We are Christianity: An Open Letter to Frustrated Christians in the United States

This letter originally appeared on www.reyes-chow.

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

My name is Bruce Reyes-Chow and I too am a Christian. I am also a Presbyterian minister, a husband, a father and a Democrat.  Identifiers claimed, I write to you today because I am frustrated with the singular version of Christianity that is dominating today’s public and political discourse.

Like many of you from across the theological and political spectrum, I am disturbed by the religious rhetoric that is defining Christianity in the United States today: one that employs inflammatory rhetoric over civil discourse, favors easy-answers over nuanced thought and seeks political victory over the common good. This is not the Christianity that I live. I believe that faithful Christians – from “liberal” to “conservative” – can vigorously disagree on significant social and political issues like abortion, marriage equality, health care, etc. without tearing down the dignity of the other, giving up the complexities of faith or inflicting pain upon another member of the Body of Christ.

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22

The Christianity that I embrace compels me to follow God’s calling into the world, and to do so with vigor, discipline and love.

I am generally against unity based on a negative, but we are at a time when remaining silent is a luxury that we can no longer afford.  For if the current dominant version of the Christian faith continues to be cast as the one true version, the great diversity of our collective thought and theology will further cease building up the body as a whole. At some point our participation in the abdication of the Christian voice in the United States to the version of Christianity that politicians, pundits and the media would like it to be can no longer be tolerated. Unless we want our Christian faith to continue to be defined for us, we must seize this time, join our voices and reclaim the diversity of Christianity in the United States that we all know exists.

All together now . . . We are Christianity!

Because there is a broad expression of Christianity in the United States and lifting up a singular alternative would only perpetuate the idea of one “right” Christianity, taking a pledge or signing a contract would be silly.  Instead, if this letter resonates with you – Blue Dog Roman Catholic Democrat or a Log Cabin Episcopal Republican – you are invited to publicly claim your spot in the larger Christian family by adding your name to the “We are Christianity!” petition and/or liking and uploading a photo to the Facebook Page .

Other than that, I hope that you will take every opportunity to model graciousness, extend respect and shower dignity as you passionately, publicly and faithfully live and express your Christian faith.

May the peace of Christ be with you.

Bruce Reyes-Chow, Christian

REVIEW: 25 Books Every Christian Should Read from Renovaré

This review originally appeared on www.reyes-chow.com.

A Patheos.com Book Club selection, 25 Books Every Christian Should Read has me conflicted. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to lose much sleep over this, but I do think that this book raises significant questions about the nature and perception of American Christianity. In a nutshell, if you are one who dreams of a day when the perception that “real” Christianity is only informed by European male theology and spirituality is shattered, you may need to hold your breath a little longer. While this collection certainly tells an important part of the Christian story, it does not tell the entire story.

Now let me be very clear in that I think this is a fine book.  There is great value for all Christians in exploring the roots of our tradition, experiencing a wide variety of diversities and pushing oneself to explore thought outside of our comfort zones. I read many of these books as I went through seminary. Seeing some of the titles again sent cold shivers down my spine as I remembered painful nights when I had to read and read and read again because I just didn’t get it. At the same time, titles like, Institutes of the Christian Faith by John Calvin and Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, brought back fond memories of discovering some wonderful insights about my own Christian walk.

25 Books with its rich content and  solid gathering of contributors, some of whom, I know personally and greatly admire left me wanting. As I skimmed the selections – the main 25 as well as the supplemental lists of some contemporary faith leaders – all I could think about was who was not included and I had an overwhelming sense of being drawn back into a very narrow version of the Christian faith.  When I first received the book, I thought to myself, that’s cool, these are classics and they sit in a particular context. If there is a disclaimer about who is NOT included for whatever reason, that would be good enough for me. Again, these are great folks and Renovaré is a greatly respected organization and I am not just looking for ways to ding “the man” on race and gender issues.

No such luck, so let the dinging begin.

While there are disclaimers and explanations regarding the types of books chosen, in looking at the parameters for author selection and backgrounds of the editorial board, the only diversities that are lifted up are learning styles, literary genres and Christian traditions. There is no mention to the fact that the body of writings and people involved in the project are male and white. Again, I was not expecting a forced selection to satisfy some kind of nebulous quota, but for a book of this nature and import to NOT acknowledge some of the cultural realities that make it difficult to include more writings from women or those from Africa, Asian or Latin America is glaring. I am the first to admit that I do not have any suggestions for Global South theologians who would fit within the parameters of this book, but if the group of people with such stature who are called together to make the selections do not deem any writings deserving inclusion, this should be acknowledged.

Again, the initial list of 25 are fine and with the aforementioned disclaimer I would have been cool with the list.  After all, they were not talking about contemporary writers. So imagine my excitement to see that at the end of the book there is a “Best Contemporary Authors” section. Redemption cometh for sure . . . bring on the brown folk!  Doh . . . all nine of the contemporary authors are white and Anne Lamott is the lone women.  I did not go through and check out  the backgrounds of all the contributors or the editorial board, nor did I check to see under what publishing banner they all write, but when it comes to developing a list of contemporary authors that shape and form current Christian thoughts and there is only one woman and no people of color, there is a huge part of the story that is missing.

I do not think 25 books is trying to be the be all and end all of a Christian collection, so I have no reservation in recommending this book as one part of your library of the Christian faith. That said when you do buy this book, I hope that takes its place on the shelf as only part of your personal canon of readings, because while an important part of the story, it is only part of the story.

A few contributors were asked to list some of their formative books, here are some highlights:

And to play along, knowing that I too will leave folks out, here are my five six formative books . . .

PS: And in case you were wondering, I have only read seven of the 25.

PPS: In full disclosure, all of the book links go through my Amazon Affilaite account, so I received a small percentage of each purchase. Such is the life of us consultant and reviewer types. You can find all of the 25 books, plus my suggestions in my 25 Books +6 List.