I am a graduate of Duke Divinity School, located in the heart of the campus of Duke University. Once a year, if I am very fortunate, I find myself inside Cameron Indoor Stadium, watching the men's basketball team. Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) is now in his 36th year; he began coaching at Duke at roughly the same time I entered seminary. Cameron is not a large venue, and each seat is at a premium. I am fortunate -- yes, I will say that I am blessed -- to be there!
Those who have watched a Duke home game, in person or on television, know that there is a tremendous home court advantage. The students are passionate in support of their team and in the adoration of their coach, and their posture toward the opposition ranges from bemusement to disdain. (I am choosing my words wisely here!)
I thought about this context recently in reflecting on the changing relationship of the Christian Church to the postmodern world. Years ago I read an essay written by the missiologist George Hunter entitled "The End of The Home Field Advantage" (Epworth Review, May, 1992). The thesis of his article was that a privileged Christendom had ended, and that practicing Christians lived in a very different context. Twenty-four years later, this insight is increasingly true.
This reality is the result of a number of factors. There is the harm that people of faith have done internally to one another (the movie Spotlight captures this). There is the harm people of faith have done when we have not welcomed guests, notably those in the LGBTQ communities. There is the divided and competitive reality among many church communions, from the local to the thirty thousand foot level.
These I call our self-inflicted wounds, and they are real.
An additional factor in our increasingly marginalized status is the portrayal of Christians in almost every form of media, from popular entertainment with broad appeal to the arguments and assumptions of academic and high cultures. If a character in a television series begins to sound like a Christian, I know that this is not going to end well -- he or she is likely delusional, hypocritical, dangerous or some combination of the three. If the subject of Christianity is addressed in thoughtful conversations, the treatment is likely to paint us at our worst; we are homophobic, irrational or out of touch with reality.
The end of the home-court advantage is result of our own flaws -- we must confess, more honestly, our sins -- and it is the inevitable consequence of modernity and, more recently, post-modernity. Modernity wondered how Christianity could be true; post-modernity asked how Christianity could be authentic. Taken together, the faith seemed out of sync with culture.
One response to this reality is to close ranks, define who we are and prepare for the culture wars. Another has been to take on the characteristics (the uniform?) of the culture, to blend in, to accommodate. Neither brings out the best in us, and in fact the complications of life make both options unsatisfying. Perhaps our son is gay, or a friend whom we deeply respect votes differently than we do, on the one hand, and on the other we do in fact find the specific and particular resources of our faith -- verses of scripture, spiritual practices, hymns and choruses, disciples of Lent and celebrations of Christmas and Easter -- to be life-giving.
Yes, we have lost the home-court advantage, but this was never finally helpful to the world (think colonialism and privilege) or to us (the deadly sins of pride). Christianity has often flourished when it found itself to be in the minority. Could it be that, in the loss of that space we considered to be sacred, we are on a journey to rediscover who we were created and called to be, with a bit less bravado and a little more humility?
I remind myself of all of this, in these days of winter, as I enter simultaneously into the seasons of March Madness and Lent.