Monday, November 19, 2012

Secular Christians, 2: who is welcome?

The Lead picked up my essay on secular or cultural Christians, which generated some comments.

The poignant ones were from people who are cultural Episocpalians who would like to be in a community like mine, where people like me are welcome.  To which I say, such places DO exist, not just virtually (like this space) but for real.  

Some of the other ones are a bit snarky.

First, there's the "well, that just proves the Episocpal church is godless!" kind of comment.  This is the same mind-set that says "if gays marry, it's the end of the human race", that is, assuming that the result is that everyone will be gay.   Of course, the fact that there is a tiny fraction of people in the Episcopal church who do not have, shall we say, a "traditional" concept of faith, does not in any way change the fact that the majority of Episcopalians say their Nicene creed and mean it.  They may mean it non-literally, but they mean it.   Using my existence to "prove" anything about the Episcopal Church is nonsense.  

Then there was a snarky comment suggesting that people like me don't belong in the Episcopal church and should be UU or something. 

Which leads me to think that this commenter does not believe in the frequently spoken words "Whoever you are, and wherever you are on the journey of faith, you are welcome here."  What I got from this comment is that to her mind, the Episcopal church should NOT welcome me.  That I don't "belong".

So who DOES belong?  Is someone only welcome if they ALREADY believe as you do?  That's hardly evangelism and that's certainly not welcome "wherever you are on the journey of faith."  It's requiring an exam and a check-up at the red door. "Only approved Episcopalians need apply." 

And what does that exclusion cost?  If you don't let people like me in, you also prevent the possibility of conversion, denying someone a road-to-Damascus moment in which the gift of faith might be bestowed. Do you want to claim that responsibility?  


Nor does welcoming me mean you are compromising what you or the Church believes.  And let me be clear, I'm not asking you to.  I'm not asking you to change your beliefs or their expression in any way--rather, it's I who is accommodating to fit you.

Of course, for me, I consider that it's very unlikely I will ever receive the gift of faith (I just haven't got that gene, as I've told you before, despite our friend JCF's best efforts.  Of course, JCF believes that with God, all things are possible.  ;-)

But whether I think of myself as a gratheist or a Christian atheist or a cultural Christian, I'm actually a great defender of your faith.  I'm an ally. And I'm also one of your best recruiters and evangelizers (for example, here and here).  I figure if someone has got faith and a taste for liturgy, the Episcopal Church is where they should be.  How's that for irony?  Think of the church-going atheist as a translator, or a bridge between worlds.

So really, look into your heart.  If the person next to you in the pew admitted they don't believe in God, would you show them the door?  Or would you say, truthfully,  "you are welcome here"?

18 comments:

Priscilla said...

IT, I, for one, am very glad to have you for an ally and my welcome is always there for you and for anyone. I used to get razzed quite a bit by my atheist friends for inviting them to hear me sing at the church but they often came and enjoyed the music and that was fine with me.

Nothing new under the sun it seems. Jesus got the same criticism from the religiously "pure" people of his day so you have good company. I became an Episcopalian after the Roman Catholic church made it abundantly clear that I (and my beliefs) were no longer welcome.

I went through a long period of atheism and then God gently nudged me and I found faith again. It's not a faith that many would accept or recognize in lots of churches but TEC welcomes me (whether they know it or not, LOL) and I plan on staying.

Erp said...

I'm not sure the UU comment was meant to be snarky. Among other things the writer knew enough that many Quaker meetings are accepting of atheists. Admittedly Quakers aren't big on ritual so someone who enjoys a swinging thurifer won't find them appealing. I'm not aware of UUs doing thurifers but I suspect a congregation out there might try it. :-)

The writer probably doesn't know you have a particular reason to choose the Episcopal Church (or some other church that is overtly trinitarian Christian), your wife, since I don't think that is mentioned in The Lead's post. And many open atheists would be uncomfortable in many Episcopal churches (though no Episcopal church would discard the atheistic but cultural Christian, Vaughan Williams', music [well maybe in Sydney]).

JCF said...

IT, you misunderstand "my best efforts", if you think my goal is to provoke some kind Damascus-encounter: "I didn't have faith in God before, but now I do." Frankly, I wouldn't try to create that encounter that even if I COULD!

You know the book/saying "Your God is Too Small": well, EVERYONE's is. Mine no less than yours, than anyone else's.

But what I keep nudging you about, mon ami, is to see that your conception of faith is too small. Road-to-Damascus "I believe now" may have been sufficient for Saul of Tarsus, but it's way too small for me (and probably you).

IT, I honestly believe that you are one of the MOST FAITHFUL people I'm blessed to know. Maybe it doesn't matter that (like God?) I can see it, and you can't. In fact, it's quite possible that your faith is all the more alive, for your not being able to see it.

But your faith (trust) is, well, inspiring to me (among others, I suspect). I am blessed by your faith, and thereby, am made happy by it.

It's this happiness---reflected from your own faith, back to me---that I wish I could share. Perhaps you don't need this (extra) measure of happiness. But I am no less desirous of wanting to spread it around (hence this verbose post! ;-) ).

Counterlight said...

You're preaching to the choir over on my end. It seems to me that the first obligation of any Christian community is hospitality, not doctrinal purity. I strongly suspect that there are large populations of "grathiests" in even the most thoroughly policed of doctrinal churches, both catholic and evangelical. The only difference between them and those in the Episcopal Church is that they don't feel safe to speak freely in their churches.

Counterlight said...

I second JCF's comments. I think you are among the most FAITHFUL of Episcopalians, IT.

I think the UU comment was a snark. I sometimes get the same comment. The person making it is expressing contempt and not at all interested in being helpful. I consider myself to be very much a Trinitarian Christian who would probably not feel at home with the UUs.

IT said...

Thank you, JCF. That's a very kind thought!




Kevin K said...

It seems to me that everyone should be welcome in Church. There is, however, as we have discussed at different times, a distinction between a member and a guest. It is hard for me to imagine how a person who, for example, could not affirm a belief that Jesus is the son of God would even want to be considered a Christian. That being said, the door is or should be open to everyone. No Sheep too Lost.

Kevin K

JCF said...

It is hard for me to imagine how a person who, for example, could not affirm a belief that Jesus is the son of God would even want to be considered a Christian.

Kevin K,

the term "Christian" has been so POISONED by those calling themselves "Christians", that more and more of us who DO believe that Jesus is the Son of God don't want to be considered one!

That said: if "affirm[ing] a belief that Jesus is the son of God" is necessary to be an Episcopalian, see re "your faith is too small."

For those of us who, like myself, can profess the Creed unreservedly (more or less ;-/), need I remind us all that we STILL "see through a glass darkly"? Epistemological humility: learn it. Live it.

IT said...

Erp, I love swinging the thurifer. She's my wife. However, the thurifer loves to swing the thurible. :-) OTOH, you might consider her a swinging thurifer.

JCF said...

Erp, I love swinging the thurifer. She's my wife.

TMI! TMI!

*LOL*

H. E. said...

I couldn't care less what other people in the church believe, or don't believe. What skin is it off of my nose?

But I do wish clergy were religious believers. I live in a world where religious belief is, at best, anomalous. I just mean minimal belief--just belief in some supernatural or other. If people find out that you're a religious believer they look at you funny.

Good lord, I could use some moral support!

The assumption seem to be that most of us live in worlds where atheism is unacceptable and where people worry about lack of faith. C'mon. Where are these places? Most of us live in worlds where religious belief is stigmatized, regarded as superstition for the peasants and protest. We really need support!

Kevin K said...

JCF,

I did not say that the only thing a christian should be able to affirm is that Jesus is the son of God. So I'm not sure what your point is. However, that certainly seems like a rather important first step.

In the same way I would never suggest that a person who cannot affirm this point be prevented from attending Church.
Christians should be humble. We are saved, if we are saved, by Grace and that should be a humbling point.
I would point out that there are poisonous atheists. IT is an example of a gracious and thoughtful atheist. Just as Christians should have a duty to look beyond the most poisonous atheists, others should be able to look beyond poisonous Christians.

Kevin K

JCF said...

"Just as Christians should have a duty to look beyond the most poisonous atheists, others should be able to look beyond poisonous Christians."

What "others" should be able to do, Kevin K, is not our concern as Christians (IMO). Log/splinter etc.

Kevin K said...

But JCF you have often complained about what others believe, think or do if they believe in Calvinist doctrines or are evangelicals.

JCF said...

Complained about what others believe????

No, not me.

Couldn't care less what others believe.

If I'm honest, I care how others behave: specifically, how they behave towards *me* (though I shouldn't). I don't hesitate to say I care how others believe towards "the least of these". How Ugandan Anglicans behave towards Ugandan LGBTs, interests me a lot . . . but I care even more about North American Anglicans who FUND discriminatory practices by Ugandan Anglicans . . . and more still, about US Episcopalians who are silent on the subject. Most of all, I care about my own complicity in the sufferings of my brothers&sisters (Ugandan LGBTs being but one example. What about Pakistani factory-fire victims: how did I contribute to that tragedy?)

It's a ripple effect. I care about my own sins the MOST (i.e., repenting of same!), and decreasing from there...

IT said...

@HE, who wrote,
The assumption seem to be that most of us live in worlds where atheism is unacceptable and where people worry about lack of faith. C'mon. Where are these places? Most of us live in worlds where religious belief is stigmatized, regarded as superstition for the peasants and protest. We really need support!

I think that you are right to some extent, for those of us who live in urban centers in blue states, and particularly amongst professional classes like academics: religious practice is often closeted outside of church. Part of that is because the fundagelical right wing nuts have so tarnished the "brand" that people are ashamed to be associated with it.

Of course, this post is directed at the community already IN church, not the community outside.

And,if one lives in a deep red state in the Bible belt, the question "where do you go to church?" is part of normal social discourse--it's atheism that is outcast in those parts of the country.

It's interesting to note that Episcopalians are a highly educated lot (discussed previously on this blog, and seen elsewhere in surveys. Perhaps it would be a good thing to come out of the closet more often about going to church. ;-)



Jake said...

Coming in late to this conversation, but find it a fascinating one!

It brings to mind something Phyllis Tickle mentioned about the emergent/pomo type folks...they have shifted the way one becomes a "member" of a faith community. The old way was a process of believe/behave/belong. The new model is belong/behave/believe. IOW, anyone can be part of the community, and they need not adopt the beliefs or customs to belong. Not only are their gifts valued, but their perspective is cherished as they bring with them fresh insights, which allows the community to be constantly renewed.

J.

IT said...

Jake, nice to see you!

I think it's a real question for how communities structure their identities. Is the presnece of a person like me a threat, or a strength? Fortunately in the community I'm in , I'm welcome, but I can easily imagine some communities that would not feel that way.