From Tragedy to Restorations: Culture eats theology for breakfast, Article 3 of 10

Culture eats theology for breakfast
Article 3 of 10

By Elizabeth Lane Miller and Helene Fisher,

Gender and Religious Freedom (GRF)

This article is part of the series Pursuing Partnership: Men and Women in Ministry.

Management consultant Peter Drucker is credited with coining the phrase: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In missional circles, perhaps our wry Christian observation would be: “Culture eats theology for breakfast.”

Culture is working hard to define us by Practically Perfect standards that have nothing to do with God’s measures. The first casualty of our God-given identity: our Value & Status. 

Have we ever wondered: why doesn’t it always feel sufficient to know I’m a child of God?

Perhaps we hear the whisper of a clever serpent: you may be a child of God, but how many followers do you have on social media? Have you seen yourself in the mirror? What power do you really have?

These self-doubts and insecurities stem from the idea that as we compare ourselves to others, there is something lacking in who we are. This is what Restorations IRL calls Distortion #1: Some people achieve better status than others.

(If Distortion #1 doesn’t sound wrong to you, then perhaps culture ate your theology for breakfast, too?)

What may seem an innocuous, or unavoidable distortion can justify awful practices like religious persecution. After all, if some groups can achieve better status than others, then there can be better status for one religion and lower status for another.

In practice, however, lower status for Christians in a society can mean the worst jobs, being denied land for churches or houses, and an expectation that the young women can be disrespected without consequence.

But this doesn’t just happen outside of religions. Inside our communities, we can also differentiate between our members in ways which give one person higher or lower status. The Apostle Paul confronted the Galatians head-on about such differentiation by writing, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Unaware, the Galatians had been blithely bringing into the church the Roman culture of oppression, multi-layered racism, competitive elitism and casual sexism (and undoubtedly many more -isms). Paul didn’t sigh, “this is just the way it is,” but he actively resisted having this brokenness inside the church and asserted “here is the status that Jesus gave us.”

All of the writers of the epistles had to address the early church’s broken tendency to find ways to rank one person above another. We are no more immune to this tendency than they were.

For example, if we respect men because they are good earners, then if they lose their jobs do we wonder how their prayer life is? If we prize girls’ sexual purity, do we consider them less marriageable to a nice young man of the church if they have suffered a sexual assault?

Research shows that these very points are the most common ways that the Christian men, women, boys and girls are persecuted differently. This is because the effectiveness of these attacks lies not in the initial attack, but in the community rejection or distancing that follows.

If provision for our families and sexual purity are good things, what has happened to turn them into potentially harmful status markers? And how do we hold on to the part of these that is good, without falling into the trap of the part which has been distorted?

Restorations IRL calls to our attention Scheme #1: Half-Truth. Half-truths might begin with a kernel of truth, but then part of the truth is omitted, or mixed with a lie. 

This first happened in the garden: Adam and Eve should have cherished their exalted status as being “made in the image of God,” but Satan implied their true calling was being like God.

This same scheme of half-truth takes the beauty of provision and sexual purity and adds the lie: this is what gives you value. This detaches these behaviors from what makes them good: care for others and faithful relationship. In doing so, it replaces a man or woman’s intrinsic value with a checklist of behaviors.

The danger is that these markers are circumstantial and not always under the control of the individual. This means they can be damaged by somebody else; we are incredibly vulnerable as Christians if we buy into this distortion.

Hanging on to the full truth of where our Value & Status are rooted is our only defense. Resilience is found in constant vigilance as to where my self-worth and self-confidence are grounded, which means that I am also engaging in intentional and radical resistance of status markers which are not from God.

Resilience as a community comes from treating others as having immutable value because of Christ’s blood shed for them. All the time, no matter what happens to them.

Do we realize how effectively this theology of the New Testament ended up “eating” aspects of Roman culture? Today, the human rights and equalities many countries take for granted are because Christians throughout the centuries put into law God’s radical standards of equality and intrinsic rights for each human being.

Next week, we’ll delve into why Equality feels like Handcuffs and how inequality destroys harmony.

With permission: Throughout this series we will draw upon the church training material available through Elizabeth and Helene are the pioneering co-authors of Specific Religious Persecution reports published between 2018-2023 by Open Doors International’s World Watch Research.

This article is submitted by Wendy Wilson of Missio Nexus and of Women’s Development Track.  Women’s Development Track is a Missio Nexus member.  Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.

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