On Wednesday, January 6th, 2021 many of us watched in unbelief as gun-toting United States citizens donned helmets and assaulted the Capitol and threatened the lives of members of Congress, the police, and the press. Immediately the finger pointing began…..at the other side, at Trump, at politicians and political parties, at lies, at unfounded conspiracies. Such finger-pointing and scapegoating is as old as Genesis and hasn’t gotten us anywhere. Such finger pointing does little to achieve what God has placed us here on earth to be and to do. What is called for is a solution entirely more biblical. But first we must understand the real issue.
What Is The Real Issue?
The real issue is much deeper, systemic, and pervasive than the issues currently being blamed for this mess….it is our failure as a society, and more pointedly, the church, to create widespread conditions where all humans can thrive and live abundantly. What does each person need to thrive and live abundantly? Decades of research, coupled with personal observation and a reading of Scripture offers a succinct list of what all of us need from an early age: to feel loved and cared for, to be accepted and to belong, to be safe and secure, to have our basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter met, to be heard and understood, to feel a sense of purpose, to experience joy.
When you look at the insurgents who stormed our Nation’s Capital, it’s hard to imagine that they have consistently felt loved, accepted, listened to, safe, and joyful. These recent days have offered yet more evidence that many Americans live in the opposite conditions to create a thriving and abundant existence. Instead we have conditions that create insurgence, violence, racism, mental illness, and an economic system that creates poverty and unequal opportunities for education, employment and healthcare. In short, we have conditions that create exactly what we witnessed on Capitol Hill. And, can I honestly say that if I had not had the parents I had, lived in a different neighborhood, went to a different school, not attended the church I did, that I would not be one of those people storming Congress?
A Disturbing Study Sheds Some Light
In the 1960’s an American psychologist named Harry Harlow sought to discover the biological underpinnings of love, and it’s opposite––violence. Dr. Harlow separated several infant rhesus monkeys away from their mothers and raised them in a laboratory setting. Without their mothers, the baby monkeys showed disturbing behavior, such as staring blankly, circling their cages, and engaging in self-mutilation and violence.
Harlow then designed his now well-known wire-mother experiment. The motherless baby monkeys were given two surrogate mothers made out of a wood frame and wire. One wire mother was covered in soft terry cloth, mimicking a mother monkey’s soft fur, thus comforting the babies with a sense of touch and feelings of love, but had no milk attached to it. The other wire mother was simply a wire, no cloth, but had a bottle of milk. The results showed that infant monkeys spent significantly more time with the soft, milk-less mother than they did with the hard, wiry, milk-providing mother. The monkey babies came to the wire mother only to feed and then immediately returned to cling to and be soothed by the cloth surrogate. In short, they consistently chose love over survival.
How does this study inform our current situation? Absent genuine love, belonging, and safety, we humans engage with synthetic wire surrogates––celebrities, pastors, priests, popes, and yes, presidents and politicians. It is no accident that in his speech to the rioters, Trump spoke purposeful and powerful words to minds and hearts hungry for love, belonging, purpose, and to be heard, “I know your pain, I know you’re hurt. We love you, you’re very special.” What if these rioters had consistently heard these words from their parents and church leaders? Would the outcome have been any different?
What Next For The Church?
We are naïve to think that these conditions occurred overnight. Nor did they emerge over one presidential term. And, they will not go away with a new administration. We made this incubator of hate, disorder, inequality, elitism, racism and disconnection over generations of benign neglect. So where does the church begin to deal with this nightmare of our own creation?
I think the first step is for pastors, staff, and rank and file church members to become educated about the real causes that perpetuate the conditions and the viciousness that we now face. From the age of about nine or ten, German children are spared not a single graphic detail about their Nazi history. From songs to comic books to death camp tours, schools and churches work hard to teach not only an accurate account of history, but the brain shaping power of propaganda as well. The children are taught discernment, how to become critical thinkers, and how to engage with family members and friends who have differing political opinions. Germans believe that understanding and embracing their painful collective history helps students connect choices made in the past to those they will confront in their own lives. Americans can afford to do no less.
Then we must turn our attention towards creating conditions for everyone to thrive and live abundantly…..physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When I was growing up the church provided the caring social services that have since been largely abdicated to the government and non-profits. Our nation’s first orphanages and education and healthcare institutions were established by Christian denominations. Churches and the agencies they established tended to orphans, widows, the imprisoned, the sick, the poor, the homeless, the jobless, and the hungry just as Christ commanded. Churches helped create the compassionate conditions for humans to not just survive, but to thrive and live abundantly. Churches of all stripes must regain that foothold and that legacy, and not leave it entirely to the government and non-profits, if we are to make a dent in the conditions that have perpetrated the horror we see unfolding all around us.
But mostly, it comes down to love, consistently demonstrated by every day Christians in their own spheres of influence. Not just the feel-good, sentimental kind of love. But authentic, agape, Christ like, Godly, Spirit empowered, unconditionally accepting love that creates the conditions of love, compassion, belonging and safety people need to thrive and live abundantly. The kind of love that also protects children and adults from the conditions that keep them from leading abundant and thriving lives. How might our churches, communities, and nation look if it were saturated by that kind of love?
In the next two posts we will examine how one economic philosophy, known as the Friedman Doctrine, laid the foundation for what we are experiencing in our nation today, and how the church was complicit in embracing that philosophy.
Posted on January 26, 2021