Christianity – The Log In My Eye?

While sitting in an airport, I had an interesting experience listening to a group of pastors returning from a retreat and discussing who is and who isn’t a Christian. They were quite open and vocal in their exchange, with little concern for who was listening. The typical suspects were dragged up in the conversation with the usual disapproval and even disgust, “How can a Catholic or a Mormon be saved? And, what about those churches who ordain women and gays, what is the faith coming to? What can be done?” As the pastors entered the plane the conversation continued along those lines and I found myself slinking further and further behind the group of pastors trying to distance myself from the conversation because of the sadness coming up in me about my own faith. I thought I had finally succeeded in avoiding my pain, until I sat down and discovered that the three pastors were on both sides of me in the same isle, still talking. While I listened to the conversation gain momentum I began to wonder:

What is really being said here? It seems that Instead of trusting the process Jesus has people in and allowing for that process to transform individuals into a new spiritual identity organically emerging from community, the organized Church requires identification with a historical and theological Jesus, relating a Cartesian perspective of Christ as “The Faith.” As one of the pastors talked of Orthodox Christianity and its requirements, I was taken by his tone; I wondered, is Christianity an ideology for scaling Christ into form to be marketed?

The irony of this situation struck me because I had brought a book entitled Infidel I was intending to finish on the flight. Infidel is the life memoir of a Muslim woman by the name of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and it chronicles her life journey of coming out of the oppressive radical Islamic community and becoming a champion of free speech and her mission to fight injustice done in the name of religion.

As the pastors continued a conversation with a woman sitting next to one of them the similarities between Ali’s Islam and my Christianity caused me to wonder if I was in love with Jesus or the dogma that was devised by men and given his name? While I love the scripture, for me it isn’t the whole of the faith and obviously open to a broad range of interpretation. Which of the 20,000 denominations in the U.S. has it right? Yeah, I know the “inerrant word of God.” It is amazing how often this gets thrown in my face when investigating particular interpretations of what the book says! Like I said, similarities between Christianity and Islam. To become a “Christian” one is pressured to walk the aisle or raise their hand, and join the group. They must assent to the veracity of the historical and theological Jesus, go to catechism, agree with the creed, and sign the “statement of faith.” When they have assented they are officially admitted into the cult of that particular denomination. While this is tame compared to the Radical Muslim requisites of praying 5 times a day, female mutilation, segregation of sexes and requirements of burkha, etc., the fact was each shared the same logic when it came to marketing their message – if you want to live forever in heaven then “convert” by assenting to the dogma or go to hell!” How many times had I divided my world into believers and non-believers and predicated relationship on ideology? How many times had I missed Jesus because he didn’t come to me in the “right” way?

In Christianity, once one has assented to the historical dogma and is officially a “member” then one must consent to serve on a committee that promotes what the church is “doing,” lead a small group, teach a Sunday school class or some activity that fits the “Church Vision.” Tough luck if your gifts don’t fit. The business of the church is providing services and activities and seldom focus on authentic relationship with the living Lord Jesus through loving the one nearest you. Membership in my life experience is generally a social association or alliance with Jesus. In the book Infidel Ali speaks of the promise of going to heaven for those who are faithful Muslims demonstrated through maintaining one’s honor in their community by not associating with the Infidel or even subjugating them, along with a long list of dogmatic practices, rather than loving Allah and his people. Faith in either case is the fulfillment of dogmatic practices as loving God and His people. She poignantly describes a despair I have experienced in my communal life as a Christian.

In my world of Christianity, one’s casual “personal relationship” with Jesus is assumed once one has the “wet passport” of a baptismal certificate, assurance that they have received a deposit of “life eternal” which will serve as an “admittance to heaven” for future union and intimacy with God. From that point on the new members are a Methodist, a Presbyterian, an Episcopalian, a Baptist, or further commoditizes people as Calvinist or Arminian, a fundamentalist or a charismatic, a dispensationalist or a covenantalist, a liberal or a conservative, mainline, non-denominational or emergent. There is little to no sense of an authentic relationship with the living Lord, only a sense of identifying with an ideological conception, cause, mission or an institutional entity. I began to wonder how much of my faith has been no different than the romantic sensations one experiences when overcome by a sentimental movie?

As we disembarked the plane, I had not read a page of the Ali’s book, but since then I have been pondering the flattering view I often take of myself as a “Christian!” I cannot stop thinking how much I can be like the Pharisee who upon seeing the Publican in the synagogue praying says to himself, “thank you Lord that I am not a sinner like him!” All the while missing the opportunity to love the way I would want to be loved.