Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Disowning the Church

Good morning God,
I've been thinking about the vogue to publicly disown things, Children disown parents who have abused them, parents disown children who have shamed or humiliated them, politicians disown parties when they are no longer happy with their policies and, of course, people disown churches - often for the strangest of reasons..

I confess there have been many times this week when I have seriously contemplated disowning the Church. I have wanted to distance myself from the very valid accusations of what Christians have done in the past - and what many still do today, to Jews, to Muslims, to non-believers.. and worse - to one another. The blogosphere has been an uncomfortable place recently to try and be a means of grace in.

In some ways this is nothing new. As you know I have struggled often with what it means to belong to this family of faith with its irrational hatreds and violent dogmas. I hate the caricatures of the Christian and the religious in the media and in novels like Pullman's 'The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ' because I know they are all too accurate.. Why, I wonder, would anyone want to belong to something that has such a negative image,  that is so ridiculed and scorned, most often with just cause? What is it that holds people to this historically corrupt and self-serving body called Church?

Belonging. The defining issue of this age. The freedom to disown, disavow, disconnect and divorce is enshrined in law in most western countries - it is a human 'right'. You can no longer be forced to 'belong' to that which you do not choose to belong to. Don't like your country and nationality - emigrate, don't like your family - divorce or disown them, don't like your politics - change parties, dont like your religion - change it or drop it altogether. This is the libertine age when we are all free to cast off the chains that once defined us. We are able to decide for ourselves who and what we are - aren't we?

It was once normal to think that blood was thicker than water - that we should always put the family first - that charity begins at home. Family was something people were taught to value - and if necessary defend - even if they didn't really feel that they 'belonged' - they were 'part of the family' regardless of what they had done or how they behaved - and the onus was on everyone else to make people believe that they were really welcome, and not outsiders.  Which is what made the parable of the prodigal so powerful,  the opening words of John's gospel so redolent with meaning.. and Paul's insistence on  Christian adoption so important. Above all, it is what has given the Trinity, the core of Christianity, its theological rationale. The mutual self-giving Parent - Child relationship modeled  for us by the Trinity sets the standard for our own belonging.

Salvation, are were taught, is all about being a part of your family God - Today salvation has come to this house, for he too is a son of Abraham' says Jesus of Zacchaeus. And from the Acts of the apostles onwards, the Church has worked to foster this doctrine of belonging and preach the idea of of one human family overseen by you as our divine parent,  a family of natural and adopted children living in peace and growing in grace and holiness. But the Church has also tried to insist that it alone knows who is, and who is not - a  part of your family, And historically only the Church could sign the 'necessary' adoption papers of baptism or write of excommunication which would decide if someone belonged or not.

Now of course, we are part of a generation which does not care about 'the Church'.  They are happy to not be associated with it, they even pity those of us who do belong to it. As do I. If I am honest then I would have to acknowledge that there is little that can be said about the Church worldwide that is redemptive, or even uplifting.  As a whole, the Church takes more from the poor in terms of moral and intellectual growth than it ever provides in terms of bread in mouths. It slaughters millions for the sake of its 'doctrines' concerning contraception and abortion and knowingly whips up hatred, fear and prejudice of anyone who is 'different' from the Church's idea of the 'norm'. It subjugates and humiliates women and children alike and does all this in your name.

Why would anyone want to belong to something so sick and abusive, so anti-intellectual and repressive?

Because as broken and disturbing as it is - the Church is still the only vessel charged with carrying the real gospel of belonging - of being a new thing - in you. Of belonging to something so much bigger than all of our petty human tribes and parties, something worthy of complete loyalty, dedication, commitment and sacrifice. Of belonging to YOU, not the Church or the nation.
That Gospel is the only hope humanity has to evolve past its current self-obsession.
Though I often loathe what it currently is, and sometimes the part that I play in that, where else can I go Lord - for you have the words to eternal life?


  1. Often I too want to disown the 'church' when it does not bring the possibility of transformation to others - only criticism and condemnation for not believing what 'we'do... and of course 'we 'are right! I keep going back to the basics of Jesus dealings with individuals, generous, open yet challenging in love.. and then I also come across people of great generosity, gentleness and kindness in the name of Christ. So yes, the church is seriously floored but where groups of Christians meeting to follow Jesus there is hope. I feel that much of the inherited church must die to be born again having let go and disowned past baggage that holds it back from being the life giving body it began as.

  2. I have less problem with 'the church' (biblical definition) than with the denominational institutions. The rules they apply remind me of Jesus's comments about the Pharisees and their legalism. Too often, we seem to be trying to hide Jesus from normal people, with our strange buildings, odd songs, different ways of dressing and weird language. However, we are (by definition) part of the biblical church, and practically part of a human church organisation with some sort of history, structure and rules. We need to do what we can to help our local churches to be more effective. We will never avoid adverse publicity while there is freedom of speech. What we should avoid is setting up another sect, creating yet more division within the church on earth, yet more 'us and them'. Being loving is more important than obeying (or disobeying) stupid church rules, or even being identified with caricatures set up by the media.

  3. Hi Angela,

    I take the church to mean any time/place where more than one believer is gathered together in the name of Jesus. I think the encouragement of our spiritual brothers and sisters is truly church, although you often won't find that in a church building.

    It's like anything spiritual which appears in the public square: true worship often occurs in the quietness of our hearts, away from the church congregations, even if we might sing more worship songs in church.

    I guess it depends who you see as 'the church', and who you see as your church. I hope you won't feel too frustrated for too long.

    All the best,


  4. Susan,
    The Church has a habit of historically reinventing itself - but we all know where it came from, and what it is, and is it not perhaps dishonest to try and disassociate ourselves from our past - surely we need to 'deal' with our baggage?
    Anonymous - agreed denominationalism is the scourge of Christianity - it is the outward sign of our inward inability to accept God's grace.
    thank you for your comments - the Church is often referred to as the people rather than the building - and although, yes, that removes one wall so to speak, it does not remove the barriers we hide our prejudices behind.
    I seriously question the 'quietness' dimension you speak of as Christianity is intended to be a public proclamatory faith - the dilemma is that what is being proclaimed is more often than not anthropological and fear or hate based rather than theological and hope or love based.

  5. I'm not sure how you 'deal' with the baggage of the past. I really can't see what me saying sorry for something done before I was born can help - I just don't get that current 'trend'. Yes, our past shapes us but it doesn't define me today

  6. Another way to "disown" the church is to recognize that we do not "own" it. It is not ours. If more of us disowned it in that way, many things might get better.

  7. John..
    you are so right!
    Anonymous - thank you for your contribution - you raise an important point.
    I guess by 'deal with' I mean perhaps develop a greater sense of humility both in our proclamation and certainly in our dialogue. The Church Triumphant and judgmental has done so much damage. Like you I do not think that I can apologize for what I have not done, and I think it very false and odd that others should attempt to do so, BUT I can and must do my uttermost to make certain that I have learned from those mistakes.