In addition to a “royal priesthood” and a “holy nation,” the King James Bible speaks of Christians in 1 Peter 2:9 as a “peculiar people.” Modern translations dispense with the term, but it seems that to at least one sociologist, some Bible-belt Christians are so far removed from American culture that they’re deserving of studies to document their peculiarity.
Bernadette Barton, a sociology professor at Morehead State University in Kentucky, recently took her class on several field trips to the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky —- a trip that apparently struck fear in her students:
On her third trip to the museum, Barton took her undergraduate students, who found the visit unsettling. Several in the group were former fundamentalists who had since rejected that worldview. Several others were gay. In part because of these backgrounds, Barton said, the students were on edge at the museum. Particularly nerve-wracking were signs warning that guests could be asked to leave the premises at any time. The group’s reservation confirmation also noted that museum staff reserved the right to kick the group off the property if they were not honest about the “purpose of [the] visit.”
Because of these messages, Barton said, the students felt they might accidentally reveal themselves as nonbelievers and be asked to leave. This pressure is a form of “compulsory Christianity” that is common in a region known for its fundamentalism, Barton said. People who don’t ascribe to fundamentalism often report the need to hide their thoughts for fear of being judged or snubbed.
At one point, Barton reported in her paper, a guard with a dog circled a student pointedly twice without saying anything. When he left, a museum patron approached the student and said, “The reason he did that is because of the way you’re dressed. We know you’re not religious; you just don’t fit in.” (The student was wearing leggings and a long shirt, Barton writes.)
Having never visited the Creation Museum (do they sell replicas of Adam’s rib at the gift shop?), I can’t relate to the oppressive fear that these students must have felt. One can only imagine the displacement felt by the professor and her students during their expedition. After all, they endured the nearly two and a half-hour journey from the cosmopolitan venues of Morehead, Kentucky to the wilds of the Greater Cincinnati Metro Area —- only to be accosted by a canine and almost conscripted into “compulsory Christianity” had their disguises been slightly less effective.
All ribbing aside, while the absurdity of this account reveals how out-of-touch with their own surroundings the Morehead expedition was, it reminds us of the reality that Christian beliefs are increasingly cast by the world as quaint eccentricities —- even when the numbers may not validate such a view. At this, we Christians shouldn’t be as shocked as our professor on her field study.
Whether or not the Creation Museum is a proper touchstone of twenty-first century Christianity is certainly debatable , but it is of little importance. For any Christian who believes that a dead man got up out of his grave two thousand years ago, there is an ever-increasing gulf with those who do not —- a fact which no amount of cultural hipness can overcome. We will be found weird, wanting, and ripe for ridicule. We will be painted with a broad brush, and the temptation will be to say “that’s not me —- I’m not like those Christians.” It would be better —- when the occasion arises —- if we instead pointed to Christ and lamented how unlike him we are. Better yet if we pointed out how unlike us he is.