Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Ark was built by amateurs, the Titanic was built by professionals

A commentator on one of the finance websites I frequent lambasted Wall Street, saying that Noah's Ark was built by amateurs, the Titanic by the pros. Wall Street has had many spectacular failures the last two years.

The established Church needs to take notice. Among many other things, Christmas is about a babe in a manger, of apparently questionable birth, come to shake up established religion. The representatives of that religion had failed to serve the true spiritual needs of the people they served. In fact, they had come to collaborate with the Roman Empire.

The established churches of our time are failing to serve both Christians and non-Christians. The Evangelicals have said that the mainline churches are becoming stale. Their liturgy is boring. They have failed to evangelize.

Frankly, though, what the Evangelicals offer is worse: unthinking adherence to flawed doctrine, empty pop music whose message can be boiled down to "Jesus is my boyfriend", homophobia, warmongering, cultural imperialism, lack of concern for the greater world. The mainline churches are also guilty of some of these things.

Bishop John Spong of the Episcopal Church in the US contends that Christianity must change or die. In his view, Christianity must move away from literalism and superstition, or it will fail to serve people. I disagree. Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians show us that a) people need to believe in high myth and b) some people are just fucking crazy.

It is true, though, that Christianity must change or humanity will die. It is only now that Evangelicals are realizing the climate change will destroy the ability of millions of humans to live on this planet. It is only now that they are realizing that genocide is a crime against God and humankind. It is only now that they are realizing that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people have the same rights as ... oh, wait. The Evangelical conservatives are too late. Their efforts will probably be too little as well. They, like the mainline churches, need to shape up. Or die.

We progressive Christians have in many ways ceded the power of the Christian story to the interpretations of the fundamentalists. We have failed to show the world that we take the Bible seriously, not literally. We have failed to spread the faith. We have failed in vision, organization, teaching and marketing.

Going forward, progressive Christians need to engage with the established Church (meaning both mainline and Evangelical churches) and with the wider world. We need to articulate a non-exclusive theology that describes the mystery of God and is digestible and attractive to ordinary people. We need to articulate and execute a theology that upholds human rights because they are God's rights. If the Religious Right's message goes unchallenged, we all lose.

Many religious 'professionals' have failed in their duties. Pray that the 'amateurs' will step in. And Happy Holidays!

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