Focus – The ‘Dog Days of Summer’

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by Ted Horwood, Captain – 

Well, we are in the throes of summer once again. July to early September bracket the period which is traditionally the hottest, most sultry time of the year. It is said that in ancient days the Romans saw Sirus, the “dog star,” rising and setting with the sun. They interpreted it to mean that it added heat to the sun, creating this stretch of time called the “Dog Days of Summer.”

In our world, officers have started in their new appointments. The newly commissioned captains are anxious to start implementing the wealth of knowledge they received over the last two years. Summer holidays, camps, and baseball games are all apart of the activity list during these months.

But, just as families are getting ready to take trips abroad, and corps mission teams are being mobilized, a study has come out describing attitudes of countries toward the United States and our attitudes about ourselves. Just released was a 16-country, Pew Global Attitudes Project. It analyzes how the people in other countries of the world view the United States and each other. It also focuses on attitudes toward the American people, policies and other global issues.

The study, not surprisingly, concludes that in the majority of countries surveyed, opinion of the U.S. was not broadly positive. Unfortunately, we don’t even view ourselves very highly. With respect to virtues, 70 percent of Americans polled regarded the U.S. public as greedy, and 49 percent see their countrymen as violent. But our image problem is not a secret. Only 26 percent of the U.S. public thinks the country is well-liked by people around the world.

On a related issue, and in a curious twist of fate (are we allowed to say that?) a new book has come into circulation. You will know that practically three out of four Americans classify themselves as Christian, and about seven percent of American adults are evangelical. But, in Ron Sider’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, one evangelical theologian notes that, “Barna and Gallup hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to em-brace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered and sexually immoral as the world in general.”

The author relates that there is little difference between the essentially secular activity of popular entertainment and the “bring-em-in-at-any-cost” efforts of mega-ministries. National data indicates that compared with the rest of the population, conservative Christians are more likely to divorce. Furthermore, although we live in the richest nation in human history with an average household income of $42,409, evangelicals are choosing to keep their money. Only six percent of “born-agains” tithe (down six percent from 2000) and mainline Christians give an average of 4.27 percent of their household income.

As if this weren’t bad enough news, sexual promiscuity is up (33 percent of all adults live with a member of the opposite sex without being married. The rate is 25 percent for born-again folk), and so is racism. Perhaps is it not surprising then, that only 44 percent of non-Christians view clergy positively. And just 32 percent have a positive view of born-again Christians.

This is all heady and heavy stuff. Maybe things we would rather not consider until we get past the summer. But, at the risk of overstating the metaphor, it occurs to me that those old Romans were onto something. Independent of what the polls say, America is a great nation. It radiates important policy principles throughout the world. Issues such as democracy, egalitarianism, education, global health, and economic growth, are just a few policies that are advanced by America. And the church in America is a significant force. But can it (or should it) increase the radiance of this nation? Can the church in America function in both a correcting and supporting role to America’s interaction around the world? More importantly, can The Salvation Army contribute to our nation’s morality, justice and good governance?

I personally get nervous when Christians state that we ought to be advancing the Kingdom of God through legislation. But certainly you and I can have some role to play. Strengthening our corps to have a stronger impact on our community will inevitably strengthen our organization to have a greater impact on our nation. Summer’s here, but fall’s a com’n. Let’s look forward to the opportunities and responsibilities, and enjoy a few more weeks of these lazy days.

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