On Wednesdays, my plucky Canterburians join with the Lutherans for a joint evening of discussion, fellowship, and food. This semester, we’re discussing ‘Modern Saints:” people who have applied their Christian faith in very tangible ways in the not-so distant past (Archbp. Oscar Romero and the martyrs of El Salvador, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Edith Stein, the Berrigans, Archbp. Desmond Tutu and the leaders of South Africa, etc.)
I know you are, but what am I?
I noticed something in the past few weeks, and it’s the same phenomenon I’ve noticed in every community I’ve ever served: rural or urban, Virginia or Arizona, young or old.
As the students described it, the problem was that ‘Christians’ had taken over everything. These Christians they described were against gay marriage and civil unions, didn’t like people of other faiths, and also were not fans of contraception, or really women at all, as we had seen in recent weeks. And this was pretty much why we should keep Christians out of politics.
This is not just a ‘kids these days!’ thing. I have never served or attended a parish where I have ever heard a majority of the parishioners declare themselves Christian. (“Christian” borders on an Other-ing term in the Episcopal Church; we are Episcopalian before we are anything.)
In some ways, it’s hard to argue with this. When several of the candidates for presidents are claiming to speak for the entire Christian faith, it’s difficult not to take them at their word, when there’s no clear voice calling them on it.
But at the same time, those students speaking so articulately of their frustration with modern politics? They are Christian too! Those people who fill the pews in every church I’ve ever served? Also Christians! (And not the Satan-possessed kind, either. Sorry, Rick Santorum.)
And if we’re all Christians, and we don’t agree with all that’s being done in the name of Christianity, then…we should probably, possibly, look at this, yes? Because either there is a small group of zealots doing some crazy stuff in the hijacked name of our Lord and Savior with our tacit permission, or many of us have simultaneously decided to be open, tolerant, loving people on our own, in total opposition to this, the Gospel of Smiting (and two thousand years of received tradition, but who’s counting?)
See, this is what I think.
This is a theology problem as much as it is a PR problem. The PR problem gets talked about all the time–how we need to reclaim the airwaves, use these here interwebz, LOLcats, we can haz Emerging!Churches, etc. These things are absolutely true. Mainline Protestatism lost the past few decades to the fundamentalist evangelicals the moment that first guy bought a new-fangled TV station for cheap in the early 1970s.
But it’s a theology problem too. We’ve all heard the carefully-crafted theology around fundamentalist beliefs. In fact, most people today know that theology so well that they can’t tell that not all Christians believe it. Ask the average person walking down the street about where people go after they die, and they will probably spout something about the saved believers in heaven and the damned in hell and St. Peter at the gate. Now, ask them about what might be involved in eventual universal redemption, and note their look of confusion and panic.
And that’s our fault. There’s no answering, well-publicized and widely-taught cohesive theology to the really loud stuff. (Unless you read Miroslav Volf, or Moltmann, AS YOU SHOULD, but I accept that not everyone has that sort of time. Also, that stuff is sort of systemic, and not issue-based.)
So here’s my plan: I am starting a Theology For the Rest of Us series here on the blog. ::Sound of trumpets!:: It shall be theology that attempts to explain why progressive Christians believe the things we do. Like: women as full moral agents! Marriage as something other than Procreation-Station! Stewardship and care of the earth! And all other topics as may be assigned.
We, in the wider church, need to become better at talking about our faith in concrete, logical terms, in order to give an “accounting for the hope that is in us”, as the Bible, and my preaching prof both say.
“So, Come! Let us reason together!”