Our new moral framework (part 3 of 3)

Our new moral framework (part 3 of 3) September 30, 2015

Old Woman PrayingWhen PC (politically correct) thinking made its debut in the 1980s, it was widely mocked. PC ideas such as gay marriage, multiculturalism, affirmative action, transgender pronouns and hate speech were once derided as follies of the loony left.

Here we sit three decades later. Many PC ideas are no longer laughable distractions — they’re moral imperatives.

Political Correctness didn’t just appear out of the ether. It’s rooted in a new moral framework which I call maternalism. I define maternalism as the belief that society and institutions exist to provide care for their citizens and customers. Key words are protection, nurturing, loving, and affirmation. Modern society places a premium on protecting the weak, leveling the playing field and being nice to one another.

This differs greatly from the old paternal framework, which is rooted in the idea that society and institutions exist to enforce standards and create order. Paternalism believes that society should challenge people to conform to agreed-upon social norms. We place a premium on developing the best and brightest, accumulating wealth and power, and speaking the truth – even when it offends.

My last two posts describe secular maternalism (here and here). But has maternalism affected the church? I say yes — without a doubt.

Every Christian institution maternalizes over time. This includes Christian Universities, charities, mission organizations and of course, churches.

Although every healthy institution needs to reflect both paternal and maternal values, an excess of maternalism rots a church from within.

Churches are always born paternal. They’re evangelistic. Orthodox. Goal-oriented. They proclaim a bold gospel and aren’t afraid to confront sin.

But over time the paternal focus on evangelism and personal holiness gives way to a maternal focus on creating warm fellowship and caring for the weak. Theology goes squishy as rules take a back seat to relationships.

When a church completely abandons its paternal ethos, men depart. Its young people drop away. It becomes a church of old women, providing hospice care to a sick, dying institution.

This is why America is dotted with more than 200,000 non-growing churches that haven’t won a convert in years. Their focus is maternal: creating loving communities that care for the weak and vulnerable. They accept everyone and everything.

But without evangelism a church dies out. Without strong doctrine and clear focus, people begin to think, “Why do I even need to go to church? It’s a bunch of nice people, but there’s no reason I can’t sleep in this Sunday.”

This is the situation the Episcopal Church finds itself in. That denomination has been maternalizing for 50 years. In order to make everyone feel loved and accepted the EC long ago abandoned paternal priorities such as evangelism, mission and the authority of scripture. At the same time, the church expanded a net of maternal care to people who need love and acceptance – even though their life choices defy the standards set forth in the Bible.

As a result of this maternal turn, the Episcopal Church lost 23% of its membership in the past decade. At this rate, the EC will be wiped out by the end of the 21st Century.

So what is the theology behind this maternal shift?

When Christ came to earth, he found a religious culture that was abusively paternal. Jesus’ foils were the Pharisees — legalistic, unloving men who had completely missed the point. Jesus pushed Jewish culture back in the maternal direction – toward love and care and away from silly rules.

Modern Christians read the gospels, see this trajectory and assume that rules are bad and love is good. After all, Jesus boiled everything down to two commandments: love the Lord and love your neighbor.

Now if this is the basis of your theology, you emerge with a very simple, one-dimensional ethos: if it’s loving, then God likes it. If it’s unloving, God doesn’t like it.

But who decides what’s loving and what’s not? In a maternal world, anything that makes people feel good about themselves is loving. In a paternal world, anything that pushes people to achieve greater things is loving.

Do you see the problem now?

The allure of maternal Christianity is particularly powerful among highly educated believers. These smart people get to embrace a gospel that won’t embarrass you at a cocktail party. “Oh, I’m not one of those Christians,” they say. “I’m not one of those judgmental types. I don’t believe in all those miracles and that demonic hocus-pocus.” As a maternal Christian, you get to follow a reasonable Jesus who will never humiliate you.

Moreover, maternalistic believers get to play the role of Jesus in the gospel narrative, rebuking the modern-day Pharisees who homeschool their kids and don’t believe men should marry each other. They’re absolutely certain that if Christ walked among us today he’d be a Socialist. He’d advocate massive government programs to help Lazarus, and tax the rich man on his way to hell to pay for them.

Let me close with a link to an article in yesterday’s Huffington Post. It’s penned by a twentysomething progressive Christian who tried to find God in a maternal church. He describes the congregation this way:

Every week, 40 or 50 people, most familiar with one another, would gather and listen to the minister talk, usually focusing on a specific book from the Old Testament and the lessons we can learn from it. We would sing, a lot — the choir was talented and the songs were classics.

Every week, there would be a few minutes set aside for us to shake hands with people we didn’t know — “Peace be with you.” “And also with you!” — and every week the little children would be brought up front to share their insights about God. Members of the congregation would ask for specific prayers, and we would listen and pray for them.

A man once asked for prayers for his brother’s husband — this was an LGBT-accepting church. Nobody mentioned hell or punishment, nor was abortion ever a topic. On paper, it was the perfect church for me.

I haven’t been back since that visit and don’t intend to. I still feel bad because many of the members were noticeably excited to have me as a new, younger member, but it simply did not offer what I am looking for in a church — and what I’m certain most people my age are also looking for.

He continues:

Do you know what we would buy? Jesus the man, Jesus the prophet, the Jesus that fashioned a whip of cords and overturned the tables of the money changers for making God’s house a den of robbers. The Jesus that challenged the establishment and paid the ultimate price. The Jesus that took up the cross of the poor, the weak, and the marginalized in the name of God.

I spent an hour and a half at church one week and the name “Jesus” was not mentioned a single time. That is what ultimately made me decide to give up.

I’m all for love and a personal relationship with God, but I choose to follow the man who teaches that political action is worship, that social justice is love.

This young man will search in vain for a church that combines the paternal strength he longs for with the maternal theology he believes. The two are like oil and water.

David MurrowDavid Murrow is the author of the bestselling book, Why Men Hate Going to Church. David’s books have sold more than 175,000 copies in 12 languages. He speaks to groups around the world about Christianity’s persistent gender gap. He lives in Alaska with his wife of more than 30 years, professional silk artist Gina Murrow. Learn more about David at his Web site, www.churchformen.com, or join the conversation on his Facebook page, www.facebook.com/churchformen. Don’t forget to share this page by clicking on the links below, or scroll down and leave a comment (right below those annoying ads that pay for this blog). 

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