Wednesday, May 24, 2006

radical faith

Kent responded to my earlier post, and I thought I'd give him a reply here. It's really a reply plus some random rambling and a statement of how I believe.

I’ve grown tired of having to defend my faith from those who either disagree with the idea of religious faith or from those who insist that mine is wrong. But I think there is value in such a defense, so I’ll do it again. But, right now, I’m surrendering my internal fight against the Christian Right. I’m still fascinated by them. And I am professionally interested in them. But no longer is it a personal mission to prove them wrong or "expose" them. Perhaps living my life as an example (or struggling to attain that) can be all the exposure that is necessary.

Because for me, I think, the fight against the CR was less about truth and more about being “right.” It was a pride thing, an insecurity thing. I wanted to show that I, unlike them, really understood faith. I wanted to reassure myself that I was right, more than anything. After a good deal of prayer and thought, I realize that focusing on negating the CR takes away from my focus and my witness. If I can live faithfully and act peacefully, confronting distortions when they occur, but not going out of my way to find a fight, perhaps that act in itself is an antidote to a culture that too readily wants to draw lines, be confrontational and paint the world in black and white.

While I try to live my life according to God’s will, I will have to deal with some confrontations. But I also will have to recognize, as my commenter below does not, that there is room for many ideas in a single faith tradition. There’s lots of room, even room for disagreement. Hopefully there’s also room for some civil debate and discourse.

Now to address the commenter’s comment substantively: I assume what he primarily objects to is historicizing Christianity and the church. I, on the other hand, think it is vital. I agree that one need not have a Ph.D in religious history (or even to have studied it) to be a Christian, but I do believe that it can help faith and help us to understand it. Even if it makes us question our foundations. That is a good thing!

He also says that if I were to just read the Bible, I would know “what a Christian should believe” about things such as gay rights and abortion rights. I don’t think there’s one “Christian” position. I think that my faith leads me to certain positions on those issues. But, as I said, the Christian tradition has room for differing ideas.

That may be the difference between Kent’s faith and mine. I accept those differences and don’t judge him as suddenly unchristian because he has ideas with which I don’t agree. I believe he has different interpretations of scripture than I do. One of the wonderful things about the Baptist tradition is its stance on the personal interpretation of scripture by the individual believer. This is something that, obviously, the larger Baptist institutions (e.g., the Southern Baptist Convention) have gotten away from (enforcing certain interpretations as “right”), but I don’t think the idea is gone at all.

I believe that faith and politics are firmly linked. Kent probably agrees with me :-). I know people in conservative religious traditions who feel politically bound because of their religion. They don’t necessarily agree with, say, the Republican party, yet they feel that they must support them because it is the “Christian” way of voting. This is where I think living my faith proudly can be helpful. Yes, I am a Christian. No, I am certainly not a Republican. It is possible to be both. And it doesn’t mean “separating” your faith from your politics! It means embracing your politics in your faith. For some people, that leads them to vote Republican. But not me.

For me, recognizing that my sense of social justice and resistance to oppression grew out of my basis in faith was like coming out of Plato’s cave and suddenly seeing things for what they are. Seeing the history of the church and the power struggles not only legitimates my doubt about some things but strengthens my faith about others. I came out of the cave and am in a constant struggle to see more clearly.

The ideas of Jesus were radical. One of the most compelling parts of his ministry was his compassion and fellowship with the disenfranchised and marginalized in his society. What was the primary condemnation of him by contemporary religious leaders? That he hung out with “sinners” too much. Sound oddly familiar, no?

I believe that I am in the radical tradition of Jesus. While Jesus may have been lost, while he’s always kind of up for interpretation by prevailing political and religious winds, and while I have no monopoly on the “truth” of Jesus, I can be guided by faith. I can be guided by the words and actions of Jesus. His teachings cut through the oppression of his day. He called out to the poorest, the most reviled, teaching a radical egalitarianism. Jesus and the church he created are not just made for Sunday preaching. They are made for changing the world! What I seek to regain is the sense of Christianity as a social movement, as a movement for peace and justice and equality.

While this faith may sound simple (and it is), it isn’t easy. Sometimes it is easier to have someone else tell us what to believe and how to live. Sometimes it’s easier to see the world in black and white than to recognize the immense complexities presented in the world. Sometimes it’s easier to follow the political and religious winds than to challenge them. But, we need to ask ourselves the deceptively simple question: “What would Jesus do?”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The ideas of Jesus were radical. One of the most compelling parts of his ministry was his compassion and fellowship with the disenfranchised and marginalized in his society. What was the primary condemnation of him by contemporary religious leaders? That he hung out with “sinners” too much. Sound oddly familiar, no?

Actually, I think it was that whole thing about claiming to be God that bothered the religious leaders the most. That's why they wanted to kill him. That's also the most important part of his ministry.

Actually, you seem to be like many of Jesus' followers who were anticipating a political revolution. Jesus healed people, and fed them, but it was to show the greater spiritual healing that he can offer them through his death and resurrection.

I can't think of any time when Jesus stated his position on state welfare or a "right" to healthcare.