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Loving and Hating the Church, Part 2, November 10, 2017

Loving and Hating the Church, Part 2

Rev. Yme Woensdregt

Last week, I wrote the first part of this column. I began by noting that I have a love/hate relationship with the church. I began with some of the reasons why I love the church as I do. Today, let me share why the church drives me nuts—the shadow side, if you will.

The sad reality is that the church has betrayed its identity and its mission again and again in history, dishonouring the name of Christ, whom it claims to serve. Its shame is there for all to see.

The Crusades saw armies go out, supposedly in the name of the Prince of Peace, to reclaim “the holy land from the infidel”. In truth, it was the lure of political conquest which drove the church.

The Inquisition was established to “guard the purity of the faith” and ended up torturing people in the name of Christ in 15th– and 16th-century Spain.

Although Wilberforce and others like him led the way in abolishing the slave trade, the sad fact is that the church not only sanctioned slavery, but legitimated it throughout history. As late as the civil rights struggle in the southern US in the 1960’s, large parts of the church was still stringently opposed to desegregation.

The shameful system of apartheid in South Africa was undergirded by a theology developed in the Dutch Reformed Church. Too often, the church has been more than willing to support the powers that be, as was shown in the 1930’s, when the state church in Germany actively supported the rise of Hitler. The church has been complicit in supporting evil, hungering for status, power and prestige.

But it wasn’t just back then. It continues to happen today.

The church in North America is becoming increasingly intolerant and closed–minded. Friends of mine who no longer attend church tell me they’ve stopped because it seems that to be a Christian means you have to be anti–gay, anti–evolution, anti–women’s rights, anti–other religions, pro–conservative politics, pro–life, pro–“family values” (whatever they may be) and so on.

The church is against … (fill in your own favourite bogeyman). No wonder they no longer attend!

I agree with them. In fact, I don’t think that’s what the church is called to be—and honestly, I could never be part of a church like that either!

I am in favour of the full inclusion of members of the LGBTQ community, including the marriage of committed same–gender persons.

I am in favour of a women’s right to choose, but I am opposed to indiscriminate abortion.

I agree that evolution is a scientific answer which tries to explain the origin of the earth and life on this earth, and I don’t believe that either creationism or intelligent design answers the questions of science.

I believe that Jesus is the way for Christians. At the same time, I believe that God has been revealed to faithful people in other traditions as well. Christianity is not the only way for all people on earth.

I believe that the Bible shows us the struggles of ancient communities of faith to understand the presence of God in their lives and in the world, and that we are called to continue to struggle to understand God’s presence in new ways in the world we live in.

In other words, I try to live in as tolerant a way as I can imagine. Further, I believe that this is the way of Christ in the world. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. In fact, I know I don’t have them. So I remain humble (as humble as I can be) when others ask questions about ultimate concerns.

One of the earliest designations for Christians was that they were “people of the way”. For early Christians, following Jesus was a journey, a pilgrimage which we undertake with other pilgrims. We would do well to reclaim that image. Christian faith is not about believing a certain set of doctrines, but about walking that path faithfully, humbly, tolerantly and graciously, reflecting the character of the God whom we claim to worship.

The church dare not forget that it is called to follow, to walk in that way of Jesus who was called a glutton and a drunkard. Whenever the church forgets this, whenever the church becomes an intolerant nag, whenever the church excludes anyone on the basis of any supposed set of standards, we fail to live as God’s people in the world.

I am quite aware that the standard of doing no harm which I have set out in these last two columns is a very personal one. Some people will claim that I have failed to uphold standards of Bible–revealed truth. Other people will have a different standard.

Maybe so. But it was the apostle Paul who reminded us that three things remain—faith, hope and love (1 Corinthians 13:13). Faith and hope are not small things. They are, in fact, very important. But they fade into nothingness compared to love.

That is the standard to which we are called—to love God with all that we are, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. If we fail to do so, we have failed to live up to our calling to be the church.