Wednesday, August 7, 2013

When American Christianity Had Substance

The Post World War 2 years were a time when American Christianity had a positive image.

When folks said "Christian," they were likely to think of names like:

Reinhold Niebuhr of Union Seminary and his trenchant analysis of America's global power.

Paul Tillich and his "ground of our being" and "ultimate concern," with a powerful linkage between psychology and faith.

Georgia Harkness at the Pacific School of Religion, her ecumenical stance and her critique of "original sin" - "the sooner it disappears, the better it is for theology."

William Sloan Coffin, Jr. and Freedom Riders, and his subsequent stance against the Vietnam War.

Martin Luther King, Jr., and his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, and his profound linkage between civil rights, peaceful protest and the Vietnam War.

Pastors regularly referred to Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was hanged by the Nazis ... and Bonhoeffer's Swiss counterpart, Karl Barth, and their construal of the faith in light of the nationalist madness that drove Europe into war and the world into suffering.

For the Roman Catholics, there was Dorothy Day and her decision to live a life on behalf of the poor and her subsequent work to challenge the Church and America to a redistribution of wealth.

And the world was taken with Pope John the 23 - a fresh wind for a tired church, building bridges to Protestant Christianity and moving the church away from it's Medieval entrapment.

At the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold and his mysticism undergirding his economics and his economics informing his mysticism.

In England, it was C. S. Lewis and his intriguing restatements of the faith for a world emerging out of the dust of war, and Dorothy Sayer, author and theologian.

In India, the tireless work of a little Albanian Nun, Mother Teresa.

It was a time when pastors in the South lost their pulpits because they stood up for Civil Rights and invited their white congregations to envision a new America free of segregation and Jim Crow Laws, inspired by Rosa Parks and her refusal to sit in the back of the bus.

When the madness of the McCarthy Era was exposed for what it was - a pack of lies, and clergy spoke up and spoke out about it.

It was a time when women were emerging from the shadows of servitude to find their rightful place in church and government.

A time, as well, when American preachers were likely to quote from John Steinbeck, Cesar Chavez and Eleanor Roosevelt.

For Presbyterians, it was a time of creative rethinking of the faith, giving birth to The Confession of 1967 and its missional understanding of the church.

It was the best of times and the worst of times, in so many ways, but in the mix of it all, American Christianity had a positive image, and when folks said, "Christian," they were likely to think of women and men who stood up for something good and great, something global in scope and driven by peace, even as much of the world was caught up in the arms race and the Western World silly with its "Red Scare."

There was a time when the word, "Christian," rang true and strong for the sake of a better world.

1 comment:

Robert E. Dahl said...

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. In ways, it was a Dickensian time with the clergy playing Charles Dickens exposing America's belly, seeing its beauty and
pointing with hope to God's great Realm. Just saw Grapes of Wrath on TCM. It brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for the reminder of those I loved to read.