An exciting title, huh?
I remember sitting at the dinner table one night in Parma Heights, Ohio, when I was a young, quirky, sixteen year old (not much has changed since). I sat thinking about Christianity after reading a book entitled ‘Power for Living,’ which I received free after calling a toll-free number on the television…and I thought how there were parts that I simply didn’t buy into. Why didn’t my pets go to heaven with me? If my older brother continued to disassociate himself from Christianity, would he really be damned to eternal punishment? And who is God anyways? I thought to myself that there must be people like me out there in the world, but are they Christian? I just have to find them.
College was much the same frustration with being a Christian. I found myself surrounded by people who loved me and called me ‘brother’ in a Christian fellowship group at the College of Wooster in Ohio, but I still felt like a fake if they were to ask me how I really felt about many parts of Christianity. New questions came to mind as I read the Bible more intently: if the Bible is true, then why is it filled with all of these crazy stories in the Old Testament? Why would God kill so many people? If there were so many miracles back in the days of Jesus, why don’t they happen today?
And then, thank God, I was able to take my first Religious Studies class. It was an introduction into the world religions, and it was taught by an Indian professor who was raised Hindu, although professed to be a Methodist Christian, while at the same time greatly interested in Zen Buddhism…and I was hooked. I ended up majoring in Religious Studies, consuming everything I could get my hands on. My senior year I took my first Christian theology class taught by a Mennonite farmer. I was introduced to Walter Rauschenbusch, James Cone…and Paul Tillich, who’s reflections on Christianity seemed to open up my lungs to deep breathes I had not inhaled for years in my faith life. I realized then, that maybe there is a place for me within the Christian Church after all.
Almost ten years later I am currently finishing a book by Bishop John Spong entitled ‘Why Christianity Must Change or Die’ (1999; Harper San Francisco). As I mentioned in the previous ‘Beacon,’ Bishop Spong served the church during times of desegregation, women’s rights, new global awareness, and one of the issues that the PC(USA) continues to debate, human sexuality. Spong’s book was yet another breath of fresh air in my Christian formation. As my spiritual walk continues to places that I have yet to tread, I discover even more questions and insights that have led to further internal conflict with the theology of the Christian Church. Spong poignantly borrows from our faith tradition and describes this as ‘a believer in exile’ for those who no longer can honestly remain where they are. A choice has to be made: one must walk away from a faith tradition that fails them, or one’s faith must grow and evolve. Spong writes, ‘I think the time has come for the Church to invite its people into a frightening journey into the mystery of God and to stop proclaiming that somehow the truth of God is still bound by either our literal scriptures or our literal creeds’ (p.21).
I realize that this book may not resonate with everyone. Some may read this book and simply dismiss it as mere theological philosophy or even blasphemous. However, what I embrace about our Presbyterian Christian heritage is that it allows for such conversations to take place, and empowers those who are willing step out on a ledge and claim that ‘God alone is Lord of the conscience’ (Book of Order G-1.0301). If you are having similar questions, struggles, or doubts, I want you to know that you’re not alone. I believe there is not only room for such discussion and discernment within the church, but there is a need for such discussion in our congregations if we are to continue to faithfully witness to the Good News of God’s salvation in Christ Jesus.