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Is It Time to Part Ways?

Is It Time to Part Ways?

“It’s difficult for me to imagine the Left and the Right of American Christianity ever meaningfully reconciling.”

It’s been a gripe of mine for some years now that our kind of Baptists have to explain and defend and qualify who we are to nearly everyone else: “Well, we’re not that kind of Baptist!”

This in a day when many of those churches who have given the name “Baptist” a black eye have decided to remove the B word from their name and church sign – leaving us who remain to suffer the indignities of being narrow-minded and judgmental, anti-gay, anti-women, anti-immigrant, pro-torture, self-righteous Bible thumpers – since that’s pretty uniformly what the word means to people on the street.

Every year or so, one of my church’s leaders, as a response to the most recent well-publicized “Baptist” soundbite and the latest embarrassment to real Baptists everywhere, says, “We should really talk about this ‘Baptist’ name. It’s doing us a lot of harm.”

Yes, but the issue is bigger than denominational identity.

More than 20 years ago a friend of mine, who had spent most of his career serving in “foreign missions” (as they called it those days) for the Southern Baptist Convention, said to me that he rarely called himself a Christian anymore; he preferred the term “Christ-follower.” Through his many relationships with Christians and leaders from the other major world religions, literally around the world, he had learned that “the word ‘Christian’ has become a political word.”

So, what does the word “Christian” even mean, if a Southern Baptist missionary can no longer use it?

The more time I spend as a Baptist Christian pastor in a world divided by angry religious differences, the more I wonder if “we” and “they” are actually part of the same religion.

The words and pronouncements I hear from many Christians in no way represent my theology (nor mine theirs). We clearly have different beliefs about our shared Book. Our approach to science-and-religion is incompatible. We have contradictory views of humanity and sexuality.

Regarding the role of the Church, we want to talk about what “evangelism” means and should entail; on “social justice” they will never talk at all! Interfaith relations means to them an opportunity for conversion; to us, it means the beauty of diversity and growth through dialogue. Nearly all of our common words have different meanings: creation, sin, salvation, redemption, heaven, hell….

The historical Jesus and the Christ of faith often represent different, often opposing, theological convictions. Even our basic concepts of God are frequently irreconcilable.

I don’t think I am overstating the case. When I listen to many Christians speak, more and more I respond with the thought, “Is it honestly fair to call what they believe and what I believe the same religion?”

I believe in reconciliation. I believe Christ’s life was a testimony to “breaking down every dividing wall between us,” as our scripture says. I also know some sectarian divisions cannot be healed. Maybe they should not be. In my active relationships with Muslim and Jews, Unitarians and Baha’is, we are able to work together despite our differences (and without the animosity that exists between some Christian groups).

Maybe, because we don’t pretend to hold the same views, we can appreciate our differences more, and more easily agree to work for a common good.

In her groundbreaking 2008 book, The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle makes the case that every 500 years there is a major revolution in the Church. There was the Christian emergence from Judaism, the creation of orthodoxy, the great schism between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, the Protestant Reformation. It’s been another 500 years, and we’re in the midst of a volatile “culture war.” The crosshairs are on the Christian Church. What will come of us?

Is it time?

“So broken is our fellowship, so divergent our views, perhaps the name ‘Christian’ has ceased to mean anything helpful to the cause of Christ.”

Would it be easier for “us” and “them” to get along if we officially named our differences and amicably parted ways? It’s difficult for me to imagine the Left and the Right of American Christianity ever meaningfully reconciling. Maybe, like Paul and Barnabas, there comes a time when we must face the reality that we can do more and better things if we are not fighting each other for control of the name “Christian.”

As to the process and procedure, I don’t know who would “leave” or what it would mean to “stay.” As to the name, I have no idea who would become what. But, within the Christian Church and (especially) outside the Church, so broken is our fellowship, so divergent our views, perhaps the name “Christian” has ceased to mean anything helpful to the cause of Christ.

For the sake of Christ, the harmony of his church and the peace of our world, even if it meant someone abandoning the name “Christian,” maybe it’s time we had the conversation.


Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

Upaplogetic

Upaplogetic

It’s an old saw for me at this point, one of my favorite soap boxes. I’d apologize for talking about it again, but I hope you can appreciate your pastor’s vocal advocacy for THE CHURCH! I am an unapologetic fan, and I worry about what it will mean if we as a nation let it slip away.

Last summer prior to that big Scottish wedding, Amy and I met friends from England along the first 12 miles of our 61-mile pilgrimage from Edinburgh to St. Andrews. We were introduced to Kate and Tony when we walked 70+ miles of El Camino de Santiago together. He’s a retired barrister; she’s a former teacher, and we have a lot of common convictions, though active church life is not one of them.

They were both raised in the Church of England, but like most folks there they have moved away from institutional religious life. So, when I asked them, “So… is there anything missing in British life and culture because the Church no longer plays a prominent role?” I braced for either polite criticism or enthusiastic ambivalence. Instead, both responded immediately: “Yes!”

She correlates the demise of church attendance with the loss of family, and the structure that it brings to school children, adolescents, and the youth of England. Attuned to the laws that lead to order and the structured conduct of a society, Tony said, “We have no codes.”

He didn’t mean they have no laws. He meant there were no longer any underlying ethics, no un-written rules, no universal convictions of etiquette or courtesy, much less of right and wrong, good and bad, generosity and vulgarity. According to our British friends, their people live any kind of way they want because there is no longer a basic, shared order – which the Church once gave to their society.

 When Notre Dame went up in flames, a world-wide congregation wept with Paris. It reminded me of the global attendance at Megan and Harry’s royal wedding at Windsor Castle, and, in a different way, the sense of global community we experienced after 9/11. But, what were the French masses actually mourning as the cathedral’s spire collapsed, and why did that largely unreligious nation gather to light candles and sing hymns?

My strong conviction is that we are spiritual creatures at heart, embodied souls who long for mystery, transcendence, “God” – whether our Enlightened intellect or our jaded experience will let us admit it or not. The proof I offer for my conviction is that the great tragedies and celebrations of life speak to human beings on such a deep level that no ordinary response will suffice. The Psalmist says, “Deep calls to deep” – so we cry out in ways that are undeniably religious.

 People filled churches after 9/11, lit candles, kept silence, sang songs together, made commitments to live and serve better. Bishop Curry’s homily at that Royal wedding evoked a world-wide response – because it was much more than a great speech. As a sermon, it invoked the transcendent conviction of love (born of God!), in an ethic called marriage. Parisians sensed in that uncontrollable inferno much more than the loss of a 900 year-old building.

 I’m sure many would disagree with me, but I believe the response of the world proves otherwise. God is real. You can feel it in the deepest longings, the pure emotions, the native utterances of people when the grip of pain or the flight of ecstasy reveals our instinct to worship.

I hope you will be in church on Sunday!!

Welcome Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte

Welcome Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte

The Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte is THRILLED to be a PRBC campus partner and has had an amazingly warm welcome so far! We are excited to sponsor two plots in the PRBC community garden this year, too. We look forward to getting to know you all better. Feel free to stop by our offices on the First floor of Milford Chapel Building. 

Now, a little bit about who we are and what we do…

The Down Syndrome Association (DSA) of Greater Charlotte is a non-profit, family support organization founded in 1986 by a group of local parents. The goal of the DSA of Greater Charlotte and its families is to enable people with Down syndrome (Ds) to reach their full potential and become respected members of their community. Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for all people with Ds by empowering individuals, families, and professionals with information and support through education, social programs, and community partnerships. We serve 10 counties in North Carolina and 2 in South Carolina. 

Our supports and services span the lifespan of those with Down syndrome, including families and community members. Through our First Call Program, we work with new parents who receive a diagnosis of Down syndrome (prenatally or postnatally). We offer day and overnight camps for campers with Ds (ages 5-21): Camp Holiday and Camp Horizon. 

Through our Together in Education Program we offer consultation, professional development, and technical assistance to area schools so they are empowered to support learners with Ds in their classrooms. We host an annual symposium for regional educators featuring local, regional, and national experts. 

New in 2019 are programs and support for adults with Ds – focusing on increasing independence and preparing them for the world of work. We are hosting our first Independent Living Retreat May 17-19, 2019 at Camp Thunderbird. 

We rely heavily on volunteers and welcome members of PRBC to join us as we work to grow our impact and meet our mission every day in the Greater Charlotte area. For details, visit dsagreatercharlotte.org. 

Holly Zipperer,
Executive Director
Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte 

What is Missing Without the Church

What is Missing Without the Church

Before we parted I had taken the opportunity to ask a daring question. “No preacherly pressure or guilt intended,” I said, “But I need to ask about the English Church. Many people feel the US is going the way of European secularism, and the US Church may also become a casualty. So, I need to know what is missing from England without the influence of the Church. Is anything missing?”


New

New

Is there a better word? New clothes… new car… new house… new job… new day… Don’t those three little letters, N-E-W, sum up all human hopes? 

The poor want a new way, a new hope. The affluent want a new challenge, a new adventure. The living want a new opportunity. The dying want a new reality.

It never ends. When we’re born, everything is new, and we die still seeking newness. Every age, every stage brings newness. Could we live without it? 

Relationships Across the Generations

Relationships Across the Generations

“I like to talk to people, especially older people, about what life was like. Being 17 years old, I only know the world as it is and was during my childhood, which in the scope of the length of human lifespan isn’t very much. You don’t read about daily attitudes and social life in textbooks, what I like to think of as ‘anecdotal history.’ These are the stories and experiences that we can relate to but have no specific parallel in modern life. . .”

Seven Monks and a Baptist Church

Seven Monks and a Baptist Church

In a world of such maddening events, I am proud, honored and humbled that seven Buddhists from the other side of the world, and at least 150 neighbors, from across my own community, were comfortable to come to a Baptist church, sit for an hour, search the silence of their own souls and the strains of ancient, chanting rhythms, in search of peace.

5 Stars for our Child Development Center

5 Stars for our Child Development Center

We will take those 5 Stars and celebrate! But the number of stars will never fully show what it takes to care for children. That takes love and can only truly be measured by the heart. Our CDC has heart.

Time with Mary

Time with Mary

I want to tell you about the best three hours I’ve spent lately.  

Mary, who has walked the grounds at 3900 Park Road since there’s been a church on that corner, suddenly found herself dying, alone. I can’t bear that thought. So on Tuesday, I sat. Most of the time she didn’t even know I was there. I’m pretty sure that didn’t even matter.

Nostalgia, gratitude, and the most important job I've ever had

Nostalgia, gratitude, and the most important job I've ever had

It is the job of all parents to teach their children about faith. And those who are members of churches have chosen to tackle that job in community,.  I believe that is the best decision you could have made. And I wonder, when your children graduate, will you be able to list all these things in which your children have participated that have helped to guide and mold them into faithful disciples? I hope so. Parenting is the most important job you will ever have.

He is Risen!   So What?

He is Risen! So What?

 I can’t think of a better Easter message than to decide to accept all people as children of God.  Period.  God is the God of all.  That is the Easter message.  But are we ready to go from Easter service living like we believe it?

Creating Essential Community Through Church

Creating Essential Community Through Church

Participation in a healthy faith community connects us with a greater good – the greatest good – and that is God’s care for all living beings. There must be some truth to the old adage about there being “no atheists in foxholes.” When life’s toughest issues come our way, most people, in one way or another, begin to reflect on what would have to be called “spiritual” things. A good Church helps us engage that conversation throughout life.

The Warmth of Ash Wednesday on a Frigid Night

The Warmth of Ash Wednesday on a Frigid Night

Why can’t I ever remember that it doesn’t matter how many people show up? It’s not about our work or our effort. It is really about creating space for people to draw closer to God. Ahhh, that’s right. It’s about God.

Chocolate Cake Generosity

Generosity of spirit can be expressed in many ways.  A recipe for chocolate cake is one delicious example.   Russ Dean remembers great recipes from his childhood and shares one from Faye Curtis.