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Moore: Church must recall loyalty to help lonely

WASHINGTON (BP) — Christians need to recall where their greatest allegiance lies to help Americans living in a time marked by loneliness, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore said during a Washington, D.C., forum.

Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, addressed the evangelical church’s role while responding to Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., during a Nov. 26 conversation sponsored by The Trinity Forum. Sasse spoke on themes from his new book, “Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal,” including Americans’ “crisis of loneliness,” as he describes it in the book.

Helping lonely and rootless fellow citizens requires that evangelical Christians remember they have a more preeminent identity than being Americans, Moore told a capacity audience at the National Press Club. Christians need to recall they are people with loyalties to something greater than the nation itself, he said.

“Only then, I think, can we say to rootless, exhausted, tired, lonely Americans, in the words of Jesus, ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest,'” Moore said. “Only then can we learn to sing to ourselves, ‘Jesus loves them this I know for the Bible tells me so.'”

Nearly half of Americans 18 years and older sometimes or always feel alone (46 percent) and/or feel left out (47 percent), according to a 2018 survey by the health-care provider Cigna. More than half (54 percent) feel like no one knows them well, the survey reported.

In addition to their isolation, Americans are more polarized and divided, as well as more angry at one another, said moderator Cherie Harder, The Trinity Forum’s president, in introducing the discussion.

Americans have “more material abundance than any people have ever known in all of human history,” but they are simultaneously “feeling more and more spiritually impoverished and more and more lonely, much less communally connected” than at any time in their lives, Sasse told the audience.

While Americans seem to think “political tribalism is a really big deal in this moment,” it is “far more symptom of our moment than cause,” he said. Instead, “the digital revolution through which we’re living is much bigger and more important and longer lasting than the political moment that we’re in,” he said.

“We are using politics to fill in for deeper, more meaningful kinds of community.”

The digital revolution will make being “placeless” even more possible, Sasse said. Happiness is deeply informed by whether a person has a sense of home, he said, adding a person “can’t be rootless and happy.”

“What we have happening right now in American life is a whole bunch of people going through the digital revolution where we’re hollowing out place.”

Demonstrating the decline in rootedness, Sasse said:

— “The nuclear family is in statistical collapse.” Fifty-nine percent of babies born to women less than 30 years of age have no meaningful connection to their father, he said.

— “Friendship is in an absolute, devastating atrophy.” The average American had 3.2 friends in 1990; today, he or she has 1.8, he said.

What the church has to offer “rootless, lonely” Americans are the things “that are the most offensive at the surface level to the outside culture,” Moore said. They include, he said:

— Exclusive truth.

The culture’s primary objection to the church currently seems to be “not that we are too dogmatic in our beliefs,” Moore said. “It’s that we do not believe what we actually say we believe.

“Does the church have the ability to speak to the moral imagination in a way that says, ‘You don’t have to agree with us, but you can be confident that when we are speaking it is not in service to some other agenda — political, social, market-based — but actually because we are, as Jesus puts it, bearing witness to the truth.'”

— Evangelism.

“[C]hurches that are the most actively evangelistic are also the ones who most are connected with their neighbors, most love their neighbors,” he told the audience.

— Demonology.

“A group of people who actually believe that there is a devil is less likely to make devils out of other people, their neighbors,” Moore said. “Having an understanding of demons ought to lead the church not to demonize other people.”

Christians should think intentionally about how they rank their identities, Sasse told attendees. He has several identities, including husband, father, Christian, conservative, Republican, he said. Something is wrong if his Christian identity is subordinate to his Republican identity, he said.

“[I]f you don’t have identities that precede your political identity, I don’t think our politics can work either,” Sasse said.

The solution to loneliness and rootlessness will not come quickly nor through politics, he said. Digital tools will help only if used in a purposeful way, he said.

“Social media can add genuine value when it’s supplementing extant, human, flesh-and-blood, bodily relationships,” Sasse said. “When social media supplants bodily, incarnate relationships, it has net destructive effects.”

Americans need to consider digital tools “as things that advance some purpose that we’re self-consciously adopting,” he said. “When we use social media poorly, I think it’s usually because it’s an end in itself.”

The Trinity Forum is a faith-based, nonprofit organization based in Washington that seeks to develop leaders for cultural renewal and to promote human freedom and flourishing.