It was an interesting evening for sure. A group of us had drove up to the north end of the city after hearing about a public conversation taking place between Bart Campolo & Sean McDowell. Taking different poles between each other in dialogue, Campolo embraced a stated “atheism” or humanist stance while McDowell stood upon a firm belief in the Christian Evangelical Church. While inviting the others, I had enthusiastically given support to “Team I Left”. It became a point of conversation as they wondered how I could support this stance while still being involved with Christian gathering events.
In honesty, I was giving the support in a tongue in cheek way. But, while I do give leniencey to this stance, we need to ask the question of what it means to be in or out of the church.
To often I think we end up equating the church as the end all be all of maintaining faith. If we speak of leaving the church, everyone freaks out & thinks you have lost your faith & no longer follow Jesus. But since when is Jesus equated to being fully & completly embodied solely in the church as an institution? Does faith’s boundaries truly cease to reside beyond the doorsteps of institution or the pinnacle of the steeple?
Recently my friend Rohadi wrote a post titled ‘Godless? Why The Decline In Religion Doesn’t Mean An Increase In Atheism’. He shares the statistics that, ”Today, only about 20% of people attend a monthly religious service. That means 80% do not. But, again, that doesn’t mean 80% are atheists. Only 5-8% are, so who are the approx. 75% of people?” The Point being made, that 75% of non Christian believers still believe in some form of faith or spirituality. God is still alive & breathing in some form or way into their lives!
Trying to maintain a purely Humanist & scientific stance in atheism throughout the conversation, it was in the Q & A time of the evening that Campolo folded to the acknowledgement that God could indeed exist “somewhere behind the rings of Saturn” but he just simply couldn’t comprehend a God who sought relationship with his creation much less incarnating himself into human form.
While I was disappointed in Campolo’s reasoning for his stance upon the non-existence of God, I resonated with his angst to the prejudgments of the church where it deems those who are unwilling to accept its doctrinal idealisms as being atheist or pagan & outside of its belonging. I deeply struggle with the us verses them mentality of the church and think these forms of stated evangelism are in fact hericy themselves. God is far more & far bigger than the confined definitions of institutionalism & his identity stretches beyond the language & images cast by the church. It is these institutions & idolatry's that I revolt & remove myself from.
As the conversation started out, Campolo quickly brought in the church’s struggle with moral superiority; particularly with regards to homosexuality & marriage. McDowell freely gave an apologetic of religous right to define human sexuality according to their theological understanding while leaving the freedom for the world to express a different opinion. However, he also expressed a right to judge their’s & those within other religous beliefs states of salvation sharing that, “I can love my Muslim neighbour as much as I wan’t but, they will still end up in hell.”.
While freedom of speech is a fair aguement, the problem with defining God’s existence around a moral stance is that morality is subjective & really a human issue, not God’s. As Abraham Hirschal shares, “The essential weakness of these arguments lies in the fact that their point of departure is not a religious, but a cosmological or an anthropological problem.” Morality & ethics are a system, both theologically & philosophically, created by humanity in relationship to & with the rest of creation; open to failures of interpretation & misunderstandings. We can equally misunderstand God’s revelation to ethics & morality just as we can other cultures & ethnicities. The point of all this is that morality simply cannot disprove the existence of God; just prove that we can misunderstand his interpretation of ethics & morality.
Still, Campolo reveals a great division & loss in institutionalized morality expressed as superiority. The church itself cannot agree upon an objective full understanding to ethics and should not enforce a moral judgement upon those who might think differently than themselves. We are called to love our neighbour as ourselves, counting others as more significant, & taking the form of a servant & not a morally superior ruler or authority. It is these institutions & idolatry's that I revolt & remove myself from.
Loss of Imagination
It has been a long time since I thought of myself as being in the church. My friends are right in that I do & have gathered with other Christians amidst many purposes of congregating, but it has always been in my frame of imagination, outside of the confines of these institutional idealisms.
We need to find a new or renewed imagination of the church; one that stretches beyond the walls of the building & sees the diversified relationships outside of the social status quo as being inclusive with the church. Some of the richest conversations I have had about God, faith, & spirituality have come with my friendships to people of other beliefs, world views, & life perspectives.
This is the church I seek to belong. These are the people that I stay with!