhere in my twenties. I learned a lot about God. I saw answered prayers. I heard impressive stories from everywhere around the world. I saw (among a lot of other things) a religion (on non-religion according to some, but that’s a mere language game). I also learned more about the history of Christianity, and the other Christian traditions and denominations. I already knew Francis of Assisi from catholic school, and I read a lot of C.S. Lewis, and various Catholic and Protestant authors. Those who had that love more real than all of our human constructs in it, and glimpses of the Reality beyond all our realities stayed and impacted me. Some didn’t and had just a lot of theories about God and church structures and whole constructions built on bible verses without any trace of God. I did them away quickly and forgot them. In the years I read everything from Jacques Ellul to David Bentley Hart, and found God in very different streams of Christianity (and sometimes glimpses of God in very different places outside of Christianity even).

As a young twentysomething in the 2000ths I discovered the ’emerging church dialogue’ on the internet while it was still healthy. I recognised some things about myself in the mumbo-jumbo about postmodernism, and I saw a lot of stuff that did connect with the Higher love of Christ. The whole supernatural dimension seemed entirely lacking though, and over time the whole thing shrivelled and turned into an US American inhouse thing, that got more influenced by -to me- new and rather narrow ideologies where only the oppressed mattered, and identities were more important than people, and unhealthy American realities were absolutised and pushed upon all of the world while speaking of decolonisation.
And with that I was out. The whole American thing [which sadly influences a lot of people around the world] just seemed too polluted over time. I had seen too much stuff in the ‘conservative’ side already that had pushed me as a Jesus-following evangelical away, but instead of finding a place beyond the modernist division of both halves of ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ in which both were integrated again most ‘progressive Christianity’ stuff completely alienated me and gave me no traces of the Reality of Christ, only a lot of condemnation of ‘bigots’ and deeper trenches. While the visible part of the ‘conservative’ side in politics has become something that to me seemed opposite to anything Christ would stand for. Mammon, power, own country first, an economic orthodoxy of social Darwinist policies and no care for creation, and so on…
De-Americanising my sources to a certain degree was the only thing I could do to keep my spiritual sanity. But the US at this point did have a big influence on the religion that I’m a part of, and on the view a lot of people worldwide have of Christianity.  American ‘conservatives’ equating Christianity with their weird political system isn’t something that can be completely ignored in a world that is so connected as this one. Or at least I wasn’t able to do so.

Strangely at the same time there was the new Pope, who had taken up the name of Francis, who made more sense as a Christian than both sides of the American divide. Not that I agree with him as a conservative catholic about everything, but he has the love. And he knows that both the left and right (both in American and European sense) are full of nonsense most of the time and that often neither aligns with the gospel. A Christianity that has the love that goes deeper than all of our human stuff, love for the poor and despised without creating trenches against people of certain ‘identities’, and willingness to take the words of Jesus seriously. That’s the least I expect from a Christian. And evidently a search for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, for Love and Justice before other things.

And then the overseas situation gets even worse. Against all odds the US gets a president who is supposedly ‘conservative’ and from the party favoured by a lot of supposed Christians. A man who has no place for truth in a way that goes far beyond anything postmodern. A man who mocks the vulnerable and those who are in misery. A man for whom money, power and his ego seem the only guides. A man whose policies will destroy lives, and ecosystems. And a man who is presented by some Christians as ‘the Christian option’ because he will ‘make American great again’. The antithesis of all things True, Good, and even beautiful, and of Love and Justice has been hailed as a saviour. And I can’t be the only one who sees in the guy echoes of the weird antichrist characters of bad American seventies endtimes movies,  the kind that manages to sway all nominal Christians…

If anyone tries to sell me this mess as representing Christ, something breaks. It’s like accepting that water is dry, black is white, life is death, lies are truth. Or that slavery is freedom. Yes, he might not be the actual antichrist of dispensational pre-trib premillenialism, but the level of dystopia is rather disturbingly high anyway.

(Yes, we must pray for Trump, and bless him. But he is not worth more or more important than any sick refugee child either, and on the other hand him being a fellow human made in the image of God doesn’t mean that we should ignore how dangerous and destructive the bloke is. Loving those who are wrong doesn’t mean accepting their wrongness. Love the sinner hate the sin still applies, even if said sin is destroying the whole planet we should not hate them and yet cannot accept their destructive influence at all!)

So what prompted this post?
Yesterday I saw an older David Sorensen blogpost about Donald Trump being chosen by God, and it made me wonder about all these things. For those who don’t know him, David Sorensen is a part of my charismatic past, part of the Belgian scene, although not at all uncontroversial. I sort of did appreciate his first book when I was a lot younger, but there always were things that I completely disagreed with him too. And I’m not speaking about his style here, which is just a matter of taste. I’m more thinking about his crusade against Narnia movies for example…
I once heard him preach, and I couldn’t deny that he did bring across some Christian truths, in spite of the ‘I haven’t prepared and will let the Spirit guide me now’ approach which made him stretch things that have been said in 15 minutes  into a repetitive unstructured mess of a sermon that lasted about 2 hours. (It did give me more respect for the Spirit though, being able to get through with such a human vessel…)

I can’t deny that, even with all the weirdness I’m used to, and the fact that I know that the local US Christian population has fallen for Trump to I felt betrayed. And maybe I shouldn’t have been. Weed and wheat have been growing together since time began, and it’s always been a mixed well even though it brought me living water of Christ. But to see a tradition that I supposed tried to follow Christ follow a character that is almost the dialectic antithesis of everything Christ stood for without a trace of cognitive dissonance I do kind of despair.

I don’t despair because I lose my faith in Christ. I despair because I see a Christianity that takes people away from Christ. I despair because I feel torn apart.

And I need to remember that I need to ground myself in the Truth of Christ, in Love, and not in the internet which is full of toxic group spirits and dangerous distractions…

And then something whispers. Can we please remember that in times when Christianity is deteriorating and falling apart due to synchretism with antichristian powers it is not those who can reproduce the right theological constructs who are the ‘faithful remnant’, but that all knowledge, and even faith that moves mountains is nothing without Love?

(Read 1 Cor 13 please.)

And I remember that I’m faraway myself.

so what do you think?

peace

Bram

Bewaren

Bewaren

On my problematic relationship with American post-fundamentalism…


There was a small blog silence here lately because I did move with my family from the city of Antwerp to the much smaller city of Lier, about which I might write more later, living in a pile of boxes waithing for the internet to be connected for a while. Now that things are becoming a tiny bit more stabilised I feel like writing again. And I thought I might  start with a short standalone post that I’ve been thinking of writing for a while now, about my weird online relationships with American ex- and postfundamentalist Christians. If I’d only be able to write short posts…

As a blogger who likes to write about religion (among other things) as a ‘post-evangelicalish evangelical’ I’ve been reading a lot of Christian blogs and articles, and a lot of them (in the English language) seem to come from the US. Which is sometimes problematic… (see also this post)

The US has a very different culture from Belgium, and sometimes it is hard to even understand certain views and reactions from either the ‘conservative’ or the ‘liberal’ side. Both don’t make sense to me sometimes, especially as a dichotomy. (Living in a land where ‘liberals’ and ‘socialists’ are the opposite of each other alone might make it hard to take American dichotomies very serious anyway…)

I might be an evangelical, but I don’t really have a fundamentalist background not do I always understand American culture. I did grow up in secular Flanders, in a post-catholic world in the last stages of the great American 20th century dechristianisation. (watch out America, you will have yours very soon!) My pentecostal background might have had some fundamentalist influences sometimes here and there that I lost along the way long ago myself, but still I find it hard and sometimes impossibfundamentalsle to understand American fundamentalism, or the ‘photo-negative’ version a lot of ex-fundamentalist bloggers seem to have (I’m not thinking of you here) that is as difficult to understand from a  non-fundamentalist POV as fundamentalism itself and completely tied to it, no matter how ‘liberal’.

(As I grew up in a secular country there is nothing new or exiting about atheism and stuff like that. Seen a lot of it and it never could interest me. It’s just another rusty tradition to me, with boring old farts in it -I think of our Belgian Etienne Vermeersch now for example-, but I’m sure it’s very new and exiting if you just escaped from a secluded world of fundamentalism… Grass-is-greener effects always work!)

What I find the most difficult to understand are people who find identity in what they are reacting against. If I feel no connection with fundamentalism, I won’t feel more connection to the opposite version of it. Invert black and white in a picture and you don’t get another picture, but the same version only in negative version. You can have adaptations of you picture all you want, but it will never be a new picture. And if there is one thing that moving beyond fundamentalism requires it’s finding a new picture, and a better story.

If all you have to say is just an anti-these to what you grew up with, you will just end up with a worldview parasitic to what you’re trying to get away from, and a parasite can never survive without its host…

The worst here is the ‘guilt by association’ tactics.  Some people seem to use those with anything that could also be said by fundamentalists. Yes, fundamentalists have a lot of things wrong, but they also will have a lot of things right like all humans. Saying ‘fundamentalists say this too’ to discredit something is pure nonsense, just as using that same logical fallacy with atheists or anyone else. It’s not because Hitler loved his dogs that dogs are of the devil. Guilt-by-association and ‘saying this could be linked to Y’ are always very nasty logical fallacies! No matter if Y are liberals, the papists of the Spanish inquisition, Lacanists, muslims or liberal/fundamentalist Americans.

This does not mean that I do not enjoy reading the writings of some very interesting ex/post-fundamentalist American Christians. (Like Lana Hope and Elizabeth Esther for example). If people go beyond the problems of the fundamentalist worldview and find a bigger picture, I can get into their thoughts and learn a lot from them.

I do recognise that everyone has a context and that no-one writes in a vacuum,  and I am willing to learn about every culture, be it American fundies or lost jungle tribes, but if people just invert their fundamentalism (or construct an inverted fundamentalism as some new atheists do) and promote that as universal they can only lose me. It’s not a break with fundamentalism at all for me either…  And completely irrelevant if you’re not from a fundamentalist background…

what do you people think?

peace

Bram

farewell, online American Christianity…


dear readers,bla

I know, my title sounds dramatic and probably is an overstatement, but I’m afraid it’s time for me to draw the line I’ve been drawing earlier a bit more more clearer, for my own health. I need to get away from certain stuff because it just is an unhealthy distraction, and not relevant even for where I am in my faith journey.
There’s enough stuff enough already to wrestle with in my own life here on the old continent, and moreover I don’t think the things that come through are even representative, but for some reason the loudest voices are the most bitter ones. But those are the things I stumble across, on blogs, FB, twitter, etc…

Okay, let me be frank here what the problem is: I don’t want to read anything about people calling others ‘heretic’ or ‘bigot’ because they are not X or Y enough because of verse Z and Q read in a way that I don’t understand or because of this theology or tradition or scientific theory or academic consensus or political correctness or whatever. And yes, both sides come across as equally toxic to me in calling out and disowning and naming enemies. I don’t care about your dichotomies, it’s just 2 sides of the same coin for me. anyway your liberal and conservative American Christianity…

And actually this is not at all my story. I as a lone European weirdo can’t carry the problems of a defective, divided church and culture in our rogue ex-colonies. Taking in too much of it appears to be toxic to me, and the tragic thing is that they probably are as toxic to the people inside of them too. I completely can understand if people are losing their faith at the moment. I completely would understand an ‘evangelical collapse‘. And I sincerely hope you will be able keep it on your side of the ocean, and don’t infect churches here or in the global South with it. There’s enough problems in Christianity without being infected with those from the US too…

But like I said this is not my story and I want to keep it that way.

I already live in country where Christianity (cultural catholicism) has collapsed. Equating Christian with a narrow version of fundamentalist evangelicalism is not an option for me in a secular country where most people think ‘catholic’ when you use the word ‘Christian’, and then think a bout something of the past (or even worse, child abuse and stuff) although it seems our friends Francis does have a good influence.
Evangelicals are not on the radar, and to be honest, what I see coming from over the ocean (the loudest and most visible stuff) has nothing at all or even less in it that could give people a better image of Christianity, or point to Jesus.

And oh, If you want me to be interested in anything you say about your faith, disconnect it from your weird politics. They make no sense to me. None of our 8 parties of so can be equated with either of yours, so your weird dichotomies are alien to me. I live in a country where ‘republican’ means someone who doesn’t like our king (I don’t care about him to be honest) in favor of a republic, be it an independent republic of Flanders, Belgium as a republic or the united states of the EU under one president. Nothing at all about ‘conservative’ politics, although the capitalist-centered part does exist in our liberal party and some nationalists. (Economic neo-liberalism and similar stuff like a colder and extremer version the oldschool liberalism of the founding fathers, people, has NOTHING to do with Jesus. Real conservative Christianity would more ‘communist’ than ‘capitalist’ although it would transcend both and annul every form of slavery to Mammon, the demon to which our lives and all of Gods creation are sacrificed by our current political systems) A democrat to me is anyone who believes in democracy in one way or another. I don’t even see the difference between the 2 American parties, and I find the whole dichotomy-thinking dangerous and unhealthy. I don’t want to waste any more time or reading about it, our own politics are crazy enough and full of problems already. And no, your ‘left’ isn’t automatically more interesting than the right-wing stuff. The political correctness of a world that I don’t understand only looks like ot leaves no place for anyone to even breathe. And it seems that (like always, the problem is prevalent here too) people on both sides are completely misrepresenting the other side, not listening to the other it at all. We have enough of that here already…

Yes, I AM interested in Christians anywhere, including America, who show the fruit of their walk with Christ, who show love to the least, and to the ones they disagree with, no matter if they are sinners, heretics or bigots. If I don’t see that love, you might have the letter, but I don’t think you have the Spirit. You might have theory, but do you have Love?

Like someone said, without love we are nothing, and a tree will be known by his fruit.

Maybe the world needs more fruit.

Where is the fruit? The fruits of the Spirit? Where is the love? The love among Christians that the world will see so it will see Christ? Where is the good deeds that will make the world say that God is great?

Don’t boast in having the right theory, and especially not in how you exclude whatever group you see as heretics or bigots. Show your love through your life and your writing (which is what I see of your life). If something like heresy or bigotry is damaging people, show me how it is damaging to everyone, both oppressor and oppressed, and how you love all of them and want the evil to disappear so it will not be able to separate people anymore.

I want to see visions of light, and the Light itself. Not more descriptions of darkness. Denouncing darkness alone will never bring any light. Dissecting everything you see to find more darkness in it neither.

So I’m going to cut myself loose from some things even more, for it seems that the distraction of the struggles of a world that isn’t mine will only bring me further away from God. Yes, I might read Rachel or Robs series on the bible or some of my blogging e-friends from time, but I will avoid every blog-storm, every new ‘crisis’ in which people are leaving evangelicalism and in which Christians behave like a bunch of politicians of the type that never became more mature than a spoiled toddler. Even a critical commentary on it can channel something that is detrimental to my faith.

I’m not bound to whatever people on another continent call ‘evangelicalism’. I’m bound to the Way of Christ, the Incarnated and Risen one who conquered death, evil and sin, and to the Spirit who lives in me.

I need to be turning to God Himself, to the bible and the words of Jesus, to books from a lot of angles. To the believers around me, who are part of my journey with me.

And I am probably very privileged in a way not to be an American here if all you can see is America and its problems and me telling that it’s not my problem. But actually there are problems enough already in my own life and in this country, wo don’t have to import any.

But for those alarmed by the title: no, if you’re an American Christian reading this and we know each other from online conversations;I’m not going to cut off people. If you are my friends you stay my friends, but I need to disengage your overall culture, for my own spiritual health.

I will love you but not carry the baggage of your culture as if it’s mine. I will talk with you and pray for you, but I cannot share the axioms and certainties of your culture and act as if they are normative for all earthlings. They are not, and some of them are alien. Just as mine are…

peace

Bram