Changing From Within….

Let me start this post by bringing back some words from a recent post about emergents.

The emergent movement is not a new denomination threatening to take over but instead a new way to thinking. Here is how Wikipedia describes that concept:

Emergents can be described as Protestant, post-Protestant, Catholic, evangelical, post-evangelical, liberal, post-liberal, conservative, post conservative, anabaptist, adventist, reformed, charismatic, neocharismatic, and post-charismatic…. Some attend local independent churches or house churches while others worship in traditional Christian denominations. Proponents believe the movement transcends such “modernist” labels of “conservative” and “liberal,” calling the movement a “conversation” to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature…

One of the most interesting parts of the emergent movement it that it is not another flavor of Christianity but instead is for the most part an attempt to change from within.  Emergents are currently inside many of today’s Christian denominations. They are trying to gently nudge their brothers and sisters away from their current trends of exclusion back into one of inclusion.

I can personally attest that this approach of changing from within is not going to be easy!  I joined a small Lutheran Congregation about ten years ago. I was a regular participant in weekly Bible study. I always tried to get the point across that there are many ways to view most bible verses. I asked some pretty difficult questions. When a new minister was brought into our congregation who was obviously a very conservative exclusionist things changed. When I questioned some of his biblical interpretations he became quite uncomfortable. Another person in those studies asked questions as frequently as I did and that often brought others to join in. Within a year or so both of us were told that since we did not agree with some Lutheran tenets, primarily Sola Scriputra,  he was starting the process to exclude us from membership. My questions and nudges were just too threatening to his ministry.  Instead of going through a formal inquisition I chose to give up my attempts of changing from within and leave voluntarily. That meant leaving friends there as most seldom continue friendships outside their particular faith bubble.

I can understand the logic behind my exclusion from that small congregation. It is very difficult for any clergyman to align to something not authorized through a strict denominational hierarchy.  The bosses just don’t like it when their authority is questioned. It is very hard for the local clergyman to take a stand on things not authorized by his superiors.

Martin Luther had no plan to upset Christianity as he ended up doing.  He was simply trying to change the Roman Catholic church from within. In some way you could have been one of the first emergents. But  since he stubbornly refused to acknowledge that he might not have all the answers. He started the practice of exclusion instead. Trying to change within is not an easy matter.

Will the emergent movement have much success within many present denominations? I personally kind of doubt it but I am hoping that at least a few will actually open their hearts and listen to the message of inclusion. It is a hard to admit that you just might be wrong about anything in life let alone things in the spiritually sphere. As with the Pharaoh, hearts are just too hardened now to accept any brutal truths and it is a brutal truth to learn that you may be wrong about some of the things you base your spiritual existence on. Tragically some are just totally unwilling to accept that premise.


Despite recent trends the U.S. is still pretty much an inclusive society. As the saying on the plaque at the Statue Of Liberty goes we welcome all others to our shores. The resulting diversity is in my mind one of the primary reasons we have been such a strong and prosperous country. Elitism is by definition exclusive. It wants more and more for a smaller and smaller portion of society. It celebrates that fact that more than half the wealth of this country is in the hands of the top one percent of the population.

The advantages of inclusiveness and diversity are equally true for our religious institutions.  Unfortunately most religious organization are exclusive. When they can’t even agree within themselves about something they call “religious” they far too often split over their differences. Each of the currently 39,000 different versions of Christianity today go out into the secular world to proclaim that they alone have it right when it comes to God.  But then again, many don’t actually go outside their doors with any seriousness. Instead they tell us to come and see them and if we jump through all the right hoops and proclaim the right beliefs then they will let us join their group. To me that pompous attitude is not the message of Jesus. Jesus didn’t put conditions on his welcoming tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans and such; he welcomed them all without conditions.

I realize the above words are somewhat critical. No, they are actually very critical! This criticism did not come lightly upon me; it evolved for many years of observation and study.  I have come to truly mourn the fact about what much of Christ’s church has become. Thank heavens I have also been exposed to an evolving Christianity that has allowed my view of Christ to grow and not die as a result of this all too common church exclusiveness.

I have been exposed to numerous authors who tell me a different story. It is a story of celebrating Christian diversity. It is a story of getting back to the words of Jesus and putting all the various man-made beliefs about him on the back burner, and in some instances completely off the stove. It is about welcoming all people to our midst.  It is about actively going into the community to be our brother’s keeper. It is about being a Christian instead of just proclaiming certain belief, man-made beliefs. It is not self-focused but is about helping others.

My religious evolution was somewhat similar to when I went deaf. Before I met others who were deaf I was convinced that I was the only one out there. Before I was exposed to the other side of Christianity, the inclusive version, I was very distraught about what I saw in the church. Now I have hope for the church of Jesus. Will some of the current church institutions step away from their practices of exclusion or will they be simply sidelined to an ever decreasing minority? In some ways I really don’t care as there is now an alternative on the horizon to take their place if they stubbornly insist on the pompous belief that they are the only true Christians out there.

The emergent church movement gives me hope that the messages of Jesus will not be lost to mankind. All of Christianity will not be deemed irrelevant to the world and discarded. The idea of actually following Jesus will be resurrected, or I might say rescued, to return as a mantel of morality in this world.

A Priest Following His Conscience…..

PriestIt always saddens me to see yet another instance of a Christian church exercising exclusion but that is what this article is all about. This time it is the Roman Catholic church. They stripped  Rev. Bill Brennan, a 92-year-old Jesuit priest (that is him in the picture here) of his duties because he performed a liturgy in with a female priest not sanctioned with the Roman Catholic church. Here are some bits and pieces from the source article for our discussion today:

source:  Priest stripped of duties for celebrating Mass with woman priest – U.S. News.

A Milwaukee-area Catholic priest was stripped of his priestly duties after he presided over a Mass with a woman priest last month in Georgia….

The Catholic Church prohibits women’s ordination, saying it has no authority to ordain women because Jesus chose only men as his apostles….

About 59 percent of American Catholics are in favor of women’s ordination, according to a 2010 poll by The New York Times and CBS, but the Vatican sees the initiative as having the potential to cause a rift in the church….

Brennan, who lives with other retired Jesuits in the Milwaukee area, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he understood the risks when he decided to perform a liturgy alongside a woman priest.

“Sometimes in our lives we have to trust our conscience and bring about the consequences,” he told the newspaper. “I wasn’t trying to show off for the ladies.”….

I have heard of two reasons now why the Catholic church does not allow priests to marry. The first was that King Constantine who hijacked the church in the fourth century to make it a State religion did it so that priests could not pass on their power given by Constantine to their children.  He insisted that he alone had that power and that is would not be inherited.

The second reason now is that all of the apostles were men and therefore Jesus did not intend women to be faith leaders. If you know even the slightest amount of history during this period you know just how little power women possessed in those times. They were for the most part considered property of either their fathers or their husbands. Documents that have been appearing in archeological digs since the 1940’s sheds a seemingly new light on early Christian female leaders. Mary Magdalen comes to mind first but there were several other women leaders in the early church despite the fact that it was generally culturally prohibited at the time.  I’m just a simple guy but this excuse for limiting spiritual leaders to only men seems kind of lame to me standing here in the 21st century.

So here we are with a 92-year-old priest who has given his life for his God being chastised by the church hierarchy for trusting his conscience.  There seems to be an ongoing conflict between American Catholics and the Vatican in recent years and this is one of those cases. But, like most other Christian churches the Roman Catholic church is has a very vertical hierarchy. The person at the top is given predominate power over those below him. That often results in very slow changes from the grass roots level.

It is sad to see the church spend more time excluding others than to welcome the stranger as Jesus taught us. I am hoping that the emergent church movement will eventually correct this anomaly.

Following the Examples of Jesus….

Here is a quote by Philip Gulley in his book entitled The Evolution of Faith – How God is creating a better Christianity that will be used for this discussion.

To be sure, if one believes Christianity is primarily about worshipping Jesus, a faith that incorporates other religious traditions will be considered heretical. But if one believes Christianity is primarily about following the example of Jesus, then it is easy to imagine a faith informed by men and women of goodwill, though of diverse traditions. If the future of the Christian faith is creedalism and believing the right things about Jesus, then other traditions will be viewed as the enemy at worst, or contaminants at best. It will be a return to the Age of Belief, and in that sense a spiritual regression. But if the future of the Christian faith is about taking the best from each tradition, while helping people negotiate their spiritual journeys with grace and dignity, then the church might well inspire a world made new. 

I admittedly am a big fan of Philip Gulley. Mr. Gulley is a Quaker and a Hoosier so that probably influences me to some degree.  If you haven’t figured it out by now I tend to gravitate to those authors who believe that the words and teachings of Jesus should be central to all forms of Christianity. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is in my mind much more important than reciting man-made creeds about him.

If we think that following the example of Jesus is primary then it just seems logical that we will celebrate other religious and even secular organizations that do likewise. If we put our creeds on the back burner then there is no reason to look at all others as the enemy of Christianity. We can celebrate what we have in common and as Mr. Gulley says here we could then inspire the world made new.

  • Following the examples and teachings of Jesus would naturally mean that we  would migrate from primarily occupying pews on Sunday to becoming involved in our communities seven days a week. That would certainly get the world’s attention.
  • Following Jesus would mean that we would have compassion for the “least of these” and fight any attempts to unravel our country’s safety nets.
  • Following Jesus would mean that we celebrate life in all aspects and be against death in all it forms. That includes: abortion, capital punishment, war, and allowing other to die from preventable causes.
  • Following Jesus would mean that we would become an immense force for good in the world.  It would mean that we would take back from our government much of the role of care-givers.  If that were to happen I am very confident that Christianity would take it place as a force for good in the world. It would mean a world made new.

Jesus said he is the way to heaven and therefore I believe that. To me that means that to get there you are to follow his examples and teachings. It does not mean that heaven only belongs to those who say the “right” creeds but instead it belongs to those who at least try to do what he commanded of us. I will not take the power away from Jesus to accept our Muslim, Hindi, Jewish, and other friends into heaven and I think in the end he will do just that.

Own Worst Enemies…

I am going to use a quote from one of my favorite authors and that is Philip Gulley from his book The Evolution of Faith: How God is Creating a Better Christianity:

Some Christians have thus concluded that we are our own worst enemies, that our best option for a viable future lies in our determination to embrace a rigid faith in order to stave off the adulterating influences of other cultures and religions. But I would contend that this has been tried repeatedly throughout our long history and always ends the same—in suspicion, intolerance, exclusion, division, and, finally, war. No, if the church has a future—indeed if our world has a future—it will rest in the church’s ability to honor and assimilate the best of each religious tradition, just as Jesus found virtue in Samaritans, publicans, centurions, and Gentiles. How this good man came to be the focus of a creedalism that ultimately excludes others is a mystery for the ages.

The incorporation of other traditions into our own will undoubtedly change us, but for the better, for it will lead us toward one another, which is also and always a movement toward the Divine Presence and the universal grace that Presence represents. To be sure, if one believes Christianity is primarily about worshipping Jesus, a faith that incorporates other religious traditions will be considered heretical. But if one believes Christianity is primarily about following the example of Jesus, then it is easy to imagine a faith informed by men and women of goodwill, though of diverse traditions. If the future of the Christian faith is creedalism and believing the right things about Jesus, then other traditions will be viewed as the enemy at worst, or contaminants at best. It will be a return to the Age of Belief, and in that sense a spiritual regression. But if the future of the Christian faith is about taking the best from each tradition, while helping people negotiate their spiritual journeys with grace and dignity, then the church might well inspire a world made new.

Mr Gulley got it perfectly when he said excluding others, especially Christian others, has been proven again and again to be a failed strategy.  When we quit fighting each other and instead welcome and celebrate our differences then, and only then, will our world and our spiritually be better. As usual it comes down to whether you believe that following Jesus’ words and examples takes priority over man-made beliefs and creeds about him. You know which side of the argument I reside in.

The age of the Spirit is a central theme of Mr. Gulley’s book here and it is also adopted into the emergent movement that is happening today. When we quit arguing and continuously splitting over just what we are supposed to believe and start celebrating our diversity of thought about what God wants us to do then, and only then, does the church stand a change of surviving as we go further into this new century. Thank you Philip Gulley for having just the right words to help me communicate that belief.

The Practice of Exclusion…

I have been thinking lately about the words of Jesus and how he interacted with those he came across. Except for some of those in the religious establishment I couldn’t find any instance where he chose to automatically exclude from his saving grace or the wisdom of his teachings. He treated men and women pretty much the same; he welcomed all to his ministry. The poor and marginalized seemed to be special targets for him to reach out. He just wasn’t one to exclude anyone, even tax collectors and Roman soldiers. The sick and the lame were often the center of his attention.

Fast forward to today and there seems to be a common thread in almost all the religious establishments who call themselves Christian. They in one form or another seem to be more inclined to exclude people from membership in their organizations as they are to include them.  If you can manage to jump through all the many hoops that they require and keep your mouth shut in regards to questions you might have of their doctrine and practices then you are welcome as a member. Just don’t ever step over the line.

This is especially true for those who have chosen to be ministers in their organizations.  Tow the line or else be called a heretic. Almost all of these groups  seem to be convinced that if they allow any level of dissent they are opening themselves up to falling down a slippery slope into Satan’s domain.  They, for the most part, view the world as completely dominated by the evil one and therefore everything and everyone outside their personal groups are to be viewed with skepticism at the least and evil at the worst.

I know from personal experience of perhaps the most moving Christian minister I have ever encountered who was personally chastised for joining those outside his denomination in a prayer situation. He was stripped of his preaching duties for a year; his sermons were by far his most dominant God-given ability.

I know from personal experiences that when I questioned the claim that the Bible was 100% literally true and without error a process was started where I was to lose my membership of almost ten years and thousands of hours of volunteer work for the group. When I professed that I believed that the earth is more than 7,000 years old the process was begun to exclude me. I am no longer part of that organization.

Jesus was all about inclusion. He went out of his way to bring in all those around him. Sadly today’s churches, almost all 39,000 versions of them, are  constantly looking for ways to exclude people.  I am greatly saddened by this ever-present practice and I’m sure Jesus is devastated by it.  What happened to his church of the first two hundred years? I will have some thoughts about that in a future post here.