I am increasingly troubled by Americanized Christianity.
No doubt friends and family have discerned this undercurrent in my posts or interactions with me. The subtext is also one of disillusionment, of doubt, and frustration with a church that often wraps the cross in an American flag and presents a bastardized gospel to protect corporate interests. It’s a church that too often has allowed consumerism, military strength, and a quest for power to obscure the message of the gospels.
The disillusionment reaches even further however and touches a realm where heartfelt doubt is seen as antithetical to morality, and where unquestioning certainty is venerated, while the hard questions are quickly swept away — or replaced by platitudes and trite responses. I’ve observed schisms between denominations and biblical interpretation differ almost as widely as the space between belief — and non-belief. I’ve watched the quest for personal piety becomes its own end and its own form of self-centeredness.
I’ve watched an unnecessary divide grow between science and religion, where I was expected to deny the scientific method as a way to prove group loyalty with little regard for the truth. I’ve watched the church respond to environmental concerns with glib platitudes while defending the destruction of our earth with pious indifference. I’ve watched as thinly veiled xenophobia was defended and couched in spiritual terms that allowed bigotry to thrive.
It has left me saddened — even angry at times.
We’ve spent the last month searching for a church home in Oregon and I dreaded every Sunday morning. The services left me empty and I could have gone the rest of my life, happy to never step foot in another church.
This changed last Sunday morning when we visited a Unitarian Universalist congregation. For the first time in probably over a decade, I cried during a service. I typically wouldn’t find emotion during church necessarily indicative of anything deeper. This time it was. We worshiped alongside Christians and atheists, Buddhists and wanderers. Old Testament prophets were referenced along with passages from Frederick Douglass and MLK. The choir sang John Lennon’s Imagine. I listened to an appeal for a reinvigorated prophetic imagination with a desire for voices willing to challenge the status quo, to speak out against systems of power, and to radically address the causes of the disenfranchised. I heard a message of love and justice — and of a personal ethic that extends beyond the confines of our home and church. I listened to a heartfelt appeal for unity and peace — not a unity born out of naive hopefulness, but one born out of an unflappable belief that the seeds we plant today will someday bear fruit.
I spoke to the pastor after church as she briefly outlined her heart for racial reconciliation.
I could write the responses I will inevitably receive from what I’ve noted above — probably point by point. There was a time in my life I would have responded in a similar fashion. But please be clear. This isn’t the result of liberal indoctrination or some devolution into moral relativism. It was born out of a deep thirst for something deeper and more transformative — something that recognizes a personal gospel divorced from a social gospel — is little more than self-affirming delusion. To be clear, this isn’t an indictment of every American church and there are people within evangelical circles that I have tremendous respect for and believe their hearts ache for many of the same reasons as mine.
But I must move on.
I will not stop questioning.
I will not stop wrestling.
I will not stop opposing the systems of power that further victimize the disenfranchised.
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”