The Spiritual Landscape
Now Available: The Affinity Church
Just when I thought that I might have hit on something utterly new, I've discovered that there are others already deeply invested in it. The Protestant church of the future: The Affinity Church. Turns out the concept (or at least the brandname) has already been snarfed up: here. But, hey, it's loosely Baptist, non-denominational, and it's based in Oshawa, Ontario. How big can it be and where is Oshawa anyway?
So there's room to grow the concept. Given the nasty back and forth in the wake of The Episcopal Church's General Convention 2012, it's time to cut to the chase. Let's stop taking one another apart and institutionalize what used to seem wrong and accidental. Let's break the whole thing up and form Affinity Churches.
We can organize them around worship (traditional to contemporary) or views of Jesus (locating him on the human to divine spectrum as you see fit). We can differentiate between degrees of literalist and metaphorical approaches to Scripture. We can form Affinity Churches around aging boomers who want to continue the quest for a perfect society and churches organized around younger generations that are profoundly weary of hearing the old folks rattle on about the good old days at Woodstock. We can form churches around views of sexual orientation and identity, understandings of Communion, and levels of lay involvement. We can differentiate between hierarchical and populist approaches to governance, as well as liturgical preferences (high, broad, and low). We can even break the old churches up into Affinity Churches that correspond with party affiliation (please display your voter registration card on the way in).
After all, that is where we are already headed in a Darwinian, political contest over the old bones of Protestant denominations, so why not end the suspense? As Garrison Keillor observed about the churches in Lake Wobegone, "They broke up and they kept right on breaking up." It's not like we didn't know this was where we were going.
The Affinity Church plays to our strengths: individualism and selective engagement. You can "do" Affinity Church in person or selectively and anonymously on Facebook and Twitter without discomfort, without sublimating your disgust with people who disagree with you, and without name-calling.
And think of the relief it will provide deacons, priests, and bishops—no more Pauline, "all things to all men (oops . . . all anyone/everyone) that I might win people for someone's version of Christ (as they understand Christ, for the moment). No more annoying litmus test questions wrapped around a lot of other questions that don't matter all that much that we ask prospective clergy and bishops during interviews. No more hiding our prejudices in order to avoid offending others. Live large, live in the open. You only need to have an affinity for the people with whom you have an affinity (Isn't that what it says in John 17?).
Who told Wormwood that to have church you need to live with people that don't agree with you? Now we can do church with like-minded people who see the world and the Gospel the way we do.
The Affinity Church: the next step in the evolution of Protestantism. Now available where the Body of Christ was once optimistically, idealistically, and foolishly offered to people who were told life can be different. Build your own Affinity Church, while supplies of friends who have an affinity for your views last.
Also available now at stores near you: "E Pluribus Just Us"—build your own Affinity Nation.
The Affinity Church—because you can never create a church, a nation, or a world small enough to make you completely comfortable.
No dissembling necessary (because everyone will agree with you, left or right--and every shade in between). Offer void where infighting is preferred.
Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He and his wife, Natalie live in Chicago, Illinois. He can also be reached at: http://frederickwschmidt.com/