Any kid who has grown up around Bible stories knows what idolatry is.
It’s bowing down to golden statues and carved images and worshipping any deity other than God Almighty. We learned this when Sunday School teachers told us about Moses and The Ten Commandments; about Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar; and then when missionaries shared slideshows of foreign temples and unfamiliar people in ethnic dress lying prostrate in lands far away.
From a kids’ perspective, this all felt very exotic and kinda stupid. Modern, educated people would never fall for something like that, right?
Some insisted Westerners were not immune to idolatry. They said anything that “sits on the throne of our hearts” other than God is an idol. That’s true! But then we drew outlines: drugs, sex, and money. Those were the usual suspects.
The take-away seemed to be: if you stayed away from sex, drugs, and obscene wealth … well, then you were safe. Idolatry wasn’t something you needed to think about.
But we do.
Need to think about it, that is.
Idolatry can be carved images and golden statues and money and addiction and all sorts of tangible, easily-identifiable vices. But it can also be ideals. It can be priorities. It can be politics or politicians. It can even be Christian leaders. If we find ourselves getting super-defensive, we might need to step back and take a look at our heart’s throne. What’s really comfortable there?
Last week a gold statue was wheeled into a conservative political conference.
Now, I know the statue is not a calf and that very few have literally bowed down to it. (Yes, I have seen photos of bowing.) It’s not an exact copy of what we see in the Old Testament, but does it need to be?
I find it and the celebration of it disturbing … darkly humorous … and definitely ironic. Especially for a group composed predominantly of people who claim to be Christian.
My point is less about a direct parallel and more about consciousness.
Are we paying attention? Like, really?
When I was a teenager I bought a necklace with Marvin the Martian on it. (Anyone remember him?) When I wore it to youth group, a friend’s mom took me aside to question why I was worshipping this idol over Christ. (Yes, really.) It’s silly and ridiculous, and I am not at all suggesting we can’t be fans or even supporters of our preferred politics or pop culture or whatever.
What I am suggesting is this:
As Christians we are called to a higher standard.
As Christians, we should be wise and discerning.
As such, we must perpetually challenge our choices with good, honest questions.
- At what point does fandom become idolatry?
- When does allegiance become dangerous?
- Are our politics speaking louder than our witness?
- When others see us (and our conferences and merch and everything else), what would they say we worship?
When I ask questions like this, when I call out believers to be better, people accuse me of being divisive. That’s not at all my intention. I write this truly out of admonition. I say it to myself as well as anyone and everyone else who claims to be a Christ-follower.
May we remember why we’re here.
Hint: It’s not about making ourselves or America great.