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 dont 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.