The American Dream as Personal Salvation

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Throughout the world there are many obvious aspects of culture that affect religion. This is evident in any critical analysis of countries and religions worldwide and a contributor to the diversity and functionality of people groups. What happens when it affects societies and the church as a whole, and is the evangelical church in American willing to examine its own “folk culture” to see what has been added to the gospel in pursuit of the “american dream?”  

As I’ve been studying Ministry to Sexually Exploited and Trafficked Children, my heart has been even more deeply burdened for the brokenness of this world which abuses the most vulnerable for financial gain, and perverted power.

Sadly, it begins here in the land of the brave and the home of the free.  

This extends from using children in slavery, to the self absorbed organizational and political powers that still believe any race or gender should be given power or control over another. Why did it take a graduate course to hear and learn about the enormity and depth of this problem which should be at the forefront of american society? After two hundred-twenty-nine years since the writing of our constitution why are we still fighting to be a republic and witness freedom for all? It’s an imbalance of power in a country that still claims to be predominantly “Christian.”

The issues begin with the heart. Our hearts should be compassionately leading the way in peace and reconciliation. The “American Dream” appears to have become a dream of personal gain. The American Dream for many Christians seems to have become deeply rooted in a personal salvation experience.

We who are followers of the Nazarene have been called as “friends” to walk beside a man who gave up ultimate power to show us The Way to ultimate love. He said the one who “loses” his (or her) life will gain it and proved it by giving up his own life for us. It is a different calling than the “take back,” “me first” rhetoric that is spoken today.  There is a total lack of attention given to modern day slavery that far exceeds the 1800’s still deeply rooted in our country through pornography, patriarchal, and cultural exploitation. Where is the voice that cries out against the serious issues of injustice and basic human rights instead of inflammatory political jargon that only stirs up strife?

A personal salvation experience that says “I say the prayer, I get saved, I now go to heaven” isn’t found anywhere in the bible, or spoken in any way by Jesus. Instead, we see people coming to an awareness of the needs of their own sin and selfishness and bringing that freedom and passion to others for the sake of their families and communities. This is the norm in the majority of the world where communities stay in tact for generations. The early church risked their lives to share the gospel of Good News with the “other.”

Now we have the american dream well established in the church – not only do we get to live in prosperity and relative safety within our own home with our property, cars, possessions, family, and “church” cared for first, we also get to live this great life for an eternity because I confessed Jesus as my Savior, and hold to certain doctrinal truths and political ideologies. 

 

Could we have exchanged the law of love for “laws” of tithing 10% to the local church, how many bible scriptures we can quote, membership to our chosen denomination, faithfulness to Christ equated with regular church attendance?  All good principals, but often treated as laws.  Live by one law, then live by them all. Are we more worried safety from the “other” within my own home, church, community, and nation, than embracing the “other” for the sake of Christ? To live is Christ to die is gain. 

We have developed our own folk culture. One of the first things an educated missionary will do is study the culture, ideologies, and how a people group has come to believe the things they do, because their beliefs are the foundation for how they act. As we study the people groups we are involved with, we also have to examine our own closely held beliefs. It is always easier to see the misconceptions of others because our views are not what we are thinking about, but the grid and perceptions we think with.

My views have changed 180% over the majority of issues in the last 20 years because I have sought to see through the eyes of Christ despite my own desperately broken lenses. It’s not that I now think I am right – quite the contrary – I am willing to say that outside the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the historically and widely accepted truths of the doctrinal creeds – I may be quite utterly wrong.

If you had asked me fifteen years ago you would have heard quite a different story. You would have heard a self-righteous, arrogant, know-it-all, spewing my doctrinal truths, completely assured if was ever required to,  I would DIE for Christ. My kids were raised waiting for the “End Times,” to come, and told that to deny Christ with a gun to their head would mean hell for eternity. I now consider that emotional abuse and certainly NOT a gospel of Good News. I like to think that I would still die for Christ, but I’m not so afraid of hell anymore. Instead I am passionately trusting the God who loves me – more in love with Jesus than in fear of flames. I used to worry that I would be asked to choose between a confession of belief over my child, and scared to death that I may someday be forced to watch my child die that I may be “faithful” to Christ.

No greater love – If I was ever called upon to deny Christ to save the lives of my grandchildren or children, I like to believe I would risk hell instead. That is the greater love. Yet, in risking, I trust in the Amazing love of an Amazing God.

There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear.

So where is our love being revealed in our culture today? Is it evident on social media and in sociopolitical and religious debates? Or are we still living a personal salvation in grasping our american dream ideology?

I would rather err on the side of grace and love and follow in the steps of the God-Man who came to earth, owned nothing for himself, and died to model that love –for all people, at all times, in all places, cultures and communities…than to hold up my shield of 57 years of white, female, middle class, educated, american, cultural folk perceptions.

Maybe I am completely wrong. 

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