month a bunch of local Lutheran pastors meet. We start with
coffee and bagels or maybe those store-bought muffins you
get in molded plastic packages.
Then we have a worship service. Then some kind of presentation.
Sometimes the presentation is boring as hell. Other times
it’s really pretty good.
I like most of my colleagues. Some more than others. There
are divisions among us over a few things—attitudes about sexuality
is kind of the hot button. But for the most part, this particular
bunch of clergy isn’t riven with much disagreement. And for
the few who hold to different views, we’re knit together by
something stronger than our diverging intellectual convictions.
I guess it’s really compassion that knits us together. The
God we acknowledge is, above all other attributes, compassionate.
And we believe we are called upon to embody that.
So, though we may disagree, the call to treat each other with
compassion is one we can’t ignore. And to be perfectly honest,
it makes for a remarkable degree of collegiality. I can be
standing shoulder-to-shoulder with someone I don’t even particularly
like and we’ll be singing a hymn and I’ll hear our voices
mixed with all the other voices, and in that blended sound
there is some kind of healing or some kind of connection that
feels like a little amen in my soul.
But on the whole, this is a hard, hard time to be a mainline
Christian. And lately, when I gather with colleagues, I know
I’m with people who don’t misunderstand what it means to be
Thanks to our president, thanks to the blurring lines between
church and state, thanks to the rise of fundamentalism in
religious traditions all over the world, the word Christian
has come to be the broad brush that tars over elemental
differences between different kinds of Christianity.
For many (if not most) people, the word Christian describes
someone who is prudish in behavior, moralistic in outlook
and right-wing in politics, someone who is anti-choice, homophobic,
pro-war, someone Bible-thumping, brash and quick to push their
faith onto others.
There are, in fact, Christians like that who hold to a law-based
theology, quick to define right from wrong.
These are Christians to whom I, and many other mainline Christians,
probably wouldn’t even really be considered Christian. Mainline
Christian theology is grace-based, driven by the belief that
without forgiveness and compassion, we’re all goners.
These different flavors of Christianity can be so different
from one another that in some cases a grace-based faith has
more in common with some forms of Buddhism, for example, than
it does with conservative, evangelical Christianity.
Nevertheless, ensuring religious tolerance was one of the
biggest reasons the United States came to exist. That means
that these diverging interpretations of what Christianity
is all about have to co-exist, along with all of the many
beliefs that people hold to be true for themselves.
But now we have a Christian fundamentalist in the White House.
We have a rhetoric for patriotism that seems to link faith
with unquestioning loyalty to country.
And we have a popular image of Christianity that is a grave
distortion of what many Christians actually believe.
And why does this matter?
It matters because when virtually every mainline denomination
requested to meet with President Bush to oppose preemptively
attacking Iraq, their requests were ignored.
It matters because these mainline denominations are important
conduits for humanitarian aid—Lutheran World Federation is
the world’s largest distributor of aid gathered from many
sources. And these are conduits devoid of any kind of religious
agenda, which sets them apart from groups like the Southern
Baptist Convention or Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse.
And it matters because, just as fundamentalist Islam is a
sharp thorn in the side of many Muslims, legalistic Christianity
runs counter to what most mainline churches teach.
Jerry Falwell’s brand of Christianity is no more valid for
me or my clergy colleagues and parishioners than Osama Bin
Laden’s brand of Islam is valid for all Muslims.
All this seems kind of poignant this week—Holy Week—when most
Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus. That was not
a show of military victory or the triumph of might: It was
a radical defeat. And Jesus was neither warrior nor politician.
And the Easter morning celebrations that will draw so many
into churches who normally never go? That’s not about the
triumph of might, either. Rather, it’s a celebration that
though the body might die, compassion cannot be crucified.
For mainline Christians, the story of the crucifixion and
resurrection makes talk of might, coercion and supremacy not
only beside the point, but also an offense against the faith.
Faithful Christians don’t seek to make Christian nations,
but peaceful and just ones.
The Presbyterian Confession of 1967 makes this boldly clear:
The church in its own life is called to practice the forgiveness
of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics,
the search for cooperation and peace. This search requires
that the nations pursue fresh and responsible relations across
every line of conflict, even at risk to national security,
to reduce areas of strife and to broaden international understanding.
Reconciliation among nations becomes peculiarly urgent as
countries develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.
Although nations may serve God’s purposes in history, the
church which identifies the sovereignty of any one nation
or any one way of life with the cause of God betrays its calling.
you drop by a church this Thursday or Friday night, or if
you go on Easter Sunday morning, keep in mind that victory,
in Christian terms, means having no need for victory over
others at all.
can contact Jo Page at email@example.com.