Wednesday 1 July 2015

Christianity is all about dying - in order to live

July is here, American Independence Day is looming and the American supreme courts ruling on same sex marriages has just been passed. I have been reading some of the pieces in the NY Times in the light of this.

According to one article, Christianity is dying in America Apparently, American Christians feel estranged from mainstream culture, and one commentator is quoted as stating Christianity needs to go back underground. In the UK, Christians often shy away from mainstream culture and from entering the political debate. Strong opinions often make Christians (certainly in the independent churches I frequent) panic like frightened sheep and they shy away from robust debate regarding church or state. State-wise, this is understandable, given their views, sandal and sock like, are not fashionable, (though I have noticed a lurch to the left, amongst Christians lately). Christianity dying culturally, will not deter Christians from practising their faith, nor drive it to ground, though it may drive them underground - a place where Christianity has historically flourished. Christianity proliferates in countries such as China where just such a state exists. From what I understand, Christians are dying noble and heroic deaths for their faith in its ancient lands.

Image problem aside, I have often wondered why Christianity in the UK is so unattractive to many, given who Jesus is. The teachings on sex are a real problem, but is mankind not so much more than this? It is sad that Christianity has been reduced to its sex laws and all the other, far greater, dare I say eternal teaching has been subsumed by this. Christians need to bring deeper Christian values, and their finer Christian acts (sowing financially and ministering to the lost and broken) into mainstream culture in order to help transform communities for the common good; as they bring these acts of love into the wider arena, they will be seen and heard for who they are rather than what they variously believe, and social engagement via social justice will become easier. Personally, I am looking at ways of doing this myself, rather than keeping my two sides: Writer and Christian, separate, and for a while now my writing has been moving in this direction. Plug alert: To this end, come and see my play The Call, on the 18 July, at Unveiling.

Representationally, Christians often come across as gullible, clueless (perhaps because so many don't actually read, much less put the bible into practice, they listen to interpretations of it via sermons that are often flawed opinion pieces. As for the patriarchal structure of the church, don't even get me started. Suffice to say I am a Jesus feminist. In the charismatic/pentecostal/non-orthodox churches there are a lot of personal ministries, often run by people who have narcissistic personalities, many of whom are dodgy; and from what I can tell, this sort of thing is rife in the US too. There are very few actual followers (as in doing the things Jesus did) in the UK Christian world that I have encountered and apologies to all of you out there who are better Christians than myself, I am an active member of the church, and I don't exclude myself in all that I say. Dying to oneself (such a challenge for the selfie generation!), in the selfish sense and suffering and sacrifice: two states that usher in the power of God are often missed out in the Christianity of the west, which isn't to say Christians don't suffer in life as everyone else does, I speak of making intentional sacrifices for other people in the light of ones faith and often suffering as a result.

Christianity has a real image problem. Comfortable Christianity does not wash with the public as it is not authentic, in terms of what Christianity is, it lacks power and frankly just comes across as embarrassing right-wing guff. If more of us in the west, lived as authentic Christians, in solidarity with the many, (often abroad) in suffering countries who do, we might improve our image through action. It needs to get back to basics: back to Jesus, because Jesus was really cool, really revolutionary, and authentic. He was who he said he was: God the son. He was not defensive, he knew his bible (the Jewish scriptures) and he knew his God and acted accordingly (God the father). He did not make it up as he went along, and as Christians, neither should we; we need to continue to stand on the scriptures, while reaching out through dialogue, not by retreating in the light of recent laws here in the UK and the US. Christianity is bigger than this! Christian democracy paved the way for these laws for God's sake (and I mean for God's sake!).

We would do well to remember the words of Jesus in summing up the greatest commandment: 37And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38“This is the great and foremost commandment. 39“The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40“On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

We really must love our neighbour, with all her (and his) differences as ourself. We have to be able to disagree on personal beliefs and still 'remain in love,' as the bible teaches. Whether we are to be driven underground or to remain above ground, Christians need to be brave enough to interact with the culture and not huddle in Sunday clubs. People need to get to know authentic Christians who love everyone despite oppositional beliefs. Love flourishes in difficult spaces. Jesus's primary message was one of love - and he didn't just love the like-minded: He dug the dodgy, the outcast - and women.

Just one more point:

Sexual preferences and beliefs thereof aside, it seems only right that people should be able to share mortgages, and assets with the partner of their choosing, and everyone should be equal in the eyes of the law. Getting married in a church when you do not adhere to what the bible says is another matter. I would not want to get married in a mosque, given their teachings on same sex marriage and women, so I have no idea why a gay couple should want to marry in church, given the bible's teaching on same sex marriage. Here is a balanced and elegantly written opinion piece on the dignity of singleness and having other people take the role of marriage partner.

Disclaimer: I do love the church and my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Motto: We need more public debate and less hate.