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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

White Trash Christianity?

By Larry Beane

Here is an except from a cultural observation showing the state of modern America's dearth of understanding of the Christian faith.  The book is called When Did White Trash Become the New Normal: A Southern Lady Asks the Impertinent Question by Charlotte Hays.

There is some witty writing here, including:
Cultural illiteracy breeds White Trash behavior. If you don’t know who Adam and Eve were, you probably don’t have reasoned arguments as to whether Adam and Steve should get married. Indeed, I’ll go out on a limb and predict a day when a clergyman divorces his wife, comes out of the closet, takes a male lover, and then becomes the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire. Nah, that’s crazy. Things will never get that trashy. Sometimes I amuse myself by trying to picture my grandfather, a plain vanilla Episcopalian if ever there was one, “exchanging the peace.” No can do. But you know what I really can’t imagine? I really can’t imagine him—or any of his contemporaries—sitting in a pew at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine engaging in ritual howling. Back in the day, even Episcopalians had a grip on reality.
I have not read the book.  I have only read the above excerpt.  But I am intrigued by what I have read.

The author examines the relationship between the ignorance of religion and the decaying culture.  I think a more pertinent approach is for us, as Lutherans, to examine the culture's Biblical illiteracy, combined with a culture hostile to "organized religion," exclusive truth claims, and the critique of sin, in light of how we, as pastors and as lay people, preach, teach, and confess the faith.

Our culture is seeing a precipitous decline in not only knowledge about Christianity, but even in a curiosity of the same.  We're finding that our culture has rapidly become a mission field of people who are not merely unbelievers, they have no idea who Jesus of Nazareth is or what He had to do with anything in world history.  They are in large numbers intellectually and culturally adrift, with no sense of history, and no desire to learn.

This is especially an issue for Lutherans, being not only a manifestation of the catholic faith that is based on Holy Scripture, but which worships liturgically by definition and by confession, and has a rigorous view of theology.  All three of these constituent aspects of Lutheran Christianity are at odds with what the author calls the new "White Trash" religious culture we live in.

Some openly argue that in order to reach young people, we must ditch our liturgical tradition.  Usually those who argue in this way believe that we can somehow hold onto our theology and biblical grounding while tossing our liturgy to the lions in the arena, as though a tripod with a leg missing will work just fine.  The obvious issue here is if our culture rejects the exclusivity of the Bible, the traditional and un-entertaining nature of the liturgy, and theological truth (in fact objective truth of any kind) entirely, how can we "reach" them without getting rid of not only the rituals of the Mass, but also the church's doctrine and commitment to Scripture?

Indeed, we're seeing many bearing the name "Lutheran" - both within and without the LCMS - abandoning the catholic faith in search of mysticism, goddess-worship, feminism, entertainment-worship, the culture's fascination with homosexuality, the trivialization of sins that are increasingly culturally-acceptable, and other idolatrous practices designed to "reach out" to the "disaffected."

Written from the perspective of a disgruntled Episcopalian, knowing the fate of that particular erstwhile catholic tradition, Ms. Hays's book might serve as a sort-of Marley figure in our latter-day Christmas Carol, in which the Church has become miserly with her treasures of forgiveness, life, and salvation.