First and foremost the church needs no help from me in destroying itself. It is perfecting that activity very much on its own. I was once confronted by an evangelical friend of mine as to why I write so much against other Christians. They argued that in doing so it does nothing but hurt the church’s reputation and dissuades those who are not Christian from ever becoming one. (It is important to note that despite our many theological disagreements, this is still a very good friend of mine. We both have a mutual respect for each other’s intellectual capabilities. This is the only reason that I did a double take on their question and really sat down to consider what I do.)
To Save The Church We Must Be Willing To Destroy It
My friend was specifically concerned with two things I do regularly both on Patheos as well as my own personal social media accounts.
First, I almost always report on leaders who mistreat others. In the last couple of years, I have become passionate about calling out church leaders who have been involved in some sort of abuse – spiritual or sexual. What is most troubling about these situations is the level of protection afforded to these leaders by others within the church, who are aware of their actions yet choose to remain silent. In some cases, even the denomination itself has been complicit, transferring these individuals to different churches where they are given the opportunity to re-offend. People need to know about these predators. I have a modest platform and so with that, I feel a responsibility to protect my brothers and sisters from these predators. That is far more important than protecting the reputation of the pastor or his church.
The irony here is that my friend was in some way suggesting that I do exactly what I am reporting on in many of these situations. Staying quiet when I know that abuse is taking place is the same thing that those in power often do in order to protect the reputation of the church and the individual. This mindset is particularly a problem in evangelicalism and is also a significant reason why women in evangelicalism don’t report sexual abuse to the authorities. I feel a strong sense of conviction to use whatever platform I have to help protect the most vulnerable within our church communities.
Second, my theological and philosophical musings oftentimes focus on the intellectual problems with Christianity. What I think my friend would prefer is for me to use my intellectual capabilities to focus on the things that the church is doing correctly. However, this does nothing to actually help the church. I think if you were to slide over to the evangelical side of Patheos you would find something very similar to what my friend is suggesting.
My friend is stuck in this old way of thinking that is still predominant within evangelicalism. That is, they think that the Christian’s sole purpose is conversion. And that anything going contrary to that flies in the face of the Gospel. From an intellectual perspective, they think the sole purpose of the theologian and philosopher is defense. That is, they think we should continue to solidify and strengthen our orthodox positions. This of course is at the expense of truth. This I simply cannot do since I have dedicated my life (as Kierkegaard did) to finding the truth and living my life as though I would be willing to die for this truth. I am not willing to die for orthodoxy – only truth.
What I think my friend fails to understand is that I do what I do because if I don’t I am simply maintaining the status quo – I am being complicit. People are not leaving the church in droves because of me, they are leaving in droves because the church simply maintains the status quo. They are leaving because the church fails to be honest with people about their own struggles. In many cases, the church lacks self-reflection and reform. During Nazism, Karl Barth declared “Ecclesia semper reformanda est” (the Church must always be reformed -reforming-). I do what I do out of love and passion for Jesus Christ and his mission on this planet. I believe I am doing what Jesus would do if he were in my position.
Some Concluding Thoughts
I wrote an article a while back on the meaning of life. In this article, I put forth an original argument for this timeless question. In the article, I asserted that the meaning of life can only be found in the life of the “other”. “Otherness” was on full display in the life of Jesus as he displayed it both in his relationship with humanity (through service and his death) and with God (to accomplish the Father’s Will over and above his own).
It seems to me that since otherness is tied so much to identity and meaning for the individual that it must also serve to provide meaning for the church. However, the church has largely been focused on itself. It focuses on strengthing itself politically, theologically, and ecclesiastically. In the church’s attempt to protect its identity, it is actually destroying itself because it is not focused on what is best for the other. Jesus focused on the other so much in fact he was willing to sacrifice his life for it. So should the church be willing to do the same? To save the church we must be willing to destroy it.
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