Why have you struck us down so that there is no healing for us? We looked for peace, but no good came; for a time of healing, but behold, terror. (Jeremiah 14:19)
A few nights ago I was chatting with a seminary classmate, an Episcopal Priest bucking the trend of church decline with a fruitful parish in a coastal diocese. He was sharing his impression that U.S. politics had altered a favorite religious commentary site.
I wrote, Everybody getting driven from the center to the edges.
His lament in reply (if I can really discern inflection and emotion from a chat) was, Me too.
Anglicanism in North America, historically represented by The Episcopal Church, found its niche as one of the “mainline denominations” that formed a kind of national chaplaincy. Christianity in America has been described as a mile wide and an inch deep, yet able to provide a cultural consensus about good conduct and neighborly behavior that made for considerable social stability.
The breakdown of social consensus and its divorce from a broad “Judaeo Christian” basis left the mainline churches scrambling for new niches. Some ran to be chaplains to the political right, although the small-e evangelicals filled much of that space, while many in the mainline became a chaplaincy to the political left.
The organizational and online antics of Christians are hard to differentiate from that of secular people. Sure, our memes and hashtags might include some representation or mention of Jesus, but they remain memes and tweets, smug assertions of unquestionable truths laced with contempt for any who don’t get our manifest enlightenment.
We add nothing distinct to the national polarization’s opinions and behaviors. We are not ambassadors of a different and better realm, nor peacemakers within this one.
Jeremiah, in contrast, wept for his nation. This is striking because the people rejected the message he delivered, went on serving fake gods and their own unjust systems, and even plotted Jeremiah’s murder.
When his message was vindicated by events, he had every opportunity and excuse for gloating (mic dropping, spiking the football, choose your annoying simile). But he lamented what was happening to the nation, continuing to cry and pray as we and us rather than setting himself over/against his awful neighbors.
I wonder if that’s the weak place and proper niche in which the church needs to position itself here and now. To lament for the divided nation, and intercede against the wreckage the current politics will produce.
Should our tears drip into a cesspool like Twitter?
That might be all that’s left to do in a nation full of idols and injustices.