Christianity is, I believe, about expanded life, heightened consciousness and achieving a new humanity. –John Shelby Spong
Christian churches in America are social clubs. We do a nice job of providing excuses for people to exercise their instincts as a social animals. There are bowling teams, softball teams, basketball teams, ladies auxiliaries, youth groups and various boards on which to serve. We put on nice pot-luck dinners and serve coffee after worship services where members gather to discuss everything, except the content of the holy ritual they just attended. We discuss the sermon by noting it wasn’t too boring, but the delivery could still use some work. We do a good job administering the rites of passage. Baptisms, confirmations, marriages and funerals legitimize our existence as religious institutions.
Indeed, the church should be a comfortable place where the soul can find rest and a sense of belonging. But it should also be a place where our human foibles are constantly challenged, where spiritual growth is actively encouraged, where comfort does not become complacency, where the status quo is continually examined and questioned. Are we transformed by our church experience to deal with these issues as the “New Beings” we’re supposed to be? Does the Gospel message really speak to the human soul? Or, is it just platitude – without any real practical application.
The Christian church in America is not what it confesses to be. It’s like a shell washed up on the shore. It displays a solid exterior, but internally it is devoid of the material needed to sustain viability. In other words, it’s dead.
Missing The Mark
The ultimate proof of this moribund condition is the election of a President who fervently embodies anti-Christian beliefs and attitudes. His “Two Corinthians” comment aside, as president-elect, he didn’t even bother to feign a religious life or knowledge of Christian principles. His expressed values and attitudes embody the concept of missing the mark, which is the original meaning of the word, sin. We won’t attempt to enumerate his transgressions here, since nearly every word and action bears witness. His contempt for Christian values is palpable.
If churches were truly alive with the Holy Spirit, they’d have mounted a response so loud and vehement, the candidate would have been quickly dismissed. If Pastors took seriously their prophetic responsibility to speak for truth, their voices would have shaken churches from Spokane to Cape Cod. If individuals and congregations were actually infused with Christ consciousness, they would have reached out to enlightened the better angels of all Americans.
So where then was The Conference of Catholic Bishops – the same Bishops who otherwise never hesitate to declare positions on doctrine? Pope Francis was clear about his misgivings concerning the candidate, but aside from criticizing Trump’s comments on immigration, the Conference was shamefully silent.
And where were the family values-centric Evangelicals? Why were they silent about the President elect’s adultery and his amenability to sexual assault? Is the fear of changing cultural norms so great these Christian leaders would subvert their basic principles to the point of enabling one they would normally dismiss without a second thought? Does bondage to their doctrine, which prohibits abortion and denounces homosexuality, override reacting a greater danger? If so, it is a shameless betrayal of the one whose example they profess to follow.
That being said, the Church’s failure of conscience and responsibility in the recent election, is merely a symptom of deeper dis-ease. The real issue festers below the surface. It is a systemic dysfunction that dooms any effort to positively transform the human heart. With the exception of a few little known protestant denominations, Christian churches remain enmeshed in a world view, theology and religious language that has not changed in five-hundred years.
It is precisely this cultural dislocation that is responsible for the church’s present state of impotence. The election of Donald Trump is symptomatic of that impotence – the inability to confront fear and intolerance with a theology (language & symbols) that effectively expresses the ideals of love and compassion. Even if good intentions were present, the means to effectively act on them is not. It’s like trying to power a modern high-speed train with steam. No matter how much is generated, the train simply will not move.
The Church needs to find a new voice – a new theology – one that speaks to the spiritual and emotional needs of people in their present context. Musty vocabularies and dust-covered symbols can’t meet the need. The hierarchical model, on which churches were structured for centuries, may have provided an effective way to exert control over clergy and congregants, but it is not consistent with Gospel teachings. Monolithic organizational structures are antithetical to the new understanding of the God/human relationship that Jesus brought to the world. Instead of following the corporate concept of bigger is better, churches need to become smaller, with as little bureaucracy and paid staff as possible. Using 12-step groups as a model would be a good start. The minimalist self-supporting structure has worked well to keep groups focused and effective in their mission to aid the spiritual growth of recovering addicts.
And so, the Church is left with a choice. It can either upgrade its software (theology) to become more user-friendly (relevant), or stay with a comfortably familiar but no longer effective way of doing ministry. Choosing the later means running the risk of empowering more like Donald Trump – or worse.
The spiritual needs of mankind haven’t changed in two-thousand years, but the way to nurture those needs has to evolve. It’s impossible to say whether or not the Church’s having a voice that speaks to the spirit of the present day would have made a difference in the election. Nevertheless, it can be assumed that a Church which is more fully engaged in its mission to live out the Gospel would have responded in a way that was more attuned to its core principles.
The Gospel message calls for living at a higher level of consciousness, in a state of grace, with unconditional love, forgiveness, charity and peace that passes normal human understanding. We need every bit of that right here and now.
So everyone who proclaims love and forgiveness to the world, is one with the Spirit and holds the peace of eternity in their heart. –Matthew 10:32 (RNV)