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Monday, September 23, 2013

Christianity Slowly Untangling Itself From the 30+ Years of Culture War

For some 30 years and more, the most conservative wing of Christianity worked hard on the battle come to be known as the "Culture Wars." These believers exhibited what Dr. M. Scott Peck described as Stage 2 Spirituality, which involves:

Stage II: Formal, Institutional
  • Stage of the majority of churchgoers and believers [if you are here, you are in very good company].
  • Very much attached to the institution of the church, to canons, to liturgy, to tradition. 
  • Anything or anyone changing up the rules will cause turmoil for people in this stage. 
  • Vision of God is as external, transcendent Being, not immanent or indwelling. See God as loving but also as firm and distant judge.
  • Have a deep desire to be governed by a legalistic religion. 
  • Loving parents, whose children sometimes head into Stage III.
See bullet points three through five for where a lot of the trouble began. The "Moral Majority" that grew up during that war was a very rule driven, my way or the highway (to hell) organization. As a result, much harm was done to the image of the faith as a whole, as the more central and liberal wings of Christianity did little to counter this impression in any meaningful way, and it spread. 

All through my seminary readings, various ways to counter what had been done and to reach out to people in a more understanding, loving fashion were advocated. It was uplifting for me, within one week, to read a message from Pope Francis and from a writer in Red Letter Christianity, who both give me hope for a more open future with others. 

On September 20, 2013, it was reported in the news that the Pope made the following statement to Catholic reporters and others, 
The Church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the Church must be ministers of mercy above all. 
In the middle of the last century of the previous millennium (the 1950s) we Christians had the luxury of operating under the "If you build it, they will come" mindset about our churches. Want to gather more folks to the faith? Build a nice, new church building or expand an old one. Offer gyms for the youth and classrooms for everyone, and you're all set. And, given the blue laws of the age shutting down businesses for the day, it all worked out pretty well. Church was just about the only game in town. Not true any longer. 

In Christian Piatt's article "Five Things That Are Holding Christianity Back," he spoke to that mindset and what must replace it. 
... we're mistaken if we believe that most people still are comfortable with the idea of walking in "cold" to a worship service as a way to get to know a church family. Whereas we've tended to see worship as the entry point into our church communities, this really should be flipped on its end today, so that we see invitation to worship as the culmination of a long standing relationship with the person, build outside of the church even, before we earn the right to invite.
I'd add, from other sources, be ready to apologize for the pain caused by as a result of the long fought Culture Wars. Then spend more time listening than talking. Get to know the people you'd like to reach and let them speak of their issues first. Then have something helpful and generous to say. Like all wars, it has created a lot of collateral damage. 

Finally, last Sunday, I attended a church that really is on the right track. It was amazing to see how many outreach programs they had going on at once. They were running a food pantry with the gathered churches of the town. Together those churches were fund raising for scholarships for poor students to ensure they receive a better education. They were preparing to attend the Crop Walk (an ABC USA program participated in by American Baptist churches all over, gathering funds to feed others) and much more. They were making themselves the community church that actually reaches into the community and provides help. They were helping to dispel the image of the Church as a harsh place filled with rules and regulations and scoldings and shame that is obsessed with "small minded rules" to quote Pope Francis again. 

In their Sunday bulletin that week was this passage from Isaiah (58:6-12), which provides good guidelines for any 21st century church looking to reach out. It reads: 

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house: when you see the naked, cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

I'd like to be the "restorer of streets to live in." How about you?  

For more on M. Scott Peck's challenging four stages of spirituality, see:


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