Joel Osteen’s disturbing inability to say that Mormonism is something other than Christian reflects a particular affliction from which our culture suffers. I’m not sure what to call it other than the cult of agreeableness, a widespread tendency to avoid disagreement, conflict, and contradiction whenever possible, a disposition to never draw hard lines for fear that we’ll upset or make ourselves unattractive by the action.
But Christians must be willing to upset and be unattractive. After all, we believe things that are upsetting and unattractive. When Jesus tells us to pick up our cross and follow, he’s bidding us to do something that many others will avoid because laying down one’s life is hardly appealing. Dying to our ego, ambitions, passions, and delusions is undesirable for most of us; I don’t even want to do it most of the time that I’m aware of the choice. So when we ask those people to join us, we shouldn’t be surprised that they say no. Further, when they do say no, we shouldn’t say, “I understand. Your position is quite reasonable. By not picking up the cross you’re really pretty much doing what I’m doing when I pick up mine, so it’s all good.” Real differences exist and cannot be papered (or smiled) over.
We shouldn’t seek to be disagreeable for its own sake, but we have to be willing to be disagreeable from time to time if for no other reason than that the world disagrees with God and we’re on his side, or trying to be. No truth is harder to swallow than God’s truth.
When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn addressed Harvard University in 1978, he said, “[T]ruth is seldom pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter.” This is particularly true when someone has to call out failings, sins, perversions, and the like, as Solzhenitsyn did in part at Harvard. He talked about the “spiritual exhaustion” of the West and our disordered priorities and values. That hurt, but it was (and is) necessary to hear, and the only way for Solzhenitsyn to say it was to apostatize from the cult of agreeableness, to be willing to oppose, confront, point a finger, and contradict. We need more people willing to so apostatize. The pay is bad; just ask the prophets. But that’s part of picking up our cross.
Our spiritual exhaustion is worse as a culture, and our priorities and values are more out of whack now than in 1978. Perhaps nothing makes this so obvious as a Christian minister unwilling to defend the traditional, creedal, biblical understanding of Christ and the Father vis-a-vis Mormonism. But of course it isn’t just Mormonism. What about our materialism, our political subservience (on the right and left), our sanctioned immorality, our alienation from suffering, our doctrinal infidelity? The list can go on just as long as we’re wiling to be disagreeable. But too many of us are unwilling, and so we stifle the conversation and abort the argument like an importune fetus. We should let the kid come to term and scream a little. It might clear the air of all the insufferable apologies for simply confessing the truths of the gospel.
Christians face intense cultural pressure to conform and agree with the world. That’s normal and natural, and it should be opposed at every possible turn. It’s part of picking up the cross and laying down our life to ease, self-deception, and false peace. It’s just disappointing that it has to be opposed in the church too. But it must be because the cult of agreeableness has adherents warming many a pew.
Question: How do you think the cult of agreeableness affects the Christian witness in the world?