I rarely touch upon politics and religion on this blog, as I tend to rely upon Emily Post for my posture–that politics and religion are not fodder for polite conversation. And yet, those two subjects are well-worn sawhorses for me (just not through this medium).
Many Americans may not remember, but there was a time in our history when the blanket label “Christian” did not exist. In fact, most Christians would identify as Catholic or Protestant. Of the latter, the divisions would be more pronounced, such as Methodist, Baptist and Lutheran, among others. In the 21st Century, the non-denominational Christian tends to get an outsized presence in communities and politics because of the emphasis placed upon evangelicalism, taking St. Paul as a model. However, those more quiet denominations tend to focus less on praise and more on social justice issues–as described in the Sermon on the Mount.
Two main threads of Protestant (meaning non-Catholic) Christianity are those that focus on grace and social justice (as defined by the theologian Arminius, then John Wesley among others), and those that focus on evangelicalism (as defined by John Knox and John Calvin). Calvin’s influence is most palpable in non-denominational and Baptist theology. Arminius and Wesley can be found in Anglicanism and Methodism.
While each side of the schism can point to chapter and verse to justify their theology, I have always found that for mainline Protestants, that Jesus’s word on evangelical thinking must outweigh St. Paul, Knox and Calvin:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”
Matthew 6: 1-34.
The Oxford philosopher AN Whitehead said that “Religion is what a man does in his solitude”–another oblique way of stating the above passage. Given the implications of boasting too much about the blessings one may have received by coincidence, is it any wonder why Emily Post instructs not to speak of religion in mixed company? If not for only for practicing grace and manners, but also for the instruction of the Nazarene alone.