Why Christians Should Stop Trying to Be Relevant and Instead Aim to Be Resilient

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In a culture hell-bent on undermining traditional institutions, including the church, Christian witness will look neither conservative nor liberal but resilient.

Do you remember Lady Gaga’s appearance at Super Bowl 50 this February? Probably not, because what was shocking about the pop artist’s performance was how unshocking it was.

The red pantsuit and matching sparkling eyeshadow were flashy, to be sure. But her delivery of “The Star Spangled Banner” was technically proficient and comparatively orthodox, right in line with the artist who, 15 months earlier, had released an album of jazz standards with Tony Bennett. As Lady Gaga sang, military jets flew overhead; a remote shot showed American forces standing at attention at a base in Afghanistan. It was US civil religion at its most familiar—and most strange.

For Lady Gaga has not just been going into a gentle mid-career twilight of jazz standards. Her career arc also continues to bend toward transgressive imagery, a vociferous hunger for fame, and a quest to mother, gather, and heal her fan army of social outcasts. In October 2015, she starred in the TV series American Horror Story: Hotel in a violent (indeed, to two minor characters in the scene, fatal), blood-soaked, pornographic orgy.

In this context, Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl performance, superficially so unremarkable, in fact was one of the most dislocating and disturbing moments of her career. How does Lady Gaga’s vision of inclusion align with the realities of war symbolized by the military personnel who surrounded her? How does her vision of transgression live alongside the big business interests that funded the show?

At least since the carnivals of medieval Europe, down to the excesses of modern-day Mardi Gras in the heart of the Bible Belt South, Western culture has tolerated the occasional transgressive display as a sort of release valve from the pressure of cultural order. But Lady Gaga’s ambition, as social critic Camille Paglia has noted, is to be simultaneously wildly transgressive and also mainstream. Coverage of the four-person orgy in which she appeared was dominated by assurances from her fellow actors of how “confident,” competent, and urbane the whole process was, with the naked, fake-blood-soaked cast discussing what they would eat for lunch between takes—as if to reassure readers that, for all the outrageous content, the real people involved were utterly bourgeois, just like you and me.

Lady Gaga’s anthem marks the moment when Western culture ceased to be either conservative or progressive. It marks the moment when the decision-makers who shape our cultural spectacles gave up on even making the distinction between those two options. And, of note for Christian leaders, it also marks the fast-approaching end of churches’ ability to use “cultural relevance” as a successful strategy for growth and survival.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Mark Sayers