I Decline, Madam Secretary
Thinking through Hillary Clinton's advice to the Church
I read that Hillary Clinton is concerned about what’s going on in the church, because so many young people are “leaving” it. Here’s the quote:
“Because a lot of people are leaving the church, a lot of young people are leaving the church in part because [of] the way they understand what Christianity has become is, you know, so judgmental, so alienating, that they think to themselves, ‘Well, I don’t need that. I don’t want to be part of that,'” Clinton said. “So, this should also be a time for the church to take a hard look at itself and try to figure out how it can be a real partner in this moment of moral awakening.”1
There is much to say here. But let’s first consider Mrs. Clinton’s charge to the church.
Dancing Bear Acts
Yes, the church should look at itself. But ironically, and sadly, for large swaths of American Protestantism, there is very little biblical truth left, upon which it might begin to be “so judgmental, so alienating”. Too afraid of offending. So then offensive truth-claims are replaced with entertainment. The kids are then raised in an entertainment-focused approach to worship, and then sent off to State U., where they are de-programmed . . . of what? Not much. The job of that professor in Philosophy 101 is no more difficult than that of the director of a Super Bowl half-time show, who tells the singer to disrobe. It’s not hard, because there weren’t many clothes there to begin with.
James K.A. Smith says it best in his excellent book “You Are What You Love”:
It’s as if these adults overheard the nineties grunge band Nirvana shrieking, “Here we are now: entertain us!” but completely misunderstood the point.
The point being: we already have enough of that. We need something else. Smith goes on:
. . . the sad fact is that our youth ministries have treated [young people] as thinking things that need to be entertained when, in fact, what they really crave is not liberation from ritual but rather liberating rituals. Have we failed to realize that while we’re trying to entertain them, our young people are waiting for us to form them? . . . [W]hile [young people] might never articulate it, their departure from [entertainment-focused] versions of Christianity likely grows out of a suspicion that Christianity is nothing more than a production, like every other production.2
The “production”, in seeking to attract to the truth, actually, sadly obscures the truth. Therefore, though not in the way she intended, Mrs. Clinton is right: all that’s really “there” to this version of Christianity, all that’s non-ethereal, is the judgment, and the alienation. All that’s really there is what the Spirit came to convict the world of (John 16:8-10): its alienation from God (sin), its need for righteousness and its impending judgment. Yep. You’re a theological poet and you didn’t know it, Madam Secretary.
And that’s all that’s there, because something else has long left the building. Entertainment fills the vacuum left by the departure of the gospel. The whole gospel, including that whole thing about Jesus being raised from the dead. The article I referenced states that Mrs. Clinton “identifies with the United Methodist Church”, an organization whose turn away from biblical, Romans 1 Christianity is well-documented. The gospel left that building not long after Elvis.
What’s the Point?
So then, no wonder she observes that, in her religious circles, young people are leaving. Because they think their church is irrelevant. And in their case, they may be right. If Christ is not raised from the dead, if he is not King, and if all that’s left is religious entertainment, then what’s the point? I can get this on Netflix and Instagram, and I don’t have to tithe for it. I can get this at my next Planned Parenthood fundraising banquet, thank you. If Jesus is not raised from the dead, then he is not King over all spheres of life, including what I do with my sexual urges and the gender I was given. And then I am autonomous. I can “awake” to my own reality, my own moral framework.
Thus Mrs. Clinton speaks in the same breath of a “moral awakening” that’s currently happening. Here she uses the same religious vocabulary that historians have used to the describe Christian revivals of the past – i.e., the Great “Awakening”. Except now she is calling the church to partner in this “moral awakening” that is happening outside the church. Mrs. Clinton serves as a high priestess of a new “gospel”, calling the church to depart from the truth and fold itself into a new Christless congregation of enlightenment. To the church’s own destruction, I might add (Heb. 6:1-5). But the devil wears Prada, and never tells you that until you’ve entered the slaughterhouse.
The central virtue in this new woke church is justice. Clinton asks “how can you be a Bible-reading person, a church-attending person,” and not recognize that there is “no separation between Jesus and justice.” Oh, that Mrs. Clinton, and all like her, would come to see that that statement is more true than she realizes! There is no separation between Jesus and true justice. Because it’s at the cross that “mercy and justice kiss” – where all the judgment of God – the One most offended in any sin – was poured out on Jesus, in our place, and all mercy was instead undeservedly poured out on those who believe.
Because all justice was satisfied in our place, we Christians are not for injustice of any kind, anywhere. We are for justice in all its forms, not just those narrowly defined by our generation’s current brand of Marxism, which boils down everyone into simplistic, binary, oppressed-non-oppressed categories, pitting them against each other. Which is, ironically, dehumanizing.
But gospel-minded Christians know better. Because we know a Savior who has come as man, for us, to endure all our categories of injustice, that we might be free. And one day, he will return. Our eyes will open, and we will awake to perfect justice, for all injustice, including for that done in the name of “social justice”.
Recently I and others had an intense conversation with a BLM protester. Perhaps the most telling moment came when she said what she really wanted: “True justice for Breonna Taylor.” That’s a commendable desire – that’s only satisfied in Christ. True justice, for Breonna Taylor; for the murders of millions of black people killed in this country in that most dangerous place – the womb; for the shopowner whose business burned; for all abuse by clergy; for all name-calling and shaming; for all betrayals; for all inhumane treatment of another . . . it will all be dealt with, in utterly perfect justice, for all to see, by Jesus, when he returns.
So then, with respect to your invitation, Mrs. Clinton, on behalf of me and mine, I decline. I decline to partner with your new congregation and its “moral awakening”. Because it is no awakening at all, but a call to the living to climb back into the grave. I decline.
But I have an invitation for you, too, Madam Secretary. The question every person will face is not whether justice will be done, but around whose neck will it come? Will the justice that you desire hang around the neck of Christ, on his cross, or around your own neck, when he returns? Those are the gospel’s only two categories. May the Spirit awaken you and all our generation to that reality, and cause us all to run to Christ, while there’s time, in faith.