I’ve just read an article by Rachel Held Evans with which I resonate. OK, I only agree with four of the points which she says make her uncomfortable in a mainstream, “liberal” church – and partly with a fifth, but I’m completely with her on the points which separate her from the more conservative church (and most of what is labelled “evangelical” falls squarely into this category).
Added to her points of difficulty with the conservatives, I can add that I’m very much “pro choice” as it tends to be put these days. This isn’t nearly so much of a demarcation line here in the UK as it is in the States, but it is a difficulty. I haven’t written at length on this topic, but I know I have some “pro-life” readers, and if there’s push-back on this point, I’ll write about it.
Where I part company with mainstream churches is primarily on the issue of actually getting out there and doing things in the community. I’m happy if there’s evangelical outreach as well, but very unhappy if that is linked to serving the poor and marginalised – under no circumstances do I want to exact payment from them in the form of listening to attempts to “convert” them which they don’t want to hear. Second on my list is Bible study – I want a church I attend to have active small groups which I can be part of – the church which basically presents a spectacle for an audience and stops there is not for me.
Like Rachel, I also want to take the Bible seriously (but, to the disappointment of my more conservative friends, not literally much of the time). I want to do that with ALL of the Bible, and not (as I find perhaps the majority of people in Bible studies do) ignore the difficult bits of either testament – but mostly those in the Hebrew Scriptures. However, I also don’t want to do what some conservatives do, and decide that Islam is the new Amalek and we should therefore exterminate Muslims (yes, I do know some people who actually think this should be the case). I am very much with Alfred North Whitehead’s suggestion (passed via John Cobb and Tripp Fuller) that God has to be at least as nice as Jesus – and the Jesus I think God has to be as nice as is definitively the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels excluding the apocalyptic passages, and not the “DJesus unchained” of Revelation.
To be completely honest, though, neither tendency of church, at least not those near to me, is nearly as radical as I want. As I’ve commented before, the more I read the synoptic gospels (and, to be fair to him some of Paul) the more politically radical my views become. Christianity, it seems to me, was as a whole doing a much better job of following Jesus in the first couple of centuries following his death than at any time after the Constantinian adoption of Christianity as the Roman State Religion. OK, there are some denominations which gave a good account of themselves in the late 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, combatting the slave trade, obtaining rights for workers and children and instituting the co-operative movement, but by and large Christianity has been imperialistic since certainly about 300 CE.
And during the period when it was doing the best job of following Jesus, it was being persecuted; it was rightly seen as being subversive of the imperial power of the day.
So, in conscience, what I want to see from my church is a group which gets up the nose of the powers that be to such an extent that they risk persecution – and that I see from neither mainstream nor evangelical churches at the moment (although I do notice a lot of American evangelicals seem to think they’re persecuted – but then, American evangelicals seem to have lost connection with both reality and the gospel recently).
I notice with interest that during that period when they were much closer to following Jesus than the churches in general now are, and were being persecuted, Christianity grew faster than at any other time in its history. Time, I think, to pick up our crosses and follow our leader…