New England Smugness
I praise Thee, Father . . . that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to infants. Matthew 11:25.
Katherine Hepburn, the four-time Academy Award winner, was born in Hartford on November 8, 1907, her mother being from the Houghton family of the Corning Glass company, and her father a physician. Katherine’s mother leaned toward Communism and was very much a liberal – politically, socially, and religiously. Kate attended the Kingswood-Oxford Prep. School in West Hartford and had no interest in Christianity. It was simply not an issue in their home. Christopher Andersen, in his biography of Katharine Hepburn, Young Kate, says that she was a Connecticut Yankee.
These were people having a fierce pride, who considered themselves more refined than those from other New England states. The Connecticut Yankee views himself as smarter, more enterprising, tougher, more principled, better looking – in short, in every way superior.’
John Piper has observed that in the year 1900 ninety per cent of the Christians in the world were white, residing in Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States. One hundred years later, ninety percent of the Christians in the world are non-white, residing in Asia, Africa, and South America. Kenyan scholar John Mbiti has suggested that the centre of the church is no longer Geneva, Rome, Athens, Paris, London, or New York but Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa, and Manila.
I rejoice at the profound growth of the gospel in previously pagan and ignorant cultures, further driving home the marvellous promise in Revelation 5-7, that every tongue, tribe, people, and nation will be represented before the throne of God, giving praise to the glorified Christ in heaven. However, after living in New England for four years I have observed a very troubling trend; and I have said many times before – ‘New England is the trend-setter for the rest of the United States. What happens here first, will eventually find its way to the rest of our country.’
We at Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford have been labouring, and will continue to labour, as diligently and creatively as we can, without compromising our core values of ministry, to reach the lost of Connecticut with the gospel. And while we have had some success among Connecticut Yankees, I must tell you that largely we are not impacting our culture. The question is, ‘Why not?’
Read this very carefully and thoughtfully because what has been going on here in Connecticut for well over one hundred years is coming your way, and already is there to some extent. There is a great deal of interest in the gospel among African Americans, Hispanics, Hindus, and Muslims. We have seen a number of people from these groups either make professions of faith in Christ or meet with us in Bible studies to learn more about Christianity. We have a number of relationships with Muslim people, in particular, who are not at all turned off by ‘religious’ talk. The smug, well-educated, sometimes affluent Connecticut Yankee, on the other hand, is generally not at all interested in Christianity, thinking it either below him intellectually or completely irrelevant to his life, a movement too closely tied with conservative politics.
Jesus, in this marvellous chapter on his blessed gospel (Matt. 11), praises his Father that he has hidden the gospel from the wise and intelligent (the Jewish leaders), and revealed it to babes (the humble and contrite, those who are weary and weighed down by their sin and shame). It appears that the Connecticut Yankee and other New Englanders are too smug to see their need for Christ. After leading the way theologically, academically, economically from the time of the Puritan Thomas Hooker who founded Hartford in the 1630’s, Connecticut began to embrace the Unitarianism of William Ellery Channing and the liberal theology of Horace Bushnell, and has long prided itself on free thought and free expression. The Connecticut psyche seems hell-bent (pardon the pun) on cleansing itself from any vestige of Puritan thought or life. The problems of New England, whether racial, economic, or political seem always to be placed at the feet of the Puritans.
So, what does this mean for us at our Church in West Hartford, and what does it mean for you in your community and church? I wonder if we ought to take seriously the method of the Apostle Paul. Paul, a Jew with a pedigree, because he loved his people and because the gospel came first to the Jews, went to them first whenever he came to a new town. Mostly, however, they rejected his message, beating him and running him out of town. Before leaving, however, Paul would go to the despised, uncultured, debauched, heathen Gentiles. They heard him gladly. I love my European culture and heritage and I am perhaps better equipped to minister the gospel to people who are like me; but if they will not listen, then should I not go to those who will listen?
Isn’t that what God seems to be doing in the world anyway? God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Isaiah said that God looks to those who are humble and contrite, who tremble at his word. One of the staggering principles found throughout Scripture is that God moves toward those who move toward him. Yes, I know man will not seek God on his own (Rom. 3:10ff), but Scripture also says, ‘Draw near to me, and I will draw near to you . . . I will permit those who seek me to find me’ (James 4:8, 2 Chron. 15:2).
I am deeply grieved at the loss of our Christian culture, our Christian consensus. I grieve at the shallowness of American Christianity, the lack of zeal for gospel holiness, how so many who profess the gospel live no differently from those who profess no faith at all. I continue to pray and labour for the gospel to penetrate the smug New Englander, the proud Connecticut Yankee, but nothing short of a revival, which will use some means to humble and crush our people, to strip away their false bravado, will cause the ‘wise and intelligent’ to come to Jesus for refuge.
And you too are seeing the same smugness and lack of hunger for the gospel in your own community. Do you grieve over it? Are you burdened for a once great civilization that continues to wallow in the folly of unbelief? I may not live to see the day, but unless God intervenes powerfully in our nation, I fear that we will be a Muslim nation within a generation or two. You may not see it either, but your children and your grandchildren will, and then what will that mean for them? Has the white man’s gospel time ‘come and gone?’ What is to become of this once great nation, founded so surely on biblical principles, which has prospered due to them, which in her smugness, has long since rejected them? Do you have any of the angst of Jeremiah and Habakkuk who grieved over the lost culture of Judah, who in her pride and arrogance, went her own way into degradation and judgment?
Rev. Allen M. Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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