Religious Nationalism, Revivalism Rising on the world stage

 

Picture from Terrasanta.net. (Click on the picture for link and source)

Picture from Terrasanta.net. (Click on the picture for link and source)

By Joe LaGuardia

Every election year, we see the influence of a demographic voting block, often pitched as a uniform, monolithic movement, called “evangelicalism”.

Evangelicalism, a loosely-defined subculture in American Christianity, rose to political prominence under the Christian Coalition in the late 1970s and has championed major reforms and legislation that transcend partisanship.

Now, nearly 40 years later, evangelicalism appears to be the national faith of the United States. For all the folks declaring that we’ve strayed from our Judeo-Christian origins as a nation, we still are one of the most religious countries in the world.

Some claim this is unique to our place and time — no other religion aside from Islam plays such an influential role in politics.  This myth reinforces the idea that America is morally exceptional, anchored in biblical values, and divinely blessed.

As times change and the global economy limps along, however, this no longer rings sincere or true.  In fact, a variety of nationalist religions are on the rise in other nations, and we are experiencing none other than a global revival of religion, as it were.

In Japan, for example, the government has been quietly pushing for the revival of Shintoism, an indigenous polytheistic religion of the island nation.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a faithful Shinto disciple, is making the religion a central part of governance and social life, not only supporting Shinto shrines with tax dollars but also incorporating ideologies into his political philosophy and promoting the inclusion of its tenets in public education.

According to Michael Holtz, writing for The Christian Monitor, the emphasis on Shintoism resulted from a growing sense of national pride and a concern over “economic stagnation, materialism, and the rise of China.”

Shintoism has always had a precarious place in Japanese culture, but has historically provided the nation with a sense of power and security.  After the Second World War, the government exchanged Shintoism for a more pacifist, secular platform that emphasized industrialism and cultural growth.

Even now, fears exist that a return to Shintoism will influence broader militaristic fervor and lead to regional conflicts and Japanese aggression.

Russia is yet another nation instilling a religious awakening with nationalist pride among the populace.  The Russian government has increased its support of the Russian Orthodox Church.

This program of national spirituality, which dangerously aligns church and state, contends that Russia’s religious and cultural way of life dominates what it perceives to be the West’s evil imperialism, according to Wallace Daniel with The Christian Century.

According to Daniel, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow recently “argued that Western nations had ‘abandoned their Christian identity,'” claiming that “both liberal democracy and secularism as enemies of Orthodoxy and envisioned a ‘clash of civilization’ in which Russian Orthodox values stood against those of the secular West.”

Against Kirill’s wishes, the government brokered a historic meeting between Kirill and Pope Francis in Havana, Cuba.  It was the first time the two figureheads met in over 1000 years of church history, and conversation centered on political, economic, and religious aims between the East and West.

For some, the meeting was productive and reflected a religious commitment to greater cooperation; for others, it was a sign that a third World War, entrenched in both political and religious ideologies, is eminent.  With tensions rising between East and West in hotbeds like Ukraine and Syria, these hyperbolic claims may be well-founded.

The fact remains: As economies stall and the world shrinks in the wake of increasing regional tensions, people will turn to religions that reinforce tribal pride, quail fears regarding economic inequality, and promote the interests of nation-states bent on building the capital and leverage needed to elbow their way onto the global stage.

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Local churches engaged in Social Justice are on their way to revival

Speaking to a group of Baptists at the recent Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia general assembly, the Reverend George Mason challenged churchgoers to engage in social justice ministries that help the poor, empower the oppressed, and bring healing to the brokenhearted.

One of the more profound things he said was that if churches did commit to social justice, there is a good chance that more young adults would also re-engage with the local church.

For churches that are struggling in reaching this age group, this sermon was a breath of fresh air.  More significantly, I think Mr. Mason is on to something larger than just encouraging a particular age group to grow closer to God.

pope

.The Catholic Church is recognizing how popular it is to do social justice in partnership with young people.  The new Pope Francis, named after the saint who gave his whole life to help the poor, has revitalized the church, energized people of all ages, and has garnered some unique ecumenical attention.

But the more startling statistics are related to Catholic seminaries.  According to Cathy Lynn Grossman, writing for the Religious News Service, there is a higher percentage of candidates for the priesthood in seminaries than at any other time in the last two decades.  Young people are getting excited about ministry, and local churches are rediscovering their skill sets for outreach and missions.

This trend echoes George Mason’s point, and then some: When local churches plug into the needs of local communities, they are able to join the very presence of Christ already at work in the lives of neighbors and neighborhoods.  It is an ingredient for revival for all age groups and for the church as a whole.

This call to do social justice is reminiscent of the prophetic message of many of the Old Testament prophets and, of course, Jesus.

Micah’s message to Israel in 6:8 was this: “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Jesus gave a similar warning in Luke 23:23: “Woe to you…for you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.”

It’s not enough to merely come to the building to worship, hear good preaching, and fellowship.  Each and every church is called to reach out to its local community and partner with the community to provide for the needs of the many.  God gives us opportunities to help those in need, and we turn around and give locals the opportunity to help one another.

It’s a mutual partnership of finding where God is at work, not a presumption that we know what people need to meet God.

This is something I learned in pastoral care classes.  Our instructors told us that we cannot assume that we know what people need when they come to us for help.  Rather, most people know what they need.  We need to merely listen and help people find the resources that will best fill those needs.

Doing social justice and helping people in the local community on a community’s own terms is a basis for hope.  It’s born out of a conviction that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world, and that we don’t need to fear the world but join God where God is already at work.

My predecessor here at Trinity, Sonny Gallman, often said, “God is already at work redeeming those in the world; its our job to let people see it for themselves.”

I am delighted that Pope Francis’ leadership over the past few months and my Baptist brothers and sisters in Christ this past weekend have put social justice back in its proper place as a priority for the church.  It is refreshing, vibrant, and Spirit-inspired.