Since coming back to the US after being away for almost a year, I’ve had the opportunity to observe American culture, society and the church with new eyes. Some of it is good and some of it is disturbing to me.
There has been a great deal of change in the culture over the last year – I don’t think anyone would deny that. People will debate if all the changes are good or bad and decide based on their own beliefs and experiences among other things. I’m not going to write about any of these changes today. Instead I want to write about something else – something much deeper that flows underneath so much of American culture and society. Today I’m going to write about trust – or rather, the lack of trust.
I have a theory that runs something like this – trust is a basic building block of any organization or grouping of people. Without trust, things don’t work very well. When there is trust, it yields some other things. Things like safety, prosperity, health, predictability, freedom and calmness. I would guess there are other things that trust creates an environment for, but I’ll stop with this list. Of course, trust isn’t the silver bullet either, it’s just one component of a healthy society/organization.
Here’s the thing though, when I look at American society and culture and the church in America, I see a whole big lack of trust. I don’t think I’m providing any type of news flash on this either. We see plenty of news stories telling us of different races not trusting each other, different economic classes not trusting each other, different political parties not trusting each other. Many people do not trust the government. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
I have another theory about this too. Not trusting is a part of the fabric of America. Each country on the planet has strengths and weaknesses. America’s weakness happens to be a lack of trust.
When I look back at American history, I see a group of founders who experienced what they described as a tyrannical, oppressive government. This created a sense that government, especially government with great power over its people, could not be trusted. Hence when they wrote the constitution, they wrote into it many checks and balances that would create gridlock and hamper any governmental power. They didn’t trust people to rule over them.
Our culture continues this tradition of mistrust and it has spread into many other areas of life. Just over the last two days I have read stories about a Congressman being indicted, an institution doing some questionable things, fights over funding different programs, fights over budgets, presidential campaign accusations, murders, statements by public figures against multiculturalism, disasters, and professional sports controversies. I’m exhausted just listing all of that. No wonder there is a lack of trust. Every one of these news items continues to spread the gospel of fear – fear people in power because they will screw the public over, fear the other party because they want to destroy the country and the planet, fear people who look different from you because they are going to change the country, fear the weather because it can kill you. Fear and mistrust are close friends.
We claim to be a society that values freedom, yet we seem to be in bondage to fear and mistrust.
Often I observe churches who are in bondage to fear and mistrust as well. I often wonder if American churches are susceptible to this since they reside within a culture of mistrust.
Too often we hear church leaders spouting Old Testament laws against this or that – selectively picking out the worst offenses to match up with their own established beliefs about the world and people and how we shouldn’t trust “others” who are different.
Yet, when I read the Old Testament, I see a different message when it comes to trust. I see verses like this:
“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.” Psalm 13:5.
“When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” Psalm 56:3
“He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.” Proverbs 28:26
There are many more verses like that all throughout the Bible. Here’s a great listing that I found.
I think one of the deeper issues regarding trust and our seeming inability to trust others is this – we have trouble trusting ourselves. We have trouble trusting God. It’s much easier to point the finger at someone else and label them as different or dangerous and hence worthy of mistrust. It’s much harder to be willing to look inward at the mistrust we have of ourselves and of our creator. It’s painful. It’s so much easier to scapegoat someone else for the sins we hear or see in them out there than to recognize the same painful sins within ourselves. It’s so much easier to doubt God when it seems like God doesn’t keep God’s word, based on our own timing and unreasonable expectations.
Yet, God is faithful and amazingly God trusts us. God trusts us so much that God loves us, even with our failings. God trusts us to send us out to share the Good News and to share the love and care and concern for others, just as God loves, cares and is concerned for us.
Trust isn’t the end-all, be-all. But it is part of a good foundation on which to build a community, a church, a society and a nation.