One of my theories is that the biggest threats to the Church today are not other people, but our own fears and illusions of control. Too often I’ve heard the word “agenda” placed behind a group of people-- the liberal agenda, the gay agenda, the feminist agenda, etc. Whenever that word is used, it’s a dividing line, a derogatory term, between “us” and “them,” presuming that “they” have shallow, inflammatory motives.
It’s easy to look at the condition of our churches, watch as the attendance numbers drop, and how do you find a cause for it all? Find a “them” and point the finger there. How about throwing in a bible verse? BAM-- now you’ve got a justification for pointing fingers at “them.”
I’m arguing that there is no “us” and “them.” There is only “us.” We’re all trying to decipher what’s true and what’s not. We’re all journeying together.
This is the part of the post where I want to go off and continue to rant and rail a little more, but I’m not. Because I really have a soft spot in my heart for the “us” people. I used to be a full blown “us” person. If I can be honest, there’s a part of me inside that still identifies as one of “us.”
I feel really sensitive towards some of the folks in the “us” camp, because many of them have incredible motives. Not all of them are the vocal people that we all hear about on the news who like to place people into “agendas.” Some are the nicest people I have ever met. Unfortunately I think many are subconsciously fueled by fear and the illusion of control.
What happens to the “us” people is often a retreat into this thing people have begun to refer to as the “Christian bubble.” This is where you’re surrounded by Christian-y things all the time and nothing else. You go to church 3 days a week and only listen to K-LOVE. When you’re in a “secular” environment, your sole purpose there is to be a good influence on the people around you, not become like them.
I’ve come to this place over the past couple of years, and even more so recently: I don't want to lose my current friends and community, but I want to expand it. I want to get to know people from different belief systems, backgrounds, sexual orientations, etc. I don't just want to say that I “know of” people from different backgrounds, but I want to actually get to know them. I want to get to know them for the sake of knowing them, with no strings attached and no agenda.
I’m done with living in fear, too. If I can be honest, I think part of the fear many face when they think about breaking out of the Christian bubble has to do with not wanting to find something else they like better than Jesus. I think people are afraid that they'll find some other belief they would rather subscribe to that doesn't require the unrighteous to burn for eternity. (Was that too far? Oops.) For me it's always been the fear of “what if I start believing something 'wrong?'” Or what if I start “backsliding?” I had always been taught that depending upon who you surround yourself with, others will inevitably shape you.
I believe that to be true. I know that others will, in fact, shape us. But can we please stop believing that anybody who isn't a self-proclaimed Christian is toxic? And that we shouldn't spend much time around them lest we begin to take on some of their mannerisms and tendencies. This is why I don't believe in the concept of “total depravity.” Yes, I can believe that some of our human characteristics are depraved. But totally depraved?! I don't think so. I think we have something to learn from people from all different faiths and backgrounds.
In fact, I think God Himself has things to teach us through people who are different than us. I think God has a lot to teach me through my gay and muslim friends. I think God has a lot to teach me through my conservative Christian friends too.
So let’s open up and give Him room.
I'll let Brennan Manning close for me because he says it better than I do:
“If we maintain the open-mindedness of children, we challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own. We listen to people in other denominations and religions. We don't find demons in those with whom we disagree. We don't cozy up to people who mouth our jargon. If we are open, we rarely resort to either-or: either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both-and, fully aware that God's truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition. Of course, the open mind does not accept everything indiscriminately-- Marxism and capitalism, Christianity and atheism, love and lust, Moet Chandon and vinegar. It does not absorb all propositions equally like a sponge; nor is it as soft. But the open mind realizes that reality, truth, and Jesus Christ are incredibly open-ended.”