Diversity on Sunday Morning

This past Sunday, Easter 2013, CBS Sunday Morning ran a story about diversity in houses of worship. Apparently 9 in 10 churches in America have no significant racial diversity. Not a big improvement from 1956 when Martin Luther King Jr. lamented that the 11 o'clock hour on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. When almost every other segment of society has embraced differences and diversity why is the church so resistant to change? In the evangelical world there are white and black understandings. When it comes to social issues there are the progressive churches, those open to LGBTQ people, and there are the conservative churches, the hate-the-sin-and-love-the-sinner people. Denominationally there are Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, African Methodist Episcopal, non-denominational, emergent and anarchist varieties. There is high church and low church. Peace churches and Patriotic churches. There are traditions that make space for women in leadership and churches that call men to retake their God-given headship. There are house churches and mega churches. From what I can tell everyone thinks they have "the" correct understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

This is not a blog intended to persuade you to my particular understanding of the Christian faith. To be honest my goal is simpler and possibly more radical. My thoughts go all the way back to my time in seminary when I participated in a church planting class. The entire course revolved around one central idea - the Homogeneous Unit Principle. In short this principle says that churches will grow when you bring people together who look the same, believe the same, are of the same economic status and hold a similar world view.

When I look at much of the church today the truth of this principle is certainly born out. People want to worship in spaces where they will feel comfortable. I understand this desire; I am just not sure if this desire is particularly Christian.

From what I have observed the Homogeneous Unit Principle tends to benefit the powerful. In its most dangerous form the powerful, read Conservative Christian Church, assumes it has the right to speak for everyone, including God.

Now, back to my proposal, when it comes to the life of the church we need to understand the Homogeneous Unit Principle as appalling evil. Christianity was never intended to be a gathering of people who are exactly the same. It sort of flies in the face of the children’s song “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” Paul’s image of the body, Jesus disciples, and the entire book of Acts are a few other examples that highlight the wonderful diversity of the Church.

Imagine with me for a moment. What would happen if progressives joined conservative churches and conservatives joined progressive churches? Not with any agenda beyond recognizing that we are children of God and have much to learn from each other. Can you imagine suburbanites worshipping in urban churches and urbanites being welcomed as full members into suburban churches? How about Catholics worshipping in Mennonite congregations and Mennonites participating in the life Southern Baptist congregations? Understanding develops empathy and empathy creates a space for conversation, conversation opens the door to conversion and all of this leads to a Christianity that changes the world.

Silly Questions

May is not an easy month for me. It was in May 2003 that my mother passed away.  Recalling memories of her has become a May ritual for me. One childhood memory that has surfaced this year was a time when my mother, in a fit of frustration, demanded that I stop asking such silly questions. The other day USA Today ran a story asking if Osama bin Laden was in Hell.  The article goes on to speculate that this question has become a type of litmus test between traditional heaven-and-hell evangelicals and the emerging evangelical movement led by Rob Bell with its tendencies towards universalism.  The traditional argument in its simplest form goes something like this: if God is just, then it is not possible for bin Laden to end up in heaven.

I cannot help but wonder if this debate is a silly one.  After all, trying to figure out where someone else is going to spend eternity is a little like asking if Adam and Eve had belly buttons - a potentially  entertaining discussion but also a little silly.

Why is it so important to condemn someone else to hell?  There is a strange comfort in knowing there are people more sinful than I am.  It is reasonably safe to state that I am not, nor ever will be as sinful as Osama bin Laden was.

Is it possible that condemning someone else to hell is a convenient way to avoid dealing with the stuff in my life?  After all I have never master-minded a terrorist attack or sent someone on a suicide mission - so I can’t be all that bad of a person, right?

In light of what bin Laden has done my judgmentalism, anger and arrogance are just minor offenses that should be overlooked.

Chaos Theory

The other day I came across an interesting article in Newsweek titled “Chaos Theory - new rules of management for people who hate rules.”  In the lower sidebar there were 10 rules:

  1. Avoid workaholics – they just use up time.
  2. Hire the better writer – clear writing equals clear thinking.
  3. Forget formal education – academia leads to bad habits.
  4. Drug dealers are on to something – sell a product that people keep coming back for more.
  5. Emulate chefs – share everything.
  6. Retire the term “entrepreneurs” – it sounds too exclusive.
  7. You need less than you think – why not office out of the garage?
  8. Pick a fight – see who rallies to your side.
  9. Build an audience – draw people in.
  10. Be a curator – take ownership of the growth and development of your product.

As I have thought about these rules, it seems to me that Jesus introduced a type of chaos theory during his time on earth.  He said things like, “The last will be first,” and, “Whoever humbles himself like a child is the greatest.”  Modern writers have referred to this as the upside-down kingdom.  With this in mind, I would like to propose ten rules of Christian Chaos Theory:

  1. Avoid religious-aholics - they will suck up all you time wanting to discuss their latest “concerns.”
  2. Let’s be clear - love God, love people - period.
  3. Worry less about formal education. Instead, hang out with the saints who have spent a lifetime getting to know Jesus.
  4. Those who come forward for the altar call are on to something. They know that their failures are not final – forgiveness and restoration is possible.
  5. Emulate Jesus – he tended to chose forgiveness over judgment.
  6. Retire the term “emergent” – it sounds too exclusive.
  7. Live and worship simply – you do not need all the extras.
  8. Stand up for the powerless. It’s what Jesus did.
  9. Live your faith – in words sometimes attributed to St. Francis, “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.”
  10. Be a lifelong disciple – take ownership of your faith walk and spiritual growth.  It is not the pastor’s fault if you are not maturing

What would you add to this list?

Emergent

I like conversations that include the concepts of emergent, post-modern and post-Christian. I have found much hope in the emergent movement. From my perspective those involved in these conversations are interested in redefining Christianity in a way that moves it beyond the “good old boys club.” A more inclusive faith is good for everyone.

Earlier this month, I was part of a conversation about the emergent church movement. About 30 minutes into a free-flowing discussion, a lady chimed in and made the following observation about the leaders in the emergent church movement, “They are just a bunch of cowboys.”

Given the sharp tone of her voice, it was easy to tell that she was not using “cowboy” in an endearing sort of way. It soon became clear for her the emergent movement was led primarily by, white, conservative men. These men were discovering that their understanding of the Christian faith was incomplete at best and wrong at worst. Before long, all the non-white men were nodding in agreement with her.

I was one of three “white men” sitting around the table. It would be fair to say, that I began to feel uncomfortable. As my discomfort increased, my participation shifted from talking to listening. It wasn’t easy hearing what some of the folks had to say. If I were asked to sum up the conversation in one sentence, here is what I would say:

“For too long, white men have defined what it means to be a Christian and God is much more than these definitions.”

This was hard to hear, mostly because there is truth in what was being said.

If the emergent movement is about white men coming to a better, more inclusive understanding of the Kingdom of God, then it can’t be all bad.

It is my hope and prayer that people like me, white and male, emerge and free ourselves from the need to define and control everything. The leaders of the emergent movement must find the courage to step aside and allow more non-whites, non-males and non-conservatives to lead and guide the church.