Remember the days when we used to suppose that Western society pretty much held to values drawn from Christianity?
In those days the church used to rail against such social ills as drugs and booze, and marital infidelity, and gambling, all the while assuming that society basically valued things like truth-telling, justice, neighborliness and generosity.
That seems long ago.
Now we find ourselves in a world of fake news, alternative facts, America First, and that “beautiful” big wall.
Now we find ourselves in a world where telling lies and looking after yourself isn’t just secretly practiced; it’s openly championed. And all the way to the very top.
A few years ago I was visiting friends and the 12-year-old girl of the house was running for president of the student body at her school. She asked if she could practice her campaign speech to the grown-ups, so we all assembled in the living room. She cleared her throat, readied herself, and launched into her presentation.
And started telling straight-out lies.
She promised better teachers, more appetizing cafeteria food, less homework, brand new lockers, and a whole range of other inducements for her fellow students to vote for her.
We applauded dutifully and told her she was great. Which she was.
But later I asked her mother whether it was alright for her to promise all that stuff that she couldn’t possibly deliver as a pre-teen student body president.
“Oh, it’s okay,” her mother placated me, “They encourage them to stretch the truth like that.”
So, it begins in elementary school.
We learn to over-promise and under-deliver at a very young age. We’re taught to stretch the truth, to exaggerate dramatically. We’re encouraged to look out for number one.
And now we live in an age where this isn’t just the president of the student body. The president himself does it!
Aside from all the nonsense about alternative facts and the number of people who attended the Trump inauguration, falsifying reality is a standard political practice now.
Student body presidents do it. Presidents and prime ministers do it. Falsifying facts is actually celebrated these days.
Christians now finds themselves no longer sharing core values with their society and its leaders. And this presents an enormous challenge to the mission of the church.
No longer is the church called to simply call people back to Sunday attendance. Now the church must practice a faithful form of presence in a broken society. We must tell the truth, practice hospitality and generosity, and model what it looks like to be a people for others.
When the Australian prime minister tells us that asylum seekers will be fine incarcerated on Nauru or Manus Island, the church must seek the truth.
When the American president says he will look out for Americans first and only, the church must show what true welcome and hospitality look like.
When building walls, ignoring the poor, and breaking promises is normal, then being truthful, faithful, selfless and kind is radical. And we need to be radical now more than ever.
Come on, church, let’s embrace afresh our role as truth-seekers and truth-tellers.