Friday, August 14, 2009

Theology vs. Big Puffy Hearts

I have been asked by friends and family to explain my church. What does it mean to be Baptist? What does my church believe? Why did I choose it?

Here is a dictionary definition of "Baptist". Basically all it means in any reliable way is: a Christian who belongs to an organized church that believes in the power of voluntary baptism as a means of confirming or affirming one's faith. (This is as opposed to other denominations that baptize infants, who obviously don't have a choice in the matter.)

Other than that, it's a free-for-all. There is no centralized authority of The Baptist Church, like the Catholic Pope, so individual churches can more or less make up their own doctrines. This has resulted in a huge range of Baptist churches, from the southern U.S., where they tend to be very fundamentalist and conservative, to the northern parts of the continent where you will find Baptists who are actively questioning the attitude of Christianity towards those of the homosexual persuasion.

What does my church believe? Oddly enough, it's sometimes hard to tell. My church contains a very wide variety of congregants, from the elderly white folks who've been there since the days when God Himself was young, to young immigrants from every corner of the world, who are struggling to learn English and have incredibly cute little kids (some of whom I chum around with in Babyland).

Everyone is always on their best behaviour on Sunday mornings, but if you get someone on their own, and if they find out that you're like-minded, they'll let down their guard and you'll find out what they're really all about. This young man listens to hip-hop music that contains Foul Language. That older lady believes she can communicate with her loved ones who have passed on. Then of course you find some that are exactly the same outside of church as in. They never swear and they only listen to Christian Inspirational music (which mainly seems to be in the genre of New Country). Hey, to each his or her own.

Even the pastors aren't exactly the same. The older one is dreamy and mild. The younger one is shouty and likes to do a bit of pulpit-thumping during his sermons.

The first day I went to that church was the same day the Gay Pride parade was taking place downtown. Ken and I agreed if there was any gay-bashing talk in the service we would get right up and walk out. There was none. The festivities were very delicately not mentioned at all. So, we stayed.

I felt from the very beginning that we were meant to go to this particular church. I can't quantify it. It felt homey and right. The congregation there is peopled with genuine sweethearts. They really pull together and love one another, as much as is possible for fallible humans.

The church seems to have a need for our particular talents. I fell right into my nursery shifts, and couldn't be happier doing it. Same goes for participating in the band. Ken has been working the sound system, which he happens to have been trained for in college. He was able to step in and take over when another volunteer retired. Who else would do these things if not us? We both feel called to do this work at the church. We're pretty sure it's a God Thing. It's always best to say Yes to God.

However, the theology of our church is not exactly in line with what I personally believe. Since that first day, the younger pastor has come out with a few statements in opposition to gay marriage. Additionally, there were two sermons within the past month warning of the dangers of consulting psychics and mediums. If I'm even somewhat psychic (although I don't read palms for a living), what does that say about me? I'm a tool of the devil?

Both pastors are aware that Ken and I have experiences that go beyond the usual five senses. We told them that right at the get-go, when we were all getting to know each other. How does that work with their vigorously enthusiastic warnings against the Dark Side?

Getting back to the issue of gay marriage: I promised a lesbian woman I know, when I became a Christian, that I would never become a homo-hater. And I stand by that promise. I could explain the beliefs which underlie that in detail, but I don't want to bore my readers to death. Suffice it to say that a) I don't believe that every word in the Bible was written directly as if by God's own hand and b) I believe the message of love that J.C. brought to the earth is the underlying point of what it does (or should) mean to be a Christian, and therefore anything in the Bible that doesn't focus on replacing hate or indifference with love is really beside the point.

What if the younger pastor knew this? Would he want to kick me out of the church?

According to my own theology, it's OK for me to be there because I'm there for love. I love the people, and I love God and I'm there to show it. How much does it matter that we differ on these points, and others?

I'm putting money into the collection plate. It's not going toward a fund to buy guns to shoot gay people, but it is paying the salary of the homophobic pastor. Who incidentally is otherwise a very pleasant and caring man. He thinks he's doing the right thing.

Sometimes I think maybe I'm there because it gives me a chance to effect change from within. I won't change anyone's opinion if I only ever hang out with people who agree with me. Maybe the time will come to stand up and speak out, and maybe I'll have the courage to do so. God has plans for me, and I'm there being prepared.

Sometimes I think maybe I'm there because I've always been prone to zip up my lips and agree with people just to keep the peace. Maybe it's like when I was living at my parents' house and I shut up and stayed in my room until I was 23 instead of mouthing off or moving out because I was comfortable, scared, safe, and lazy.

Sometimes I think maybe I'm there because love is the only thing that matters. That I'll never find a church that agrees with me 100% on every point. That the point is to get together with people; real, fallible, flawed people; and to love them, my brothers and sisters, with all of my heart and soul.

After all, He did say "Love your enemies". Are they my enemies? Does it matter?


Warped Mind of Ron said...

I believe there is something out there that we don't understand. But I did know that what I saw of organized religion seemed to me to be con artists and people looking to control other people. Not saying that their aren't sincere and good people, but it seemed that the further up the food chain of the church you went they got richer and slimier. Plus they always seemed to be telling you what you should think and that's never flown with me. Your church sounds cool, if I found one like it I might even go to it now and again so they could try to exorcise me.

wigsf said...

I don't think gay people are your enemies. They just seem to me to be regular people but with one little difference: they prefer the company of their own gender. And I gotta say, with my history of confusion caused by the other gender, my own gender is starting to look pretty good right now.

Sparkling Red said...

Ron: We're going to do an exorcism on you? If your head is going to spin around 360 degrees and bats will fly out of your mouth, I want to be there to see it.
Seriously, there are plenty of churches that seem to be quite evil in and of themselves. I'd rather pray on my own than hook up with any of them.

WIGSF: To clarify, I wasn't asking if gay people are my enemies. I was asking if the people at my church who are homophobic are my enemies, because that's far more likely. I've never had a close friend who's gay, but I've worked with lots of gay co-workers and had a gay therapist/teacher at psychology school. If anything they seemed to be more thoughtful and mature than your average straight person, because of all the crap they've had to survive.
If you want to try dating men, I'm all for it!

Keera Ann Fox said...

If anyone says God wrote the Bible, then they haven't been paying attention. The writers of the Bible were inspired (and perhaps guided) by God. There are so many inspirational writings in this world; the Bible happens to be the most ubiquitous. I think it is a valuable book without having to take all of its content at face value. I love reading Emmet Fox's (no relative) metaphysical interpretations on stuff in the Bible; his best-selling book is "The Sermon on the Mount".

I believe that a Christian cannot gay-bash and still be true to the teachings of Jesus. You can't pick and choose which neighbor to love. That Jesus made some strong statements about marriage (Matt. 19:1-12) may suggest that gays can't be married before God like straights, but it also says absolutely no divorce, and that last gets some leeway depending on your theological interpretation. It still doesn't give anyone permission to judge and exclude those who are different (or have trouble following all the teachings). I find that trying to understand Gandhi's statement "If you can't find God in the next person you meet, it's a waste of time to look any further" to be one way to learn what loving one's neighbor is all about.

Jesus was really all about being laid back, don't fuss about what other people do, focus on your own faith, and just live and let live, and don't spread negativity. You know, "The Shack" stuff. I just finished an audio version. Great stuff, but I'm still not praying to Jesus. :-)

powdergirl said...

A very interesting post. Sparkly.
I was raised in the Mennonite church.

My Mom worked with the insane.

The church excommunicated her on the grounds of her work, they said that if God had seen fit to make these people insane, then they should not be tampered with. They should be left as God made them. My Mom was heart-broken, she'd been with this church forever. I was furious at their treatment of a woman who had spent so much of her life doing what she thought was her Gods will.

You know, these people loved my Mom, she used to bring them to the farm where I'd be pressed into service, pouring tea and serving cake in the garden. My Mom's work with these people shed a little light onto their often dark days.

I don't consider myself Christian, but I don't mean to sound critical, I admire people who have faith, I even admire atheism, I consider myself an agnostic as I don't think we know anything for sure. So when people can consolidate their beliefs, well I'm a bit envious.

I like that you consider the fact that the scripture has been translated by mere humans and so don't take it as an absolute wording of Gods will.

I also think that your church is lucky to have 2 such great volunteers as you and Ken are.

Keep walking to the beat of your own drum, even in the church.

The world needs more of that kind of well thought out tolerance.

Have fun in the nursery tomorrow : )

G said...

Interesting post.

I tend to view religion with both eyes open.

I don't go to church much (okay, about once a year if that), but I don't consider myself anti-religious, or atheist or agnostic, or whatever else you can call yoursel nowadays that's fashionable.

I have friends who are of all religious persuasions: born agains (like yourself), Wiccans, diests, atheiests, agnostics, moderately spiritual, you name it.

I simply accept everyone for who they are and what they are. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.

The beauty of it is that you can take a little from all and become your own unique individual.

Anonymous said...

You go girl!

Sparkling Red said...

Keera: Thanks - I've just added that Emmet Fox book to my wish list. I'm always on the lookout for good theological writings that don't tread the usual beaten path. I read The Shack, and, although I didn't buy it 100%, I agreed with its overall message.
I believe that if God thinks that it's important for you to experience Christianity from the inside, he'll send Jesus to get you. Seriously. That's what happened to me. I don't think it's essential for everyone, but it was for me.

Powdergirl: That is such a sad story. Your mother must have been devastated. That is religion at its worst. Thanks for your supportive thoughts. I think that even though we are not under the same spiritual category, we are very much kindred spirits in our approach. Although I am a follower of Jesus, I believe he is only one facet or face of God and that there are other ways in. There are even some agnostics and some atheists who are incredibly spiritual, although they themselves wouldn't put that label on it. We get mixed up arguing about language sometimes, but I think we all yearn towards the same experience of transcendent love, however it's packaged, as faith, art, nature, or deep personal relationships.

G: I've heard fundamentalists preach that it's wrong to treat the variety of world religions as a buffet table. Take a little of this, a little of that, and make up whatever is most comfortable for you. I can sort of see their point, but I think it's possible to evolve a personalized spirituality that does take one into growth outside one's comfort zone. It's also possible for people to get way too comfortable with their chosen dogmas and religion. So I'm all for taking a little here, a little there, and being an individual. God made us all different for a reason, methinks. We were not intended to be robots, or clones. We were meant to each have a completely unique adventure of finding our own way home, and I'm glad of it.

Jameil said...

"I'll never find a church that agrees with me 100% on every point. I'll never find a church that agrees with me 100% on every point." You are so right. It's really difficult to find a good church. I'm glad you did!! We all sin and come short of God's glory (Romans 3:23) so I get extremely annoyed when people talk about one sin as worse than another. That's not even biblical!! (Matt. 5:28, James 2:10) Wrong is wrong. It's also bizarre when pastors talk about homosexuality and the choir is full of gay men-- some with leadership positions. The black church is FULL of gay ministers of music. So he doesn't bring his boyfriend to church and you pretend you don't notice? Now you're being a hypocrite. I think a lot of people, pastors included, get caught up in portraying themselves as holy and forget that the person they're following cloaked himself in love.

NicoleB said...

I think as long as you are comfortable it is alright.
When you get to hear things that go against your grain totally, too often, you will grow uncomfortable.
I hope this doesn't happen.
I wish all people would grow up, or grow young again and just live and let live (and love).

Scarlet said...

I've always been curious...what's the difference between being psychic (not the kind on tv that charge a fortune for telling you the obvious...but really reading into the future) and being prophetic?

Btw, I don't think there is a church out there that will agree with us 100%, but if it comes close, I think we're in the right place...and fyi, I'm still searching.

Sparkling Red said...

Jameil: Your last line sums it up so nicely. And yes, the church is incredibly hypocritical. If they're so concerned about so-called "sexual morality" why are unmarried straight couples and divorced people allowed in church? It's all very silly.

Nicole: It's true. If the time comes to go, I'll know it. That would be very sad, but I can see that it might happen.

Scarlet: I'm no expert, but as I understand it prophets give messages from God. Psychics pick up a wider variety of information, like vibes from regular live people, or messages from the spirits of those who have passed on. I Googled "Christian Psychic" and there are quite a few out there. It's just not a fundamenalist approach, for sure.

Jenski said...

That's great that you and Ken found roles and fit in so quickly. I would agree with you that not all people will agree on everything. As you find yourself in comfortable open conversations, you probably will take the opportunity to state your mind and maybe make someone else think about what they believe (and vice versa).

I would also caution your friend that not all Christians are against gay rights! Is your church 'Open and Affirming'?

Aurora said...

When I went to church I was most comfortable at the Quaker house, simply because it was more tolerant and liberal than all the other churches I had ever attended.