Tuesday, July 18, 2017

No One Steals My Church

Last week, Brett Younger wrote an op-ed on Baptist News Global. A friend suggested I read it. And, I am glad I did. It is a powerful article and addresses some of the great sins of the contemporary church. Kudos to Younger for holding his loved ones to a biblical standard. But, he lays the most egregious sins of the early twenty-first-century church at Donald Trump’s feet. His title is, “Donald Trump stole my old church.”

I cannot concede the church to Trump or anyone else. The church belongs to God. People attend church and miss God’s point every week. No matter how sound the preaching, people miss the point. Every person in every church is a hypocrite. It is a matter of degree.

Younger introduced theological differences in the following subjects:
Gender inequality
Racial inequality
LGBTQ inequality
Interfaith dialogue
Gun ownership
Economic inequality

Younger writes that he used to try and reconcile theological differences. But, in Trump’s America, he can no longer reconcile the different worlds. He concludes, “I have come to the painful realization that God is not the point of my old church. My old church is shaped more by Fox News than Jesus’ Good News.” For churches like the one Younger describes, I agree with his conclusion. There is no justification for racism, homophobia, or misogyny. To his list, I add a need for religious liberty, gun safety, economic justice, and environmental justice.

I diverge from Younger when he writes, “Donald Trump has made it obvious that my old church is not filled with followers of Christ.” This gives the President too much power. He has no sway on my theology. In the church Younger describes, the President brought long-held beliefs to the surface. His statement smacks of the judgmental tone that drives me away from fundamentalists.

Disagreeing with a person’s position is different than disagreeing with the person. If they have an opportunity, some of the most wonderful people in the world say some truly stupid things. Yet, they are part of God’s creation. The world is a mixed collection of blessings and curses. Hans Urs von Balthasar describes God’s revelation as a kaleidoscope. New constellations form again and again with the same elements. The church is where we see this kaleidoscope.

Younger writes, “You cannot follow Jesus and support a tax cut for the rich.”
But you can.
A follower of Jesus can be a rich young ruler who cannot fathom giving away his possessions (Mark 10:17-22). We imagine that the man did not follow Jesus. But, we do not know. Only God knows.

Younger’s statement reminds me of a sermon I once heard. The fundamentalist preacher was doing a series on names of Jesus. The Sunday I heard him, he focused on “born of a virgin.” He said, “You cannot be a Christian if you do not believe in the virgin birth.” I reread the gospels. None of them said what the preacher said. Should I castigate the preacher and correct his heresy? No. Nor should I criticize Younger.

I agree with Younger’s sentiment. Theology matters. Yet, there is more to the church than one person's misogyny, racism, judgmentalism, etc. von Balthasar writes, “The ‘economic’ revelation of the triune God is a single revelation, but it is infinitely rich in aspects.” The church is God at work in the world (economic revelation). There are times when we do not agree with what people in the church say or do. Thus, we remember the church belongs to God.

Younger concluded by quoting Augustine. “The church is a whore, but she is my mother.” Maybe. But, I prefer Juan Luis Segundo’s words. He called the church an “unedited possibility for love.” God can work through fundamentalists, liberals, moderates, or, even, me.



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