The Religious-Secular Divide
Ever heard of phrases that stereotype Christians to be “hypocrites”, “judgmental”, “Bible-thumpers”, “homophobic”, and people-who-only-care-if-you–believe (Bearden, 2016)? The formation of such stereotypes may appear to be someone’s impression of a Christian’s reaction to a particular issue. However, the problem may be probably much deeper than you think.
For the purpose of this article, I will define “religion” as The Christian Community – the Church (or a congregation of Christian believers), and “secular” as The World (or a congregation of non-Christians).
We should have heard of clashes between “the religious” and “the secular” on many occasions. Most of which are quite notable. Some of them have even made it to the papers. Argument between “religious” views and “secular” views have shaped and divided people. Even people within “religious” communities are feeling the impact of such divide. This divide is in fact, getting wider and harder to bridge.
Some notable conflicts that arise from the religious-secular divide are: The Creation-Evolution Controversy, The Pro-choice versus Pro-life Debate, and the LGBT Community against the Christian stance of sexual relations.
The Fundamental Problem
The origins of the above debates are not founded on the subject mentioned. Rather, it can be founded on something greater – the idea that the “World” is against “the Church”. The idea that “Biblical Values” are coming under the fire of “Secular Values” formed a siege-mentality that is shaping the “Christian” worldview. David Brooks on the New York Times (2017) pointed out that the siege-mentality begins with “a sense of collective victimhood”; an idea that the “whole world is irredeemably hostile” to the given community. In some instances, this may be derived from an over-generalisation of how the entire world is out against the community. But in the case of Christendom, one of the reasons for the growth of the siege-mentality may have risen from the need for Christians to be “set apart” as “Holy” (Hebrews 10:10-12) and that “the entire World is fallen”, causing Christians to view the World as “wicked” (Genesis 6:5), “desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9), “sinful” (Romans 3:23), and that “no one is righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:11). Given this negative teaching of “the outside world” as a starting point, any “secular” value that is against “Christian values” may be seen as an attack on the “Church”.
The problem of such over-generalisation may be a cause for why the Church is constantly and intentionally cutting away any possible connections with the “World” for the very purpose of “Holiness”, leading to a multitude of problems.
Segregation within the Church
The fear of being “contaminated” is a commonly cited reason why people within the church fear the “secular world”. An elder from a church in the Southern State of Malaysia shared with me how she would not want her child to be in the same Sunday school class with children from broken families because she fears her children being “negatively socialized”. Another youth shared her experiences of being isolated from church due to her past “sinful” experiences from her unbelieving days. Discrimination is prevalent in the “church” due to the fear of “being contaminated” and thus, not being able to achieve the intended “holiness”.
The fear of the intrusion of “secular values” into “religious spaces” causes segregation within Christian communities. And if Christian communities are called to be communities of love (John 13:34-35), then such segregation should be of utmost concern.
The Debate that Never Ends
Building on the siege-mentality that causes segregation within the church, any “secular value” such as the “changing family trends”, “acceptance of LGBT marriages”, “pro-life versus pro-choice debate”, will be seen as an “attack” on Christendom. For such issues, there is a tendency for the “Church” to take them at face value, and correcting them by stating the Christian stance on these issues.
Without acknowledging the increasing religious-secular divide, there is a possibility that the abovementioned debates will never reach its intended closure. Secular issues that are against religious values should be corrected with humility and love if they are truly detrimental to the society (I mean, it should be detrimental given that it opposes religious teachings). However, that is not what we are seeing in the world today. Secular values that opposes religious values are being met with strong opposition and protests, sparking an inter-societal, religious-versus-secular war. Now, the question we must ask ourselves is whether or not this is truly beneficial and constructive to the society and for the spread of the gospel (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).
Without first acknowledging that there is a deeper problem that requires resolution before answering any part the secular-religious debate, we may run the risk of intensifying the problem and causing others to stumble (Romans 14:13).
Remember therefore that we are called to “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19). Let us then do our very best to learn and to “speak the truth in love” so we will be able to grow to become a matured body of Christ (Ephesians 4:15).
Not of, but sent into.
Lastly, the idea of Christians being “in the world, but not of the world” might have fueled the religious-secular divide. This might also be mindset that many Christians have when they set out to protest against “secular values” just because their religious leader convinced them to. However, this calls for wisdom to determine whether or not what is done is beneficial and edifying for the community, and whether or not the chosen method can help people know God.
Mathis (2012) redefined the term of “being in the world but not of the world” as “being not of the world, but sent into the world”. He concluded with a powerful line stating that “Jesus’ followers have been risen to new life and sent back into the world to free others”. However, the freeing of others should be done tactfully, in love; carefully planned and coordinated so that we can achieve peace and mutual edification.
The careful planning of “freeing others” will therefore require the careful bridging of the secular-religious divide. This will include understanding and affirming our calling to be “sent into the world”, acknowledging the differences between “secular” and “religious” views, and to teach “the world” with seriousness, integrity, and soundness of speech so that whoever who opposes will not have anything bad to say (Titus 2:7-8).
Bearden, J. (2016). 5 Christian Stereotypes That Need to Go. Retrieved from https://www.onfaith.co/text/5-christian-stereotypes-that-need-to-go
Brooks, D. (2017). The Siege Mentality Problem. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/13/opinion/roy-moore-conservative-evangelicals.html
Mathis, D. (2012). Let’s Revise the Popular Phrase “In, But Not Of”. Retrieved from https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/lets-revise-the-popular-phrase-in-but-not-of