Published: April 2007
Journalists and political commentators like to evaluate the success of the "branding" of products, leaders and groups. Consider, if you will, how our brand, Christianity, is faring in the eyes of contemporary society. We should first consider how our brand is faring in the eyes of God, but that's a challenging topic for another time.
To return to brand Xianity, most of us can remember a sense of complacency from the 1950's. We were Christians and almost everyone we knew was Christian. Then came the years when our brand tanked, when secular society considered church-goers backward and escapist: how could a modern person believe in miracles? Science was respected and the church was out-of-date.
Along came Pope John Paul and George W. Bush, conservatives who revived the status of Christianity. Churches, especially conservative ones, thrived. As praise churches boomed with their simple, old-fashioned religion, all Christian churches retained most of their congregations; we felt connected, under the overall label of Christianity, to a power base. The Bush brand of Christianity was conservative and successful.
What about Anglican churches during the years of Bush's ascendancy? Were conservative voices not more dominant? Were liberals not silenced except in some theological colleges and diocesan headquarters? The Essentials group, started in 1994, seemed until very recently to have the more confident voice. The anti-gay letters to the editor of The Anglican Journal seemed stronger and more numerous than the pro-gay.
But now the conservative party is over. John Paul is gone and Bush's credibility has nose-dived. What he stands for, what he says are Christian values, are now despised, not just by believers of other religions, not just by countries who resent what they see as American imperialism, not just by liberal academics and journalists, but also by the majority of Americans, Canadians and Europeans.
Society no longer divides nations into good (America and its allies) and "the axis of evil," as Bush did. Our multiracial and multicultural society has discovered that there's no more 'we' opposing 'them.' The Little Mosque on the Prairie , which opened on CBC to record-setting audiences, celebrates an interfaith marriage and the friendship of a Moslem Iman and a Christian priest as they share a church building and as their people learn to respect each other.
But this show is an idealized fiction. What about values in real life? Throughout the world, the quarrel rages between those on the one hand who identify with traditional beliefs and tribal loyalties and those on the other hand who identify with humanity as a whole and work for justice for all. In other words, between religious conservatives and the uneasy alliance of the secular with the religious liberals.
How do the secular and the religious liberals interact? The secular like to say, "I'm not religious but I am spiritual." To many churchgoers this assertion seems like just an excuse not to get out of bed and off to church on Sunday morning. But the secular people who make this claim are trying to explain that they have lost faith in the churches, temples and mosques, and in the God worshipped there. The liberals believe that they can be both religious and spiritual, that there's hope for the church, however compromised it may now appear.
If there's a hymn that would have to be updated to express one perspective shared by both secularists and religious liberals, it's "Onward, Christian soldiers." The concept of holy war and crusade that Bush evoked is now seen as no more responsible or ethical than the jihad of Moslem extremists. Jews, Christians and Moslems worship the God of Abraham; it seems ludicrous, 'backward' instead of 'onward,' that any of them can claim to be God's warriors against the others....
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