Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Schitzophrenic Church

Before anyone jumps on my case about making fun of those with this horrid mental illness, please note that I am using the term Schizophrenic in the sense of the second definition found at this online dictionary:

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?

Two things:

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.


John Flanagan said...

Whenever I read a commentary by an ELCA Pastor, I am usually disappointed, thus it is the same with this posting. There is usually less Gospel truth and more social belief, as articulated through the heretical lens of ELCA teachings. The topic of inclusiveness in Christian churches does not require believers to "die to sexual orientation" or "gender" or the other silly statements you have postulated here. We worship as men, women, children, open to other races and cultures, but we do not need to be fed the progressive rubbish which replaced true Biblical insights and which now guide ELCA. I have not gone on this site to bait you, brother, but to point out that your commentary is really quite foolish and erroneous.

Kevin Haug said...

Thank you, John, for your comment. I heartily disagree, but you expected that. :-)

I would ask you what makes those statements "silly"?

John Flanagan said...

For one thing, if you want to state what the Bible declares about striving to emulate the love of Christ, as His follower, there is total agreement. The believer, although continually struggling with the old nature, embattled by trials within and without, will strive to be obedient to the word of God and live a life of faith. While the church is open to all, it is not a social experiment for advancing purely carnal values. As ELCA considers itself a progressive church body, it is more concerned with sexual orientation than the duty to preach righteousness and sexual responsibility. That is exactly why you mentioned sexual orientation in your commentary, to include this element for the sake of your like minded readers. And that is why your church attracts homosexuals, lesbians, and liberal and carnal Christians. The message is you can have Jesus AND sexual sin. ELCA will not only affirm it, but celebrate it and promote it. Departing from 2000 years of Apostolic doctrine, your church has joined with the wicked and hold in disdain those Christian churches which see this position as wrong, immoral, and unbiblical. I can assure you I am not mean spirited in my comments, as this is offered as criticism you will likely not hear from your other readers. I also will comment no further after this post, because it is useless to try to teach right and wrong to those convinced that the direction of ELCA is God glorifying. If Our Lord Himself showed up at your door and told you gay marriage is sinful and immoral, and you should stop celebrating it, you and others in the ELCA would turn Him away, because it is what you want, and it is part of the social activist narrative. I worship at an LCMS, and first and foremost remain a Christian. Should the LCMS adopt the same positions as ELCA, I shall leave this denomination. Blessings. I will pray that you may someday realize you are on the wrong path, and perhaps will leave the heretical and Apostate ELCA behind.

Kevin Haug said...

Thank you John, for clarifying. Since you have taken a vow of silence :-), and I have the last word, I will try as hard as possible to make sure it is a gracious one.

If I understand you correctly, you don't have qualms with "come and die" to everything but the sexual orientation comment. This is a curiosity on my part since I have been rather outspoken in this blog that the ELCA's decision in 2009 was wrong. I have spoken quite frankly that I believe their interpretation of scripture backing the decision was off base. However, I do not believe leaving the church is the answer as it does not coincide with the actions of the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son nor does it gel with St. Paul's list of the fruits of the flesh. I understand where others find their justification for leaving in "dusting off one's feet", but I disagree as I do not see this in accordance with the Gospel.

Which I think brings me to the main point: I am sure you know it: Jesus died for us while we were/are still sinners. You see, John, you and I are no better than any unrepentant homosexual. We stand just as condemned and need the grace of God just as much. Neither of us uphold the law, and neither of us is fully repentant. Neither of us belong to a church that doesn't try to sugar coat what is in the Law and make it acceptable.

I mean, I am making an assumption there. I am assuming that you haven't given up all of your possessions so that you can be a disciple of Jesus. And I am assuming your church interprets Jesus' words like just about every other church: Jesus didn't mean we have to give up our possessions, we just have to love Him more than our possessions. Hogwash. I know what Jesus said, and it wasn't that.

Point being: if you haven't given up your possession and aren't trying to, you aren't following Jesus. You are an unrepentant sinner. Fallen. Deserving of God's wrath.

But God loves you too much to do that to you. He wants to reconcile us to Him despite our sinfulness. That's why Jesus died for us--because we couldn't/can't achieve righteousness on our own. That certainly doesn't give us a license to do whatever we want as St. Paul so eloquently states; however it also doesn't give us a leg to stand on when we try to consider ourselves morally superior to another.

Yes, the ELCA has turned its back on 2000 years of Apostolic doctrine, but you and I do that every day. You and I have no excuse for it. So, do you look in the mirror and become just as angry with yourself as you do with the ELCA? Do you call yourself an apostate? Probably not because you know your salvation does not hinge on your righteousness and whether or not you follow the Law. It hinges purely and solely on the grace of God. Period.

May the peace of that rest on you daily and cause you to love like the Father.