Good Riddance to Cultural Christianity

April 22, 2019
Posted in Blog
April 22, 2019 Editor

Good Riddance to Cultural Christianity

D32X15 Pat Robertson speaks at the Road to Victory event at the Christian Coalition Conference September 19, 1998 in Washington, DC.
Please click on audio of post. NOTE: only main text read; no links, text markings, images, videos, footnotes, etc. read aloud.

Good Riddance to Cultural Christianity

April 19, 2019|

photo above: Pat Robertson speaks at the Road to Victory event at the Christian Coalition Conference September 19, 1998 in Washington, DC (Richard Ellis / Alamy Stock Photo).

WN: Of course, “cultural Christianity” is ever part of Christian expression in all eras, as surely as “tares” grow up alongside “wheat” throughout Church History. The trick is in the discernment and possible/potential related uprooting of cultural weeds. My fundamentalist Christianity thought it got it right when ethical issues cast in five negations defined cultural resistance: don’t smoke; don’t drink; don’t dance; don’t go to movies; don’t play cards. Millions in North America were thus raised. Millions in church leadership got it entirely wrong!…

When North American White Evangelical Church Leadership (in the U.S. clearly, less definitively in Canada) morphed to conservative political shibboleths in the 1970s and since, it still got it entirely wrong, and its further morphing towards the Alt-Right in the Trump era is that tragic false turn gone to seed with Ultimate Ugly Americanism written all over its face: violence, cruelty and arrogance its hallmark.

So yes, good riddance to that “cultural Christianity”. The further trick is: how to encourage/celebrate its passing, while eschewing consequent potential embrace of its spirit. Hallmark of antidote to such is surely humility grounded in realism: eyes and ears wide open — as the Prophets and Jesus called for. A tricky proposition; a risk-fraught endeavour…


There’s lots of hand-wringing these days in conservative Christian circles: According to recent polls, “Nones” have overtaken the number of Evangelicals, and more recently even Catholics in the United States. The trend toward nones is even more heightened among young adults. There’s also the rise of the Christian Left in the public eye and in politics. And, of course, the clergy scandal—both in Catholic and Evangelical circles. All have been taken to point to the eclipse of the Christian Right.

The thing is, this has been coming for a long time. While the rise of the Religious Right among Evangelicals in the 1970s and 1980s was taken as a resurgent movement of conservative Christians, it actually betokened the weakness of the Evangelical Church in the U.S.

The story of the rise of the Religious Right is told by all sides as a story of moral reaction to the 1960s and 1970s. That misses a critical part of the story. A morally lax culture does not threaten the Church. The Church has survived for centuries as integral communities in larger cultures that do not share her distinctive moral practices.

The 1960s and 1970s provoked the rise of the Religious Right not because those decades saw the rise of a moral threat to Christianity in America—as if—but because the changes heralded by those decades posed an ecclesial threat to the American Churches.

This threat resulted from a unique interplay between Church and culture in the U.S.

As I’ve discussed elsewhere, even while ebbing and flowing throughout the nation’s history, the broad cultural consensus around Christianity in the U.S.—particularly Protestant Christianity—seemed a source of strength for Christianity in the nation.

But it also facilitated ecclesial weakness, adding to the problems created by cultural individualism and ecclesiastical competition in the U.S. As a result of these forces, churches could, and did, free ride on American culture to transmit and reproduce much of the moral life of Christianity for their members. Or, perhaps more accurately, churches relied on culture to produce a simulacrum of that moral life.

In overthrowing the cultural consensus around Christian morality, the 1960s and 1970s called the Church’s bluff. American culture would no longer supply the moral cues and the moral backbone to American Christianity.

Theologically-liberal churches caved immediately. Of course, they had conceded whatever internal spiritual resources they may once have had at least half a century earlier. They simply accommodated the new consensus as they hemorrhaged members.

Conservative Christians responded in several different ways. But having neither the tradition nor the leadership to do so, they did not respond ecclesially.

Without ecclesial resources to draw on, Christians naturally looked to the world of politics in reaction to these changes. Hence the rise of the Religious Right in the 1970s and the 1980s.

This reaction, however, only enhanced the impotence of the Church. While the Church certainly has a political witness, and Christians can and should serve and participate in civil society and politics, the Church’s true and unique power lies only in the transforming power of the Gospel.

To be sure, Jesus’s response to Pilate—“You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above”—is nonsense to those who are not Christians. Nonetheless, there simply is no Church without this self-understanding, which is Jesus’s understanding, that spiritual power trumps temporal power, no matter what it looks like to temporal authority. The problem with the Christian Right is not that it’s too Christian, but rather that it’s not Christian enough. It looks to temporal means to sustain what was at best an impoverished ecclesial life to begin with.

Developing real ecclesial life in American churches does not mean withdrawal from society. Quite the opposite. But it does mean that American Christians need to stop thinking of their churches as “voluntary organizations.”

It also means American Christians need to cross lines they studiously avoided crossing in the past.

Those “hard sayings” of Jesus, for example. As when he draws the lines of the true family around himself. Which is why Christians call each other “brother” and “sister.” Or when Jesus redraws national identification around himself as “King.” This does not mean Christians repudiate their temporal identification. But as St. Peter writes, Christians also identify as a nation. So, too, in his epistles, the apostle Paul uses variants of the word “polis” to describe the community of the Church: the church as city and commonwealth.

This is bracing language. It is an understanding that contrasts sharply with traditional American conceptions of Christianity and the “voluntary organization” they call their churches. Instead this: The Church is my family. The Church is my city. The Church is my nation.

Please click on: Cultural Christianity


  1. [1]Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
    The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below.
  2. [2]It continued:
    ‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.”   The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed.  It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.  He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions.
  3. [3]Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
    Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).
    What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.
  4. [5]
  5. [4] The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". [5]He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
    Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.
  6. [6]A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
    In June [2017], the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
    It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.
    Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
    The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.
    To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.


Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

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