How can Christians best discourage unnecessary shibboleths---scientific & otherwise? (Should we?)


(Retired Minister) #1

So many churches and Christian organizations have their shibboleths, those secondary unofficial “doctrines”, slogans, and mindsets which indicate who is and isn’t a full member of the tribe. On a regular basis I’ve observed these criteria which are assumed to be indicative of a True Christian™, one who holds to “proper” Christian thoughts:

Conservative politics and appropriate organizations (e.g., American Family Association, Eagle Forum, Heritage Foundation, et al)
Sufficient social justice activism & liberal politics.
Denial of anthropogenic climate change.
Pro-choice views.
Enthusiasm for Capitalism; disdain for Socialism.
Contempt for evolution and billions of years.
Enthusiasm for David Barton’s view of Colonial American history and the Founding Fathers.
Pro-Homeschooling emphasis.
Being fans of “approved” authors & speakers: James Dobson, Franklin Graham, Chuck Swindoll.

One can usually attend (and perhaps even become a member) without passing every shibboleth test—but you probably won’t be allowed to take any sort of leadership or teaching position.

How can we best encourage churches and Christian organizations not to emphasize such shibboleths? Are we fighting something that is inherently tribal, such that we probably won’t be successful? Should we just allow people to congregate according to their individual tribes? Are church congregations more effective and peaceful when shared opinions make harmony easier? Or is diversity of thought (outside of fundamental Biblical doctrines) essential and to be encouraged?

I’m especially interested in instructive anecdotes about how you’ve seen this issue addressed in positive ways.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #2

@AllenWitmerMiller, by presenting better way forward.

I understand the frustration you are feeling but we are in a hopeful moment. We are in the middle of a realignment on science in the church. The terrain for the next generation is going to be very different. We are on the leading edge of that change. All we have to do right now is offer a better way.


(Retired Minister) #3

I agree. But not all (or even most) of the excessive tribalism is about science. Much is about culture, economics, geopolitics, educational philosophies, and the understanding of American history.

And can what we do in addressing the science also be helpful in these other areas of “tribalism”?

(As an example, I can make a Biblical case for peer-reviewed scholarship. If people can understand its importance in science, will they also grasp why peer-review can be helpful in weighing what David Barton American history revisionism promoted in his books and lectures? Or will most people assume that history is all about subjective interpretation—as in Ken Ham’s “Biblical glasses” theme?)


(Dr. Patrick Trischitta) #4

Perhaps you can start here:

We have these every day, day in and day out.


(Retired Minister) #5

And plenty of American Christians think it their “Christian duty” to ignore Constitutional boundaries on religious intrusion into schools.

The program highlighted in the FFRF article reminds me somewhat of some Nation of Islam “black pride” programs in some cities during the 1960’s. Those religious programs had some noble objectives (even teaching good manners, hygiene, respect for teachers and authorities, etc.) but the ones I’m recalling incorporated various teachings from Islam. [Yes, I’m well aware that “Nation of Islam” religious groups are not considered truly Islamic by Muslim clerics but that’s another topic. It was still religious influence in the schools.]

I wonder how the local community in that Illinois school district would react if Hindu, Islamic, or Jewish leaders were teaching such a program in the schools. (It shouldn’t be that hard for people to contemplate the Constitutional issue by asking themselves, “If a religion other than my own were doing this, would I feel the same way about it?”)