Five Convenient Christian Punching Bags
I've never boxed. I've only seen Rocky I. And I think Mike Tyson is crazy. But as a Christian I do have a punching bag. In fact, I have several of them and so do you. These are rhetorical targets, things we love to hate as preachers, writers, bloggers, etc. If you read a bestselling Christian book, listen to a sermon, read blogs, scan your Twitter feed and/or Facebook timeline, you'll be sure to encounter one or more of these. Here are my top five:
1) Most Evangelical churches...
Yes, we like to stereotype most evangelical churches, don't we? I even wrote a post about this here. Even though we may have only personally visited seven other churches in our lives, we think we have authority to say, "Most churches... " and it's usually a negative thing. What's funny about this is that almost every side of every debate uses this. People who are more progressive say, "Most churches won't allow..." while folks who are more conservative may say, "Most churches wouldn't preach..."
It's a rhetorical crutch you will probably find in almost every book, sermon, etc., you hear, including mine. We just can't help ourselves. I'm not sure where it comes from, other than the need, I think, to make ourselves feel better about what we're doing. Our church/sermon/book/movement is better because we're going against the bad grain of "what's going on the church." A good cousin to this is the "most pastors" crutch.
2) Christian bookstores
Man, we Christians hate Christian bookstores. The other day I posted a positive Tweet about one in my neighborhood and it received mostly negative feedback. This punching bag goes like this usually: "Walk into a Christian bookstore and you'll find..." and it's usually stuff that the person doesn't want to see sold in a Christian bookstore. Again, this is a bipartisan punching bag, as progressive Christians want to see more risque language, etc., in the books sold there and conservative Christians think that bookstores need to sell more solid doctrinal content. I'm not defending every item purchased on the shelves of Christian bookstores, but I do wonder how they might keep everyone happy? And I do know that it's a really difficult business to sustain. And I also know that it seems virtually impossible to get anyone to say anything nice about a Christian bookstore these days.
3) Joel Osteen
I'm not a big fan of Joel Osteen's ministry. I think the prosperity message is a false or, at best, misguided message. However, it's interesting how easy it is for us to "push off" of Osteen as a way of defining our ministry philosophy, as if "not being Joel Osteen" is the only way to be. He's a convenient punching bag, a mascot for "what's wrong in our churches" (see above). What's more subtle and less acknowledged is the way prosperity preaching has seeped into even conservative evangelical churches in the sense that we seem to implicitly teach that if we just do certain things, God will be happy and our lives will be trouble-free. Easy to blame Joel but it's likely that we've imbibed some of the prosperity message in our own lives.
4) The Religious Right/Republicans/Jerry Falwell
This may be the punching bag of choice for millennials. Every year, many books are published in the evangelical market that decry the church's selling out to power and/or Republicans. What's funny is that each author acts like he's stumbled onto some new theory. I resonate with some of this message, that at times the church has become known more for what or who it is against than what it is for. I think the church should be wary of aligning itself too strongly with one party/movement. But I also think that this is overstated. Sometimes the acts of individual Christians are conflated with "the church" itself. I also think Jerry Falwell gets blamed for a lot more than he should. Yes, he made some unfortunate comments that perhaps cast Christianity in a poor light. He also has done much work to advance the work of the church. But, alas, I don't think the flood of books blaming his generation for all of society's social ills will cease anytime soon.
5) Obama/Democrats/Hollywood/Liberals/The Culture
I challenge you to find a book, sermon, etc., that doesn't start with, "And we live in a culture that..." I do this all the time. "They" is an easy mark. Why are our kids leaving the faith? It's the Democrats' fault or Hollywood's fault or the liberals' fault. You'll mostly hear this on conservative talk radio, but you'll get a big dose of it from the evangelical world as well. Some of it is true. We do live in a world system that is increasingly hostile to biblical Christianity. But I also know from my own life experience that it's easier to identify the enemies without than the enemies within. It's easier to speak out against social sins than identify and repent of sins in my own heart. It's easy to find the hate and ungodliness on the mean streets or the Drudge Report than the bad stuff lurking in me.
So, these are my five top punching bags. What are yours? Am I missing some?