Thursday, December 17, 2009

What I Know Now

The denomination of the church I go to is MCC: Metropolitan Community Church. It's a church founded by gay people primarily for gay people. It's colloquially called "the gay church," though MCC leaders tend to despise that designation.

Part of the job of an MCC or an MCC minister is to provide healing to those who have suffered the damage of being "ministered to" by people who did not have their best interest in mind.

Every day, some young gay or lesbian person goes to someone they trust, someone in a position to love and care for them, only to have this trusted person say, "you need compassion, reassurance, and hope, but I believe you're going to hell and my belief trumps your need."

"My belief trumps your need."

Sometimes, that seems like religion in a nutshell. Religion seems like a group of people for whom belief in a set of doctrines is more important than the health and well-being of actual people.

That's certainly the impression one gets, seeing religious people take loud public stands in the media on the "no" side of every attempt to have our society provide care to people. "But it's not government's job," you may say. You're probably right. It's actually the church's job. But the church has fallen down on the job. And it can't get up.

I'm not just talking about the conservative churches, either. The mainline protestant churches are just as bad. Every Episcopal church I've ever entered, they hand you a print-out of what to say you believe when you walk in the door. As far as I can tell, the only thing that church wants to make sure of is that everyone is on the same page in believing in the trinity and the bishop.

It's no wonder that religion is dying in the U.S. Denominations are shrinking up and blowing away, especially among the young.

Well, good riddance.

Don't get me wrong. I am a person of faith. I believe that there is much in the Christian tradition to inspire, to amaze, and even to save peoples' lives. But, if I believe that this is true, then I must also believe that people will find these things without help from the United Methodist Church, the Episcopaleans, or the Baptists. Indeed, they'll probably have a better shot, once these organizations are out of the way.

The church as it exists today seems like one of many institutions that have not adjusted quickly enough to the global information age and tend, for that reason, to get in the way. Like record companies, newspapers, and GM. Watching them die can be painful, because of the collateral damage, but it's a mistake to confuse the organization with the thing it purported to produce.

When the record companies are gone, there will still be music. And it will be more diverse.

When the newspapers are gone, there will still be a hunger, and thus a market, for news. And it will be less skewed toward the privileged.

When the big American car companies are gone, people will still get from place to place. And they'll do it in more efficient, less harmful, more fun ways.

When religions are gone, people will find Jesus.

That's how I feel about all of this right now. These are big blanket statements, of course. There are exceptions to things. And I do not intend to cast aspersions on any individual who might be part of these institutions, but on the institutions, themselves.

But I want to bring this back closer to home, first to my denomination, MCC, and then to my own individual situation.

In the grand scheme of things, MCC is very small and has had a very specialized role. It's a refugee camp. An emergency room. People wounded by the "ministries" of other churches come to MCC to heal. Or to die.

I'm not being melodramatic. I know a little bit of damage that someone's "beliefs" can do to another person. In my short history with MCC, I've seen individuals weep every time they come to church, just from the relief of being able to feel that God doesn't hate them. And I've seen people come to us too late or too wounded, too bent on their own destruction because they've been told, time and again, that they are worthless--less than worthless--in God's eyes.

The paradigm that places Christianity in one corner and LGBT people in another is so pervasive that many people on both sides seem shocked and sort of freaked out when someone claims to be both. It's like peanut butter with mayonnaise, or Michael Jackson with Priscilla Presley.

But what role will MCC have as religion dies and damages fewer and fewer people? The spiritual M*A*S*H unit will have no patients.

"When religions are gone, people will find Jesus."

I think it will happen like this:

Some people will get together, maybe over coffee, maybe over the Internet. They will have had one or more life-changing experiences, and they have been inspired by the teachings of Jesus. They want to share what they've learned and seen with one another.

They are thoughtful and caring people, and they decide that their love for one another will be placed before any doctrine or creed, so they won't have a statement of belief that they recite. They will eschew hierarchical systems, so that everyone can fully participate. They won't exclude anyone on the basis of race or gender or gender difference. Or political affiliation.

And they'll decide, because they live in the world and believe in love, and in justice, to take great care with the texts that they read together. When texts demand enforcement of gender and class roles established 2000 years ago, these people will be careful to place those texts in a historical context. And they will be equally careful to bring forth for examination the many texts that question, challenge, and point to the abolition of gender and class roles as we understand them.

When there is a disagreement or misunderstanding, they will err on the side of love. And they will do their best to serve the community around them. They will form a community inspired by the teachings of Jesus and the many Jewish sages in that tradition, and that community will save lives.

And, if they can somehow keep from getting assimilated or squished by the vestiges of some some top-down denomination or another, they will thrive.

Personally, I think that this sort of community has a better chance of growing up from within the MCC than anywhere else on the planet. In fact, in many ways, I think it already has.

I believe that MCC, at its best, provides a great example for the future. To wit (and to quote from something I sent to an MCC message board):

- Where else can disagreements about doctrine, theology, dunking or
sprinkling, trinity or unity, praise or prayerfulness, bells or
guitars, statements of faith, transubstantiation or symbolism, blah,
blah, blah actually take a back seat to the agreement to Love One
Another? They do at MCC, because they MUST. By our very definition
and inception, we have to be that way. Other denominations don't.

- Where else is there a chance that the wisdom of the gender
criminal, recognized through out the ages, will be placed front and center and respected
for what it is, not dressed up to look "respectable??

- Where else is there even a chance that we can tell our authentic
stories to one another and reveal our whole selves, without bumping
against the expectation that we look, act, and think like a "typical
christian"?

- Where else can all of our unique colors and flavas and quirks and
tastes and likes and dislikes--or tweaking of conformity be truly
celebrated, not put aside until church is over?

- Where else is it encouraged that we put aside tired traditions and
find new and creative ways to express and celebrate Christianity?

- Where is else the hard work and the resultant rich reward of
calling out, dealing with, and re-evaluating all of the difficult
things in Scripture around gender going to be done? The big bad daddy
God who demanded his own son's blood, and demands our uniform belief
and conformity to old ideas of taste and respectability is not
attractive to much of modern American society. Nor should he be. If we
even have a chance of getting to the point where there is no "male or
female" in Christ, who do you think is going to get us there?

Of course, not every MCC church does these things. And the ones that
do them sometimes fall well short. And, yes,
there are Christian denominations out there that do SOME of these things,
sometimes. But none of them do them all. And they are not institutionally predisposed
to them, like MCC is.

But I tell you this:

The denomination that DOES find a way to do these things, seriously
and with intent, is the one that's going to attract young people and
actually survive. Young people have turned their backs on religion
because of its hidebound doctrines, its stiff-necked refusal to warm up
to the world, and its absolute lockstep conformity. (Yet at MCC, we
often go out of our way to mimic these other denominations as much as
possible!)

MCC actually has a better chance than any denomination I know to shed
the doctrinal, conformist, traditionalist bonds that keep churches
from thriving.

But, to do it, we have to stop thinking of ourselves as a M*A*S*H
unit, existing only to provide a worship experience that the patients
can recognize, but with acceptance instead of condemnation.

So why do I go to church? Because the church I attend sure looks an awful lot like the scenario I described above.

 

 

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