I’ve had a couple conversations with folks in the last two weeks that have made me think of something I haven’t thought about in some time. So here goes a couple things I’ve been thinking about re Church. This does not have to do with one specific church or denomination but with many American churches as a whole. For those who don’t I grew up conservative Evangelical and have had a tenuous and messy relationship with it for some time. It becomes exacerbated at times by nationalist politics and a bunch of other crap, but it’s still there, and as much as I’d like to toss it, I can’t.
I probably won’t respond to all your comments so feel free to make a voodoo doll out of me and stick pins it. Or just ignore this post and watch it drift away into the annals of Facebook algorithms.
1. The Veneer of Openness
While most churches claim to be open, accepting, and loving, there comes a time when you’ve been in it long enough that you realize this acceptance is superficial. Sure, many of those in power claim that you belong regardless of one’s doubts, sexual orientation, questions, interpretation of theology, etc., but when it comes to really belonging, participating in leadership, etc., many churches expect these people to have it dialed and lined up with church hierarchy/leadership. And while I believe many of those who claim openness exist are doing so honestly, it seems the funnel of belief always trends towards a certain dogma and black and white theology I cannot get behind anymore. I think churches have the right to define their own theology and set up whatever lines and boundaries they want. Just don’t claim to also be accepting of everyone. Often this acceptance is a veneer, acceptance in principle only, but if you believe that person’s lifestyle is wrong or that person’s theology is wrong then how much can you really accept them? One often finds that this openness is a closed system in which things are relegated to binaries–male/female/good/evil/conservative/liberal/pro-life/pro/choice/protestant/catholic.The world I interact with is too complex for such simple reductions (just my phenomenological experience though). This black and white theology or all-or-nothing thinking can also become a cognitive distortion leading to extremist beliefs.
2. Grace Covers All, (Except Your Theology)
This was recently pointed out to me by a friend who I’ve had numerous conversations with over the years who has also left church for the time being but who I think has the precise intellectual ability to put things in terms I’ve never thought about. So, while many evangelical/protestant Christian profess a theology of grace, this grace will cover one’s actions but not one’s doubts and/or “errors” in theology by those in power who claim to have a corner on the capital T truth. So, if you’re a married man who cheats on his wife but you’re also a neo-calvinist who is a an otherwise good guy and one who repents–grace covers you. But if you’re married man who doesn’t cheat on his wife but has a slightly more liberal view of scripture, well, then you’re an apostate. Grace does not cover you. I speak in reductionary terms merely to prove a point (and use neo-calvinist for a reason, because often these are the types of churches that seem “edgy” and cool with a bunch of tattoed dudes getting microbrews after church) but is really nothing more than some patriarchal conservatism. I already see your point coming about how churches have to have some structure and theology to function–whether it’s the Nicene Creed or some other catechism–so point taken, and I agree. But my questions is does grace cover errors in belief as much as errors in action? Because it seems, from a certain vantage point that one is more important than the other. Am I going to hell because I don’t have the “right” beliefs? It sure seems that way when you start bringing things like this up.
Anyways, I don’t read much Christian lit anymore but I guess you could say some of these ideas are inspired by Richard Rohr, Peter Rollins, and other contemporary (primarily women) authors who have existed outside the primarily male zeitgeist for many years. To say nothing of the racial disparity.
I feel dialogues on the internet never go well but if you have any thoughts lmk. As much as I hate the internet/social media if other avenues and venues remain closed to certain POV’s then people are going to take the dialogue elsewhere.