The first thing the church should do is to stop excusing its existence and appreciate its own importance and achievements. Christianity has been instrumental in forging the culture of Western civilisations. Most of the world’s great universities were founded by Christians; the church built up the welfare state long before governments took on that responsibility; and it installed ideas of equality when such ideas seemed unnatural. Christians also led the fight against slavery. And, in the midst of the current focus on fighting racism, it’s worth remembering Reverend Martin Luther King Jr‘s inspiration when he was fighting for racial equality: his Christian faith.
My church attendance leaves something to be desired and I can’t cite Bible verses for every occasion. Yet for as long as I can remember, I have been a staunch supporter of the Christian church. But while I’m always willing to speak up for the church, it is not always willing to defend itself.
Iceland became a Christian country over a thousand years ago. Here, as in other Western countries, the teachings of Christianity and the work of the church have been enormously influential in shaping our societies. Yet all too often nowadays, the church in Western societies is silent on the issues that matter. All too often, it fails to offer even a basic defence of Christianity and Western values. All too often, it is left to those outside the church – sometimes atheists and agnostics – to speak up for the teachings of Christianity.
Perhaps inevitably, church attendance has been declining in many Western countries, including the United Kingdom; fewer people now identify as Christian than they did a generation ago. In my home country, proportional membership of the National Church of Iceland has gone from the high nineties during my youth in the eighties to just under 63 per cent this year. The situation has become so drastic here (and elsewhere) that it’s not uncommon to hear Western societies referred to as ‘post Christian’.
Many church leaders appear to have arrived at the conclusion that the best way to respond to this is to try to please those that are antagonistic towards Christianity. This has meant enthusiastically embracing the zeitgeist of our time; in short, the strategy is to ‘go woke’. At times, this has involved pushing an agenda to compete with the most radical factions of socialist or green-movements. But this is doomed to fail and alienate the church’s most loyal followers.
In Iceland, Christmas has remained a time of unity and good will and Christmas traditions still hold great importance for most people. One of these traditions is attending Mass or listening to the nationally-broadcast sermon. Last New Year’s Eve, the sermon that traditionally marks the start of a solemn evening (before the night’s festivities) was rather unusual. The priest mentioned Jesus eight times but the main subject of the holy sermon, Greta Thunberg, was referenced nine times. A year earlier, on New Year’s Day, Jesus got as many mentions as Greta (two).
Earlier this year, the National Church of Iceland then decided to advertise Sunday schools with pictures of a bearded Jesus with makeup and breasts wearing a white dress and jumping around erratically under a rainbow. If anyone didn’t like it, or had different ideas about Jesus, that was their problem. Those responsible for the advertisements then explained that they were just getting started with their plan to rebrand the Church.