Today’s New York Times has bad news for the government. Trust in government is at an all-time low:
With Election Day just over a year away, a deep sense of economic anxiety and doubt about the future hangs over the nation, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, with Americans’ distrust of government at its highest level ever.
The Times article goes on to try and explain these findings and to draw out implications for the upcoming elections. There’s plenty of pain to go around, for Republicans and Democrats, for the Administration and the Congress.
I’m not going to get into the political matters because, frankly, this is not my field of expertise. What I’m wondering about today is whether the last of trust in government would have implications for the church. I could envision three scenarios (at least):
1. The mistrust of government makes no difference for the church, because the church in America is distinct from the government.
2. This mistrust of government actually helps the church, because people are looking for something in which to trust and they will turn their trust from the government to the church.
3. The mistrust of government will hurt the church because it instills mistrust in all institutions.
I’m not quite sure which of these I choose, or whether the right answer is some combination. But, at the moment, I’m inclined to go with #3. I fear that the lack of trust in government will spill over into the church because the church is one more institution. Of course it doesn’t help that, in so many cases, the church itself has been untrustworthy.
Perhaps my leaning in the direction of #3 is colored by a book I’m reading right now: You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith, by David Kinnaman. This fine book, written by a wise demographer, gets deeply into the things that are driving young Christians away from the church. You Lost Me should be required reading for all church leaders. It has certainly heightened my awareness of the challenge faced by the church in this generation.
I do think, however, that the lack of trust in government opens a wide door of opportunity for the church. If we can be a trustworthy institution, if we can be truthful, if we can care genuinely for people in need, if we can give of ourselves sacrificially, if we can envision a better world and live into that vision, perhaps people will put more trust, not just in the church, but in God. Is this possible? Or am I one of those unreasonable people?