(Two weeks after shoulder surgery, I can now lift my arm from the sling and let it rest on the keyboard enough to type.  Hence, back to my blog.) 

CULTIVATING TRUST AMIDST MISTRUST

I read an article this week that indicates that trust in others in America is eroding away and has been for forty years.[i]  This is not merely a lack of trust in government, Wall Street, politicians, religion, education, media and other social institutions, but a lack of trust in one’s neighbors-the person nearby or down the street.    A recent poll, which has been taken since 1972, showed that only 1/3 of Americans say that most people can be trusted.

I am not a sociologist, but it seems to me this is a situation about which we should be deeply concerned.   A healthy society is built on a sense of basic trust in the other.  Negotiation of any kind, whether it be buying a new car or working with others who are different from you to enhance the common good is based upon trust and faith in the good will of the other.

Distrust is fueled by fear.  We are all aware that our society is deeply polarized over many issues.  Lack of trust causes people to isolate themselves by seeking security and protection behind rigid tribal boundaries and beliefs.  In the tribe, truth is correlated with the truth of the tribe, whether the tribe be political, social, religious, racial, ethnic  or otherwise.   The truth of the tribe is seen to be “the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” and anyone outside the tribe is looked upon with doubt and suspicion which breeds more fear and lack of trust.  The more isolated people become, the greater the sense of suspicion, fear and mistrust.  A sense of common good is lost in the isolation and further contributes to a broader cultural dysfunction.

There are many reasons for our culture of mistrust.

  • Greed certainly plays a huge role and many people find themselves victims of an economic system that favors the powerful who can shape the system to their advantage with the end result the widening disparity between the rich and the poor.
  • We all live with the reality of everyday cybercrime and are wary of ubiquitous scams, hackers, viruses and malware that would steal our identities and private financial information and subject us to financial chaos.
  • A perception that ethical behavior, in general, has been in steady decline and that we live in a time when “one cannot be too careful.”
  • The failure of traditional institutions that in recent decades have succumbed to scandal, corruption and greed.
  • Racial, ethnic and social prejudices that rear their ugly faces on a regular basis.

I do not have any easy answers as to how a greater sense of trust can be injected into everyday life, but I do think it ought to be a primary focus of the ministry of the Christian Church.  It seems to me that the prevailing Christian mindset of the last 30 years has increasingly served to exacerbate fear and mistrust rather than cultivate trust.   Operating with a dualistic mindset of strict beliefs and doctrines, many Christian expressions have retreated into a tribal mentality drawing rigid distinctions between who is “in” and “out”, right and wrong,  to blame or not, sinners and saints, moral and immoral to the point that anyone outside one’s religious tribe is viewed with suspicion and deemed inauthentic and not worthy of trust.

When I look closely at the ministry of Jesus as revealed in the gospels, I am struck by the fact that he was not restricted by the tribal mandates and tendencies of his religion, many of which were based upon fear and mistrust.  He moved freely across unyielding boundaries that religion had drawn between Jew-Gentile, Jew-Samaritan, clean-unclean,  sinners and righteous, men-women, rich-poor and others to affirm the dignity and worth of all and to celebrate faithfulness wherever he experienced it.   He was seemingly not threatened by diversity and made no attempts to make everyone think and be alike.   Rather than “mistrust your neighbor,” his starting point was “love your neighbor as yourself.”   As hard as it obviously was, he cultivated trust in a culture that abounded with suspicion, fear and mistrust.

The result of his actions, especially in the first generation or two immediately after him, was the creation of  faith communities that were far more inclusive than the surrounding culture, being communities that were not bound to the restrictive mistrustful mentalities of the prevailing religion and culture.  Imperfect as these communities were, they struggled not to mirror the fear and mistrust prevalent in culture and religion, but to transform it.

It seems to me this emphasis has been largely absent in many contemporary Christian expressions.  Many Christian paradigms have largely mirrored the fear and mistrust prevalent in culture.  For the Christian  Church to be relevant and an agent of positive change, it would do well to take seriously this aspect of Jesus’ life and teachings and struggle to apply it to everyday life.

Are the answers easy?  No way-of course not!   But even so, I see cultivating trust amidst mistrust as a necessary, critical and vital aspect to Christian ministry in the 21st century.


 

[i] Huffington Post, Politics Section, “Poll Reveals Americans Don’t Trust Each Other Anymore,” December 2, 2013, by Connie Cass, AP.  Article based on an AP-GfK poll.

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