Summary: Socially and emotionally, American Christians are being torn apart, and the Church is only making things worse.
This article exposes a deep flaw in the American Church. This flaw, which has been largely overlooked, has set the stage for the current epidemic of serious social problems, including crime, divorce, depression, drug abuse, and suicide. It follows that the Church is indirectly responsible for these problems. The Church could bring significant improvements by making a few basic changes -- however, prospects for such changes are dim, as we shall see.
By "Church" (capital C) I am not referring to particular christian denominations or movements. Rather, I am speaking of the entire body of genuine believers in Jesus Christ. This article diagnoses a disease which has infiltrated the entire body of Christ. All churches are equally infected, whether Protestant or Catholic, traditional or non-traditional, charismatic or evangelical, liberal or conservative, modernist or fundamentalist.
Here is the source of the flaw: almost every christian in America is a member of four separate communities. These communities are not only distinct; often, they are entirely disjoint. These communities are like four horses tied to the christian’s four limbs, pulling him/her in four different directions. Emotionally and socially, christians are being drawn and quartered.
The four communities I am referring to are: neighborhood; workplace; extended family; and church. Some American christians are involved in even more communities than this. For instance, a Vietnamese-American or Chinese-American may be involved in a Vietnamese or Chinese ethnic society. A christian with a strong interest in sports may be heavily involved in a sports league. Christians concerned about issues such as abortion or the environment may participate extensively in a corresponding interest group. All of these organizations represent different communities, involving different relationships with completely different sets of people.
The multiplication of communities is a relatively recent development in human history. It is true that even in Biblical times, family-based communities were broken up by migration. However, living together usually meant working and worshipping together as well. In many Third World countries, this situation is still the norm. In China, for instance, is not unusual to find a family of three or four generations living under one roof, working at the same farm or factory, and worshipping together at a neighboring church or house meeting. Instead of time-sharing between four communities, they are deeply involved in just one. Their attention is not scattered in four different directions as ours is, so their relationships with others are much deeper and more satisfying. Their Gospel witness is far more effective, because they have so much more in common with those they share with. This example shows the secret behind Third World revivals we sometimes read about, where entire communities are converted to Christ. This can ONLY happen because human relationships within these communities are deeply intertwined. But here in the U.S., such revivals can never, never take place, because relationships are stretched too thin.