Thursday, October 25, 2012

Can Public Christianity Be Humble?

Christianity in America is not known for its humility, which is ironic considering Christians claim to follow Jesus who preached and practiced humility.  It's election season, so the claims of religious people in the political arena seem particularly arrogant and judgmental.  The KC Star has run several recent stories about local Kansas politicians who have reacted in hateful ways towards LGBT people.  At least two Christian Senate hopefuls have made shocking claims about rape in their arguments against abortion rights.  And, of course, there's the usual hateful stuff about Muslims, feminism, sexuality, contraception, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.  Jesus could be harsh in his attacks on opponents, but he saved his harshness for religious people who were self-righteous and condemning towards others.  It's hard for me to connect the grace of Jesus Christ with the mean-spiritedness of many American Christians who are in the public sphere.
     Considering that the name of Jesus is used often in the context of vitriolic political arguments, is it any wonder that so many people are turning away from organized religion in general and Christianity in particular?  Although I would love to lay the blame entirely at the feet of those who practice a form of Christianity that is contrary to my own, I have to admit that I bear part of the responsibility for this current religious climate.  Christians who have a more grace-centered, less legalistic and less partisan view of their faith have in many ways ceded the public face of Christianity to the negative extremes.  If we truly believe in a God who welcomes rather than excludes, loves rather than condemns and values believers being humble in their truth claims rather than judgmental, then we must step forward and represent that type of God not only in our churches but in our communities.

            Going public with your faith is not easy in our present context.  The only model most of us know of Christians who make their faith a public rather than private matter is one of proselytizing and partisanship.  I'm a Christian minister and even I bristle when I meet a stranger who wants to talk with me about Jesus.  I wonder what he or she will want to talk about.  Is this person expecting me to go along with a viewpoint I find xenophobic or legalistic?  I have to believe there is another way to go when it comes to public Christianity. 

            The only way I can see for Christians to be gracious when they make their faith a public rather than private matter is for Christians to make sure they speak with humility.  In my own faith journey, I have learned (at least on my better days) to remember that I have come to what I believe largely based upon my own experience and there is a world of other people who have different experiences.  I don't claim to possess the only truth there is, but rather I simply confess what my own experiences of God and life have been.  When I can operate from a place of humility, it becomes much easier for me to consider an alternative point of view without dismissing that person out of hand or judging him or her.  On days when I cannot practice humility, I tend to be reactionary and closed to others.

            This past Sunday at our new member orientation we talked about the United Church of Christ's approach to the authority of the Bible and the creeds and confessions of the church.  The UCC "embraces a theological heritage that affirms the Bible as the authoritative witness to the Word of God, the creeds of the ecumenical councils and the confessions of the Reformation."  This means that the Bible, creeds and confessions of Christian history are considered "testimonies, but not tests of faith."  We believe "God is still speaking" today.  There is a big difference between understanding a particular interpretation of scripture, a creed or a confession as indisputable truth and understanding such a document as a testimony of faith from a particular person or community at a particular time.  Many Christians would argue that such a position amounts to relativism; I think it's an honest understanding of how limited the perspective is of every human and community of humans is when it comes to God.  In other words, it's humble.

            Humility when it comes to faith doesn't mean we are to be shrinking violets-certainly Jesus was confrontational when he needed to be-but it does mean that we operate from a place where we admit we do not have all the answers.  When we can admit what we do not know, it becomes easier for us to create opportunities for different people to seek answers together.  Wouldn't it be nice if the public face of Christianity was one of people welcoming diversity of belief rather than viewing it as a threat? 

Grace and Peace,

1 comment:

Warren Bull said...

While living in New Zealand for four months Judy and I quickly learned to stop asking people where they went to church. The response of the person asked was to deny he or she attended any church and then to change the topic. People tended to tense up with the question and to relax only after we did not attempt to recruit or "save" them. I admit I have a similar response when a stranger starts asking such questions.