Friday, April 29, 2005

Christianity and the State

As you all know, I think that Christianity and our form of government make uneasy bedfellows, at best. And yet, the religious right has seized this presidency and been seized in return by Bill "Kitten Killer" Frist who hopes to ride God straight into the White House in '08. I've also been thinking a lot about Twyla, who I found through Peggasus, when I'm out walking the dog in the morning. Well, I haven't been thinking about Twyla in particular, I've been thinking about something she wrote (I'm hemming and hawing about linking to it, as it seems kind of personal and I just want to take one part of out context. Here's the whole blog. If you want to read carefully to get to it, more power to you). She says:
In a simple or organic church there ought not to be this dividing wall of pretension. I think a new believer is encouraged by the honest description of struggle. It helps them to not feel that such a chasm separates them from those who may have trod the path a bit longer. It removes the tendency to idolize or put a "leader" on a pedestal. In fact, I don’t even like to think of "leaders" in this way in a simple church. I like to think of the ground as being level, as each being able to learn from and be ministered to by the other.
I don't know what an organic church is, but when I read this, it clarified for me a few things that have been pricking at the back of my mind. One is that Christians do themselves a huge disservice when they don't read their own holy book and decide for themselves what it means. I'm not saying that Christians shouldn't listen to their pastors or to authors or other people. I'm saying, if you don't read and feel comfortable with the knowledge you have of what you're reading, you have no way to test out whether what you're being told is true. The other is that leadership can be corrupting. People who are given power tend to believe they deserve that power. This is especially damaging in a church, because of the current Christian dynamic of encouraging everyone in the church to be meek and mild and followers. If someone with power is abusing that power, it can be nearly impossible for the rest of the church to do anything about it because it doesn't just feel like a rebellion against abusive leadership, it feels like a rebellion against God's order. That's why it means a lot that Twyla insists that everyone should be accountable to each other and minister to each other. It's the only way to guarantee that one person's ego doesn't take over. It's important because the Christian Church in America is in crisis. It doesn't see it because it's got some power, but it's in serious trouble. The Church, in order to be effective, must be active. It must serve the community it's in. For better or for worse, the most active people--cure the sick, clothe the poor, shelter the homeless, feed the hungry type folks--are liberal and those people are leaving the Church in droves. Even now, you can see the effects of that in the growing "angry Christian" face of the Church--folks like Dobson and his ilk who run around so pissed off that the whole country isn't falling in line behind them quickly enough. What does that anger and self-righteousness have to offer non-Christians? Not much. But, you say these churches these angry men lead are growing by leaps and bounds. True enough, but they're mostly poaching from other denominations. That's not really growth. Also, these angry men are, at heart, anti-Christian. They can preach the word of their god with the best of them, but they can't really hear the words of Jesus. Because, if Jesus was about anything, he was about transformation. If you're rich, give your shit to the poor. If you're sleeping around, stop it. If you're organizing your life by the letter of the law, start living by the spirit. Give up the things you think you can't do without and see what happens. My dad has this sermon he sometimes gives, which I love, about the miracle of the loaves and fishes, where Jesus takes fives loaves of bread and two fish and feeds 5,000 people. He says that the most plausible explanation is the most miraculous, that when one person offered everything he had, other people, who had been carrying around a loaf of bread to snack on later or some grapes to keep the kids quiet or some olives they meant to bring home to their mothers, took our their food and shared it, too. The miracle wasn't making so little enough for everyone; the miracle was getting a large group of strangers to treat each other like a community. Transformation. Give up the things you think you can't do without and see what happens. Do you see what I'm saying now? James Dobson, William Donohue, Gary Bauer, David Barton, and the rest of their ilk are anti-Christian because they will not give up the things they think they can't do without. They don't get that the transformation Jesus preached was not a one-shot deal--be born again and never worry again--but an ongoing process. Transformation. Here they are, these angry men of god, hoarding whatever they can get their hands on--control of women, control of the government, control of public discourse, control of the definition of what Christianity is--and though they can quote you the Bible chapter and verse, they don't dare give themselves over to transformation. There wasn't a thing that Jesus kept hold of. He gave up his family, his career, his religious rules, his society's prejudices, his life, just to see what would happen. It's remarkable, and anyone who would choose to emulate that--to give yourself over to transformation, to let go of everything you think you can't do without, just to see what would happen--ought to be commended. Even I, as a non-Christian, am madly in love with the real transformative example of Jesus. But these guys can't do it. They cling to their power and to their letter-of-the-law and to their same old crap they've been preaching for years. I almost can't blame them. It's a lot easier when things are clear-cut and someone's obviously in charge and the rules are unbreakable. It's easier, but it's got nothing to do with Jesus.

4 Comments:

Blogger Peggasus said...

You make some good points. A lot of the stuff that's going on in those mega-entertainment-complex churches confounds me. (I'm assuming that's who those you mentioned represent.) As a Catholic, I feel kind of out of it with all these waving-hand evengelicals that abound these days.

I have a problem with the pastor at our church. I find him arrogant and self-centered and insufferable. My mother (because I still feel guilty when we don't attend Mass on Sunday) tells me I should be there for the message, not the messenger.

And not that's it's any of my business, but I find it curious that you identify yourself as a non-Christian when your father is a minister, and you obviously think about spiritual matters. You don't have to answer that, even though it really wasn't even a question.

Nice post. Very thoughtful.

4/30/2005 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger Twyla said...

Fantastic post. Very thoughtful and insightful. Very little bullshit.

I don't identify myself as Christian, either. I'm not sure what I am, other than weird. But no way could I claim the identifier "christian" with all those loonies out there claiming it.

I adore the interpretation of the loaves and fishes. It captures the soul of the teachings of Christ so much better than any other I have ever heard.

And I love your closing sentences. It reminds me of something Anne Lamott said, something to the effect of: Doubt isn't the opposite of faith - certainty is.

(By the way, organic or simple church is just a few folks getting together in one another's homes or at a coffee shop or bar to explore spiritual issues, to build friendships with depth and to discover how to seek God together. Non-institutional, informal, relational. The only way I would even consider "doing church" these days)

4/30/2005 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Wow, I really like the idea of an organic church. That sounds, if you get a good group of like-minded people, like something that would be really nourishing.

My dad has been trying, with various amounts of success, depending on where we've lived, to set something like that up for the ministers in town, so that they can have a group of people to talk to about spiritual matters and try to meet needs that they all share but don't really share with anyone else in the community.

I don't know if they've considered it a church. Probably not, since he's bringing together ministers of all denomination and I think it's a lot easier for the Catholic priest and the Baptist pastor to sit down together over coffee and pray together if they don't think of it as something akin to what they usually do. But it seems like a similar idea.

So, in a funny way, it's my dad's fault I'm not a Christian. He's always stressed the importance of ecumenical relationships and learning from and respecting the differences and similarities between all Christian denominations.

So, I believe all religions are equally true--even if that means that none are completely true. I waffle on whether I'm certain about the state of the universe, but when I am feeling certain, I'm a hardcore polytheist. I believe that all gods are real and different from one another (though some might be called by many names) and that the relationships between followers of those gods and those gods are as important and as valid and valuable as the relationships between Christians and their god.

And I believe that the gathering and gaining of knowledge, of all different kinds of knowledge, is one of the great benefits and opportunities of being alive--so that, I guess, I have in common with the other god who hung on a tree.

So, to that end, I'm a polytheist because I adore and perceive as real more than just the Christian god.

...okay, now I'm going to worry that half of y'all have left and the other half are figuring out how to contact the Butcher and have me committed. Oh well. If you can't make crazy admissions to a bunch of semi-strangers on the internet, who can you make them to?

5/02/2005 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger Taketoshi said...

It's odd how in your description Jesus sounds a lot like the horse-embracing German.

8/12/2005 10:40:00 AM  

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