2.a state characterized by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements.
To what now am I referring?
As I sat at our Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod Assembly (ELCA), I was struck by repeated commentary regarding race, ethnicity, and the church.
"We've got to overcome and get rid of this separation that plagues us."
"Sunday morning is the most segregated morning of the week."
"Why is it that I cannot get a call at most of your congregations? It's because of race." said one African-American pastor.
I don't think anyone at the assembly, including yours truly, disagreed with any of those statements. In fact, the only contrary thing I could think of was to ask a converse question of the African-American pastor, "Could I get a call in the congregation you currently serve?" The answer I am sure would be, "No." Why? Well, it's race again, but flowing the opposite direction. Same problem. Different direction.
There is no doubt in my mind such matters need to be addressed. There is no doubt that such obstacles exist and need to be handled better. In matters of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, most mainline denominations fail miserably.
But what has the answer been thus far? What have mainline denominations done?
1. Start ethic congregations.
2. Focus on identity theologies.
Think about those two things. Think hard about them. We start congregations specifically geared toward a particular community: African-American, Latino, Asian, and so on and so forth. What does this do to end segregation? Be honest! What does it really do to end separation if we start congregations specifically geared toward particular racial, ethnic groups?
Nothing. Not a d@mn thing! In fact, it actually makes the problem worse.
We say we need to address the problem, but our actions accentuate it.
And then we adhere to particular types of theology: black theology, Latin-American liberation theology, feminist theology, gay/lesbian theology, and so on and so forth. Again: what does this do?
We talk about the need to overcome such differences, and then we grab and hold onto theologies which accentuate differences.
Of course, there will be those who will immediately point out to me that I am speaking (typing really) from a perspective of "white privilege." Because I have a particular advantage because of my race/ethnicity, I have privilege and do not understand--with the corollary that I really have nothing to contribute to the conversation unless I sympathize (read, buy into) with the theology/practice of people of a different color, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or what have you.
Again, divisive--exactly contrary to what the expressed hopes are.
It is not enough just to criticize. It is not enough just to point out the contrary nature of things. Providing a possible way forward puts one at risk of criticism, but one must begin somewhere.
Let's start with the Gospel. Not the social gospel. Not the liberation gospel. The Gospel--God's reconciliation of the world unto Himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
You see, within that Gospel, there is no one who has any privilege. No one. None stand righteous before God. None. None of us "get it" when it comes to living out our relationships appropriately. We find our worth in all sorts of places instead of in Jesus Christ and what God has done for us. We find our identity in all sorts of places instead of in Christ and what God has done for us.
And then Jesus says, "Come and die!"
Die to everything that you thought gave you worth.
Die to everything that you thought gave you identity.
Find your worth in Jesus.
Find your identity in Jesus.
Die to your race.
Die to your ethnicity.
Die to your gender.
Die to your sexual orientation.
"For as many of you as were baptized in Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek nor slave or free nor male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:27-28
Be reborn as children of God.
This isn't an easy task. Our ethnicity, our race, our sexuality, our gender help define us. We have spent a lifetime trying to learn what it means to live such things to the fullest. We've been proud of who we are; where we came from; what we look like. Such things do not die easily. They do not die without grief and pain. To give them up would be asinine under most circumstances.
"Those who wish to save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the Gospel will find it." --Jesus
The reality of the Gospel--realizing that Jesus died for you while you were still sinful; that your salvation rests totally on Him; that you find your true identity in Him; that you find your true self in Him--offers the promise of a more abundant life when we die to all those things. No longer do we have to hold onto such things to feel valuable or feel like we have a sense of identity.
"You are my child, the beloved. With you I am well pleased." --God the Father
These words spoken to Jesus at His baptism become the words spoken to us, and they give us all the value, worth, and identity we need. They help us understand that every person is also created in the image of God and worthy of respect and love. None of the other stuff matters.
As I responded once to a now deceased church member who asked, "I don't understand why you didn't adopt within your own culture.":
"God doesn't care. Why should I?"
I believe the Gospel is the cure to the church's schizophrenia. We must be claimed by it and claim it so that we can truly find our identity and our unity. Only when we are claimed by it and die to our respective ideas of what give us identity--EVERYONE, not just one culture or two cultures, but all of them!!--and are claimed by our identity as children of God will we begin to see that what separates us are the very things already erased by the Gospel--by God's atoning love for each and every one of us.
Dying sucks, but on the other end of the comma, there is abundant life.
Are we, in the mainline, truly willing to die?
That remains to be seen.