7 Big Questions

[Relevant; Jan/Feb 2007]

1. What trends in church and worship styles do you see? Are they positive or negative?

As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I’m glad to see communities digging into the treasures of the ancient church, particularly in terms of seeking beauty. The less we try to make worship like an evening in the family room, the more we make it something directed beyond our familiar experience, bringing us to the God of beauty, awe, and mystery, the better — and my personal hunch is that this is more attractive to seekers, too.

The negative, I think, is a consumerist attitude, in which worship leaders shop for the elements they find most appealing, rather than joining the ancient community and seeking to understand something beyond their limited experience. Consumerism feels like “being true to myself” or “choosing what rings true to me,” but it’s actually isolated, lonely, myopic, and culture-bound.

4. What do you see will be the greatest challenge for young Christians in the next 10 years?

I am afraid that every Christian is going to be increasingly challenged by violent Islam, in ways that will be harder and harder to tacitly ignore. Ironically, much of what Islam hates about America are things that Christians ought to likewise resist: gluttonous consumption, recreational shopping, celebrity culture, trashing of the environment, the trivializing of sex, the sexualizing of children, the killing of unborn children, artificializing women’s bodies, depriving boys and men of a coherent and worthy identity, jingoism, any belief that being “American” takes precedence over membership in the body of Christ. If we are going to face the threat of death for what we believe (as Christians have been doing for 1300 years in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East), let it truly be for what we believe, and not for Angelina Jolie, the “4th Meal,” and extra cupholders.

6. How can a Christian fulfill a passion for social justice as a middle class American?

I am cautious about the self-label “I have a passion for social justice.” I think it gets in the way. Like wearing a Superman cape. Subtly feeds narcissism. Judgementalism. A temptation to excuse failings because, hey, I’m “passionate.”

Also insinuates a belief that there are “us” and “the people we’re helping” as if that is two different categories. After the 2004 election I heard a pollster say, “We Democrats used to be the party of the poor. Now we’re the party that identifies with the poor.” That’s worth meditating on.

I’d say, choose a cause that is deliberately un-cool, just to be on the safe side.

[responses not included in the magazine article:

* Where and how do you feel Christians can have the most impact on culture?

By throwing off the tyranny of programatic, public, “billboard” actions, and instead taking on the discipline of being loving, humble, and giving in every personal relationship. “The culture” is a mirage; what actually exists is “other people,” and this method works like leaven in dough.

* How should Christians respond to the homosexuality debate?

Within the community, to continue the same approach we find in the early church, that people who are struggling with temptations outside heterosexual marriage, or any other kind of temptation (that is, everybody), should be welcomed and supported as they strive to grow in holiness. One neglected tool for this growth is to have a spiritual father or mother who knows everything about you and gives encouragement and guidance; apart from that, such struggles are nobody else’s business. Nor should people in the Christian community monitor the behavior of people outside it. Likewise, people who choose to remain outside the community should not try to censor Christian faith or practice. Live and let live.

I would avoid (I have avoided) participating in public and political movements. My feeling is that this is truly a case where we should not legislate our faith (unlike abortion, because even a minimal government must prevent violence against children). But on the other hand I can appreciate arguments that in a democracy every voice should be heard, including those who want to protect traditional marriage by legislation. They may have an argument there, but so far I haven’t felt persuaded enough to join in. ]

About Frederica Matthewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service, Beliefnet.com, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.

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