Reading books by scholars and theologians such as Marcus Borg, Phyllis Tickle, John Shelby Spong, and Diana Butler Bass points one to particular statistical information such as Pew Research and others regarding the decline of the church in general and a growing number of those who have been identified as the “nones,” that is the none affiliated when asked what church or denomination or faith community with whom they affiliate.
There continues to be a host of reasons cited by those who have stepped away from organized religion. A common response to the issue is “I am spiritual not religious.” Others have stepped away from such organization because they say the religious structure has become too liberal, others cite that they believe the organization has been too conservative. Still others cite things like hypocrisy that church has become a social club with no real substance or service toward the good of the world. Some speak to long held doctrines, dogmas, and creeds that no longer hold meaning for them that they find them irrelevant and void of inspiration.
As I consider the religious landscape around me I suppose there is some truth in all of those reasons and explanations, and whatever one cites probably has as much to do with one’s particular theological bent as anything else. I have my own thoughts and opinions about the decline of “church” as we know it, or at least how we have known it. I believe in part we can no longer continue to be our parent’s church, my parents included. There are a number of things my father and mother and I disagreed on while they were alive and the longer I travel this journey of life and faith I find myself wandering further away from some of the things and ideas they held dear.
That being said I want to address one thought in particular. It is the idea of God wreaking havoc on our world because of some perceived sin or one’s particular theology and understanding of God. This idea is not a new one; we find it in our own stories amid our tradition and the texts of our scriptures, God unleashing God’s wrath and destruction on communities, even the whole world because of something humanity has done wrong. I believe that is perhaps how the ancients thought God acted and responded but I suspect it was as much how those who wrote the stories wanted God to act rather than how God would actually respond.
This idea continues today, from the tragedy of September 11, 2001, to Tsunami’s, Katrina, Earthquakes, and the most recent accusation about God’s work in the world Hurricane Sandy. Preachers, self-appointed prophets and seers claim that such things as 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy is because our nation has “turned away from God,” or our President’s support of same-gender marriage and our country’s embracing of homosexuality, multi-culturalism, interfaith acceptance or other social issues such as abortion.
This idea that God would unleash a natural disaster or even a human devised disaster to teach us a lesson, killing not only those who may or may not be “sinners” as the so-called prophets identify, but innocent men, women, and children is a horrendous image of the character of God! Such a postulation is, in my opinion, is a continuing grab at power and control in order to scare us back into embracing a tribal understanding of God grounded in fear and dread. This kind of philosophy and theology is designed, I believe, as a method that simply feeds the powers that be in an effort to retain control of their “flocks,” to use the shepherd language so prevalent in our own tradition.
There is a better way; a Way that is espoused within the texts of our tradition as well as within the texts of so many others of the mainline religions. There is a Way that speaks not of a God that would use violence and uncontrolled death and destruction to get our attention. It is a Way in which there is no fear. It is a Way that is grounded in grace, justice, gentleness, kindness, humility, and love. It is the Way of Jesus who welcomed the outcasts and according to our texts, sinners. Jesus had the strength of Love, we are told in the story, to forgive even those who killed him. Within the life and ministry of Jesus we see the very character of God, the Way of life, love, compassion, forgiveness, and welcome.
I believe as long as the prominent voice that garners media coverage are those who espouse a hateful, violent, vengeful, tribal God of fear, the church will continue to see decline, and the “none’s” will continue to grow not because they do not believe in God, the Spirit, the Divine, or a Connection Bigger than any of us, but because they will continue to grow weary of a church that wants to keep them afraid and under control. It is time, I believe, for us to let that image of god go, to give it its proper burial, to let it die so that resurrection can happen; a resurrection of a faith that is truly grounded in welcome, inclusion, peace, justice, kindness, humility; a faith built on love not fear. A few words of pondering… Peace and Light for Your Journey.