Thursday, May 26, 2005

Radical stances stray from true Christianity

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published today an excellent op-ed piece by the Rev. Dan Matthews, rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Atlanta:

Chan Chandler has had his 15 minutes of the public spotlight, though I imagine he would like to give them back. He is the minister in North Carolina who forced out nine members of his church for the way they voted in the last presidential election.

My heart grows heavy with sadness when stories such as this arise. As an ordained minister, I am discouraged not just by the behavior of a fellow clergy but also by the publicity of the story itself. Once again a radical form of Christianity, laden with judgment, finds its way into the public's awareness.

Unfortunately, many Americans are familiar with only this side of the Christian faith. Consequently, many have given up and walked away, disgusted by the judgment-riddled "agree or leave" theology of the strident right.

I hope that we can begin to rehabilitate the public face of Christianity and reclaim something truer to its original integrity. It is clear to me that the one who we Christians proclaim as Savior was about redemption and grace. Jesus' life was one of restless hospitality: He invited himself into the homes of unrepentant sinners and was all about making connections with God's people --- not severing them.

I have a passion to inform the world that there are Christians, such as myself, who suffer great pain when stories of Christian intolerance surface in the media. We are shocked by the message that the church is only for those of right thought, blemish-free pasts and pure voting record. From its early days, the Christian church was a place for the sinners --- all sinners, and that included everyone. We are all broken and in need of God's love.

So there is no place in Christian theology for smug, self-righteous finger-pointing. Even if Chandler thought that voting for John Kerry was the worst offense for which a Christian could be guilty, then by any form of Christian reasoning he should have delighted in the fact that he had nine lost sheep who were already a part of his congregation.

I read recently that Chandler was forced to resign, and I am saddened by that turn of events as well. An "agree or leave" policy is wrong when it is inflicted on the left-leaning members of the church by the outspoken right. It is just as wrong when it is inflicted by the left upon the right. Retaliation was never a virtue spoken or embodied by Jesus.

You and I live in a disposable world. We throw everything away --- even things of value --- from broken CD players to computers to refrigerators. You and I look at what is not working and immediately try to rid ourselves of it. But God sees us differently. That is what the whole parable of the lost sheep was about.

Christianity has become notorious for the certainty vocalized by ministers who see the world in terms of their own absolutes. Chandler is wrong, not because he picked the wrong candidate, but because he believes one person can exhaustively embody the faith. George W. Bush does not embody or exemplify the whole of Christianity, nor does John Kerry, nor Chan Chandler nor I.

The church has always struggled with discerning God's word in its own day and time. I have some pretty strong convictions, and many of them are strikingly different from the ones I held 20 years ago. I thank God I had a church that welcomed me and allowed me to stay while I worked through --- struggled through --- those beliefs.

I long for a church in which struggling with what we believe is not a sign of weakness but of our desire to understand and be as faithful as possible. Struggling in and of itself is not bad. Certainty and the subsequent unwillingness to accept the (likely) possibility that God's plan differs from ours --- that is the danger.

I may grow in understanding and wisdom, but I will never achieve complete faithfulness or understanding. That is why the struggle continues --- and must continue.


At 4:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The story in the church as presented in the New Testament isn't much different. So it's not like we're leaving some original purity behind if people can't get along together and leave.

1 John is written as a basic 'pat on the back' for one side of a split.

Galatians is a total broadside of one side against another.

The communities that brought forth Gospels saw it as "us versus them" repeatedly.

So we could conclude it's always going to be that way, whether it's personality type driving it, pride, social reputation, whatever.


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