On the 23rd of March, as the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold in the USA, Scott McMillan, a Californian attorney, replied to one of President Donald Trump’s tweets, saying, “The fundamental problem is whether we are going to tank the entire economy to save 2.5% of the population which is (1) generally expensive to maintain, and (2) not productive.” Did you get that? He was referring to the elderly Americans most likely to die from Covid-19, and was encouraging the president to disregard their impending deaths in order to save the US economy. They’re old and useless and a drain on the economy anyway, McMillan suggests. It begs the question, how much is an older person’s life worth?
I have a 60-year-old sister named Joanne. She lives with an intellectual disability. It used to annoy me when people asked me what Jo’s “mental age” was. It’s not as simple as saying she’s like a six-year-old or an eight-year-old. She lives in a group home near me, catches public transport, works at a social firm (what used to be called a “sheltered workshop”), uses a cell phone and mucks around on the internet, all things adults do. But she also likes playing with dolls, coloring books, and she has a vivid fantasy life.
It’s becoming more common these days for people to talk about finding out what God is doing in your neighbourhood and joining God in that work. A few years ago, Alan Roxburgh wrote a book called Missional, which had the subtitle, Joining God in the neighbourhood. He said, “What is God up to in our neighbourhoods and communities? How do we join with what God is doing in these places? Church questions are a subset of these far more important questions.”
In his novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, Colombian Nobel prize winning author Gabriel García Márquez tells the story of the complicated marriage of Dr. Juvenal Urbino and his wife Fermina. Urbino is a passionless man, a medical scientist, devoted to order and progress, committed to the eradication of cholera. Before their marriage, Fermina was involved in an ardent affair with the fiery Florentino, who despite her decision to marry Urbino, declares his undying love for her and pledges to remain faithful to her no matter what. Fermina nonetheless commits herself to her marriage, growing old with Urbino, while Florintina remains a regular presence in their lives. Throughout the novel, Fermina is caught between the two men, one clinical and methodical, the other impassioned and promiscuous.
“There are forces and trends at work in our society that are killing local churches.” You’ve heard people say stuff like that before, right? You know what comes next too, don’t you? Usually, it’s condemnations of the insidious effects of secularization — or sexularization as one Christian commentator calls it — descriptions of hostility toward religion, and warnings about persecution, the limiting of religious freedoms, and fraying family values. Oh, and great angst about people using the greeting, “Happy holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas.” But while some, albeit loud, voices are telling you to look over there, you might be missing some everyday cultural shifts occurring that are having a greater and unnoticed effect on the church. In fact, it is now becoming clear that these trends are killing the mission of the church far more effectively than the hot-button issues that get all the attention.
Here are five that come to mind: