Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Backstory to last week's list about the liberal church movement

*** I am moving this post forward because it seems rather timely now.  I wrote it last week right after my post, rounding out my reasons to use humor to cut through some of the spiritual rhetoric and noise around me.  Now after this article and all of the responses, what I have to say seems so much more timely.  It is lengthy, but I think important.  I can't begin to answer the big questions swirling around about why churches are feeling an exodus, but I think the way we are behaving is at the heart of the problem.  We as a collective church are missing the mark.  We are messing it up in different ways and pointing fingers at each other, rather than being iron sharping iron as we are called.  So here you go.

*******

Rachel Held Evans has become one of my favorite writers and I am so excited that my bosom friend and my Dh are both currently reading her latest book- A Year of Biblical Womanhood.  I read it when it came out and loved the entire reading experience.  She is smart, she is funny, she is honest, she is full of grace and still totally a real human person.  Probably the most important reason I love her work is that I believe her social commentary on the evangelical church is spot on.  She loves the evangelical movement and she is able to speak so candidly because she is talking from first hand experience.  So while I'm listening to my bosom friend and dh as they are experiencing this book, I am processing why I think what she is writing resonates with me and so many others.  They both grew up in the evangelical church, one in a conservative expression, and one in a moderate movement; so it's rather amusing to hear their responses.

I did not grow up in the evangelical church, but I went to an evangelical Christian university so I totally get it.  Not only that, but I resonate with an evangelical perspective on Scripture.  I grew up in the liberal branch of the church and my experience of the church during childhood was verrrrrry different.  This little snapshot from the my life proves this point perfectly:

When I was applying to my top choice university, I had to have a pastoral letter of recommendation and so I got to ask the new 30 something pastor at my church.   (She is awesome btw and we are in touch to this day)  When I handed her the form she pulled me aside with this very concerned look on her face.   "You want to go to Biola...you do know what that stands for, yes?"  I responded by saying, yes...that's why I want to go there...it's the Bible Institute of Los Angeles.  I grew up in this church and don't have a clue of what is actually in our sacred scripture."  I added my 17 year old snark to that last bit.  She did not seem to understand my response...but a little while later I realized she did not actually grow up in the liberal Protestant movement.   

I spent 4 years at the university of my dreams and it was water for my soul because I got an intimate, comprehensive, and balanced schooling in faith, the bible, and the integration of knowledge and spirituality.   I drank from it deeply because I needed to know scripture...really know it.  It was also fuel for my fire, but luckily I chose the right field to major in so I was able to find my tribe eventually.   I came to truly understand what was lacking in my upbringing and what was solid ground.   I also learned great discernment on what was kind and grace driven and what was fear and hatred.  That ability was mostly inside of my own heart, but I also learned how to recognize it in others as well.

I began working in the church towards the end of my college years and then stayed on for a solid decade working in a liberal mainline denomination church.   That’s when I really became dangerous, because I actually know what the bible says and I know which perspective I come from when interpreting it.   Not to mention I hold the Scripture as the most important thing.   I understand there is nothing new under the sun, so I went against the grain a time or two.   Once I “retired” to care for little ones for a season, I spent about 5 years in a fairly conservative evangelical church, then their church plant, and it was during these years I learned one important thing about myself and what works for me:

I feel more comfortable being the most theologically conservative one in the bunch, than I do being the most socially liberal in the group.  I love the evangelical church as much as I do the more progressive church.   I see the good, the bad, the ugly and in the end people matter to me more than ideals.   I am one of the people that matters and since I was born in this time as a female and raised with liberal Christian values, I choose a progressive community to worship and grow in. (When I actually show up)   Most days I am happy with that choice, but then there are other days I have clenched teeth and fists raised to the heavens. I have a sort of first love for the progressive church though and since I am a progressive believer with evangelical tendencies, I am going to poke fun at everyone.  I am no Rachel...but I am me.  

There are many issues of contradiction to work with when looking straight on in evaluation of the current Christian movement.  There is much fear and panic going on in the progressive mainline denominations right now...and there should be.  We lost our way more than 2 decades ago and we are scrambling to make sense of all the fall out.  Our roots were shallow and we were not living out the gospel the way we are called.  Decline is a part of life, but when there are no roots strong enough to withstand the storm, chaos happens.  I was not taught the core of the gospel growing up in the progressive church.  I was given a shallow version of God loving me...but I was missing the meat of the redemption story.  There is much fear and panic going on in the evangelical denominations too.  Rachel covers that territory well though, so I'll leave that be.

My purpose in making light of the contradictions in retrospect is to say:  We need to know our stuff and own our stuff...so we can change that stuff and reach out to the world around us.  The thing the progressive church has gotten right historically in a very consistent way is the embodiment of Galatians 3:26-29

“For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” NRSV
But I had to go to an evangelical Christian university to figure that out.  The progressive church has been the voice out in front when it comes to equality...and I know that is by the Spirit’s leading.  We need to own that and teach our children exactly why we believe what we do in a social context, and we need to do it biblically.  We need to be serious about the basics...Scripture, Worship, Stewardship...and not distracted by the next newfangled idea that pop up in the culture around us and feels good to tag along after.  I'm pretty sure those outside of the the church are not impressed with our poser tendencies.

Hurting and oppression are all around us and we have a choice to make.  Is the progressive church going to crumble as the system crumbles, being more interested in licking wounds as the cumbersome hierarchy crashes down?  Or are we going to own our stuff, stop thinking about our bruised egos and start really connecting with others around us?  In my thinking, a very important first step to deciding what to do next is to laugh at the contradictions we have set into motion in the past and then let it go.  

It’s time to move forward and use our collective voice to speak out for those whose voices are silenced by oppression.  It is time to march again, in a non violent way, to help move the causes of equality forward in this time.  It is time to respond to our culture with love and dignity, so there is something besides the hate spewed rhetoric cloaked in religiosity out there proclaiming what Jesus would do.  We must join together with our evangelical brothers and sisters and embody faith in the way Jesus actually taught us how to do....not fight within the ranks to be most right.  There is no longer evangelical or progressive, rather we need to be the believers of Jesus fighting injustice in this age.

Who’s with me?


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