The first weekend in November I attended a workshop led by Brian McLaren who wrote the book, The Great Spiritual Migration, noted in an earlier blog. He first addressed the question, “Should I stay in the church or should I leave?” It was ground-breaking and foundation shattering to me. I have never thought about leaving the church. His assessment is that many people cannot stay in the church because it does not support their integrity and does not offer them a future that has hope. His reasoning went a lot deeper than the fact that some people get hurt by the church or the church is not keeping up with the times for young people. He offered us a history of oppression that began very early by establishing a male domination system, and then cited a 1452 Papal bull (https://doctrineofdiscovery.org/dum-diversas) that gave the kings of Europe a mandate to go into the world and kill or capture (as slaves) anyone who is a Muslim or a pagan (all non-Christians) and seize all their goods (wealth) for their own profit. This was the ”Age of Discovery”, the beginning of the era of colonialism that continues to today. The control of the interpretation of Christian scripture by the educated elite allowed a misinterpretation and a misuse of scripture to undermine the gospel message of what loving one another means.
The Christian Identity should be one who stands against violence and stands for the building of community (the Kingdom of God) where all people have a place. McLaren cites white privilege as the most insidious power to plunder the earth because we have the most guns and money to do it – and it was sanctioned as a divine right by Christianity. We are waking up to this truth today, but this belief has become the operative way of life in the western world.
Coincidentally I was reading Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity, by Rev. Elizabeth M. Edman. This book deals with coming to know, accept and live out who you are as a LBGBT person and as a Christian. Chapter titles are: Identity, Risk, Touch (love), Scandal, Adoption, Pride, Authenticity and Hospitality. This book helped me understand that people are not leaving the church because they don’t believe in God; they are leaving the church because it does not support their spiritual growth and their ability to live in and help shape our world that is rapidly changing (evolving?)
How do we stay Christian? First, we must own our history of oppression and repent of this misinterpretation of the Gospel. McLaren says: “Christianity is not an evacuation plan (escaping to heaven); it is a transformation plan for human development” (living together in love). And second, we have to get back to God’s plan, the evolutionary plan for human development.
Leaving the church has its own consequences and legitimizes those who stay and perpetuate a false gospel and the fracturing of relationships in our world. Where would we go? Who would do this work of reconciliation and community building? Christian problems are human problems that all of us around the world are experiencing. Staying can be an act of revolutionary love if we are willing to take the risk of speaking truth to oppressive structures within the church and community. We need to reject violence as a way to solve our problems and protect our wealth. If we left, we would be abandoning a powerful unrealized potential to be God’s way of transforming the world. It is still possible to imagine the Christian faith as a movement and a way of life that has a future for all of us together.
In my own life I’ve known the blessing of people who have money and share it. As a child, my neighbours took me on trips around the United States and taught me how to live in a bigger world than my own family. My parents were not rich, but they did pay my way through college and seminary. A man in my congregation set up a foundation which provided the finances to do community ministry for 12 years beginning in the year 2000. And because I didn’t have to worry about raising money, I was able to do work I loved and save enough money to fund my retirement by investing in the stock market during its most lucrative time in history.
In my unawareness, I invested in companies who believed in the profit motive (making money any way they could) and in eternal economic growth that would make life better and better. But they did not promote conservation of resources, environmental protection, or paying a fair price for wages in foreign countries. Today it is hard to turn that engine of greed around because we (western world) have all become comfortable and unaware (perhaps “blind” is a better word) in our greed. We feel good when we share some crumbs from the Master’s table when we could give those in need a good meal. It has only been in the last 10 to 20 years that we have come to see the devastating effects of this economic policy, in the obscene divide between the rich and the poor in our world. We are world citizens and we are still ignoring our responsibility. What I am learning is that people like me need to use their white privilege, wealth and power, to help those who are poor, homeless and without access to opportunities to enjoy the riches of this world.
McLaren reminds us that if we are going to ask the top 1% to give more to help the world, and we make more than $35,000 a year, we are also in that category – taking worldwide income into account. I found where his statistic came from but there are many ways to figure out where people are on the income scale. The point is that most of us do not see ourselves as part of the richer segment of the world and we are much closer to the 1 % than we think we are.
Evolutionary Christianity recognizes evolution as the way the Universe, including us, moves forward, grows and expands. Richard Rohr in his Blog on 9/2/19 said, “Evolution invites us to expand our consciousness of the divine mystery beyond the realm of human history and to see humankind [and all of creation] within the process of an evolving cosmic history. We come from the whole and belong to the whole. As church, as theologians, as citizens of the universe, therefore, we need an “option for whole,” and by this, I mean we need a new consciousness that includes our Big Bang expanding universe and biological evolution as part of our intellectual search for truth. Theology must begin with evolution if it is to talk of a living God, and hence it must include physical, spiritual, and psychological change as fundamental to reality.”
Brian McLaren says the reason young people are not attracted to the church is because it is still holding on to creeds that address world problems of the 1, 2, 3rd centuries. It is not a leader in challenging a culture that, as Gretta Thunberg says, “is only interested in money and the fantasy of unlimited economic growth”. The church is so fractured that the gospel is seen as a belief system, not a way of life. And until we show people, not just tell people, what transformation looks like (radical hospitality, social justice, spirituality rooted in love, and taking the risks to make change) we will not be attractive because we are not relevant to current world problems.
My mind jumped to a present day, practical illustration of this truth: Andrew Sheer is facing a leadership review in April (though it is happening in public right now). Why didn’t his promises not to touch abortion or gay marriage rights satisfy both conservative and liberal people? I believe it is because these positions are indications that he lives in an outdated worldview and religious perspective. It is not enough that he says he will not challenge the gay marriage laws; his beliefs and views tell a story about how he views the world which is not in touch with the needs and beliefs of young and progressive citizens. Andrew Coyne, a Conservative columnist, commented that Andrew Sheer is not the problem. The problem is a party that has not updated its policies to address today’s problems. The Conservative Party may remain a staple for those who are trying to cling on to the past, but the country has moved on and this is the decision that the federal Conservatives have to face if they want to remain relevant. Conservatives play an important part in the balance of power, but they will only be able to play this role if they can change with the times.
When I came to Canada it was a world leader, brokering peace and welcoming people from all over the world. Now we are slipping into a morass of fear. Being “Christian” is about being in the world as a leader of transformation. The church could be a community of love and support for those heeding this call, because at heart it is all about transformation. We need to keep the faith that doing the right thing will prevail and we want to be in that future that is going to prevail.
https://brianmclaren.net/what-i-shared-in-calgary Slides from Brian McLaren’s presentations in Calgary, Nov 1 and 2, 2019