How the American Church Keeps Getting It Wrong

How the American Church Keeps Getting It Wrong December 13, 2023

The cross as an American flag
Image Credit: Jim Forest/Flickr

The word “Christian” carries an entire Samsonite luggage set’s worth of baggage, doesn’t it? I know I’m not the only non-conservative, non-evangelical Christian who has felt the need to explain themselves when a conversation wanders into matters of faith. Hence the title of this column.

Not that kind of Christian

My goal for this little corner of the internet is to serve as an alternative to what we have allowed to become the primary voice of Christianity over the last thirty to forty years.

Christianity as a way of life is supposed to be counter-cultural. It’s supposed to demonstrate a different way of being and doing and living than the way the world tends to operate. There’s a reason “You have heard it said [insert some sort of social/religious norm], but I say unto you [insert a reinterpretation of that norm]” comes out of Jesus’s mouth so often. Humankind has an almost limitless capacity to screw stuff up, and an almost constant need to be redirected toward what is good and important and life-giving.

Are Christians any different?

To be honest, in many ways, we’re worse. You’re a lot less likely to admit that you might be wrong when what you’re saying or believing is A Scriptural and Godly Thing to Say or Believe.

The ironic thing about admitting that little tidbit is that it’s exactly the kind of thing I’m going to be doing here. But I think American Christianity—or at least the dominant voice of conservative evangelicalism—is in desperate need of a course correction.

And the longer we wait, the more off-course we become.

A Geometric Metaphor

I hate math, so I can’t believe I’m about to use a little bit of geometry here. But check this out:

I do remember from 9th grade that those lines with the arrows at the end are called rays, and the point where they meet is the vertex. So let’s say the bottom ray is Christianity As God Intended (whatever that may be). And let’s say the ray going up is Christianity As Humankind Does It. At the beginning, the two of them are right there with each other. But all it takes is a little deviation, and over time the rays get further and further apart.

Now, any expression of Christianity is gonna get stuff wrong. People with an almost limitless capacity for screwing things up will inevitably create systems and structures that also screw things up.

Again, the church is no different.

Also again, we may be worse, because of the whole “doing it in God’s name” thing.

Course Correcting

All of that said, it seems as though conservative evangelicalism has centered itself in American society for so long, that the rays have become miles apart from each other. That distance has grown exponentially over the last decade and will only continue to do so without a major course correction.

Heck if I know how to do that—the denomination of which I’m a part (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ELCA) has plenty of its own course correcting to do. But I’m thinking that speaking up and speaking out might be part of the solution. Folks need to understand that many of the more common things Christians are known for believing aren’t even close to the only way out there of experiencing the faith.

How Are We Known?

I mean, if someone were to ask me to list attributes of the wider American church (with a lowercase “c”), I think my list would be fairly similar to many others:

• Denies climate change
• Homophobic
• Transphobic
• Against gun control
• Against legal abortion
• In favor of the death penalty
• Favors retributive justice rather than restorative justice
• Dualistic, black-and-white reasoning
• Proclaims “All Lives Matter,” completely missing the point of BLM
• Against programs to help society’s vulnerable, such as the poor, those with mental illness, and those experiencing homelessness
• Anti-intellectual
• Discriminatory against other faiths
• Suffers from a gigantic persecution complex

I’m obviously not talking about the entire American church, but the loudest voice in the room? The voice that gets the TV airtime and continues to be incredibly influential in the direction the United States is headed?


American Christianity isn’t known for its love, for its embracing of the “least of these,” for its commitment to peace, for being a steward of creation, or for being forgiving. It’s not known as a faith with the complexity to be relevant in a complex world. Rather, we’re thought of as a voice of division, fear, and discrimination.

It’s well past time for all of that to change.

The First Step of a Journey 

The default beginning of a conversation about my faith should not involve the need for me to say, “I’m not that kind of Christian.”

This little column will be part of my attempt to change that conversation so that the dominant voice the world hears sounds a lot more like Jesus’s voice.

I hope you’ll join me.

About Matt Schur
After graduating with a B.A. in English from Truman State and an M.A. in Systematic Theology from Luther Seminary, Matt Schur spent years wandering in a vocational wilderness before finally discovering his calling— assisting and advocating for the marginalized and vulnerable. He currently lives out that call as a case manager and housing specialist for people experiencing homelessness. He also serves an ELCA campus ministry part-time as its music director and pianist, and has published two books of progressive Christian poetry: “Cross Sections” (2021) and “Imperfectly Perfect” (2023). His writing has been featured in “Valiant Scribe Literary Journal,” “Unlikely Stories,” and “Cathexis Northwest Press.” You can read more about the author here.

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