When I go shopping, I go with a shopping-list. It enables me to do the shopping quickly without thinking about every item I see in the store. When we go shopping for a religion, we also have a shopping-list. On most modern religion-shopping-lists is the requirement that religion unites people and not divides them. It must embrace all worldviews, lifestyles and orientations. It must affirm everyone and not cause anyone to feel marginalized, judged, or degraded. It must provide a safe and nurturing place. In short, true religion must be inclusive and not exclusive.
This is the religion on the shopping-list of Emergent Church guru, Brian D. McLaren. He argues that Christianity is characterized by "hostility to the other”:
- Christians have been taught to see in "us vs. them" terms for centuries, and it will take time to reorient faithful people in a new direction -- "us with them," working for the common good. (Huffington Post Religion Blog, 2/19/03)
I’m not against “working for the common good.” My wife and I do this all the time, even though we continue to disagree about certain things. Differences need not equate with “hostility.” If they do, then McLaren and his Emergent Church must lead the hostility list.
In support of his indictment, McLaren cites two students:
- “People don't want to have to side with the church and against their friends who are Buddhist or Muslim or Jewish or agnostic."
- “We can't find a church that doesn't load a bunch of extra baggage on us. We tried, but they all had this long list of people we had to be against. It's just not worth it."
However, now they are against the Christian church! McLaren argues for a new Christian identity – one that is defined by what is positive and not by what is negative. At first, this sounds wonderful – an item that should be included on every religion-shopping-list. However, it seems as if McLaren fails to see that he too is negative and critical.
In fact, to be in favor of something means that we must also be against its negation. To be in favor of justice means that we are also against injustice. To be in favor of truth means that we must oppose what is not true. To love the truth means to hate the lie. I don’t think that there can be any way around this conclusion. Nor did Jesus!
Meanwhile, I can sympathize with students who are reluctant to stand “against their friends” who are of a different persuasion. I certainly wouldn’t! However, if I really care about them, I would have to ask myself, “What is the most important thing that I can give them?”
If a friend tells me that he intends to join the Klu Klux Klan, what should I tell him? – “Well, you’ve got to do what feels right for you!” No! Instead, I must somehow tell my friend that everything that seems right might not be right. There are certain things that are right and certain things that are not. I must become critical and negative. Okay, I can merely talk about the positive things that he has in Christ. However, he might agree and insist that he can also join the Klan. At that point, I am left with little recourse but to show him how the Klan and Jesus cannot be combined. I must become critical!
No one can be completely inclusive. One church in my neighborhood flies a banner reading something like this: “An Inclusive, Loving and non-Judgmental Community.” However, from their pulpit, they pleaded for volunteer teachers for their education program, from 4th grade all the way through adult ed. I therefore emailed the pastor and the education director as instructed:
- I will gladly teach any class or grade. However, I need to be transparent about the fact that I am Christian (this is a Unitarian church) and this would influence my teaching. However, I am willing to be amenable to your oversight and feedback.
The education director responded with a flat-out “No!” There was not a hint of, “Well, let’s sit down and talk.” I then wrote to the pastor to point out the gross discrepancy between the message on their banner and the message I had received. No response!
I don’t blame this church for not being entirely inclusive. No church is nor can be. However, I do blame this church and McLaren for their hypocrisy. While claiming to be all inclusive, they are not! There are many who are excluded from such “communities,” but they are not honest about this fact. Meanwhile, they flaunt their inclusiveness while they bash those non-inclusive, judgmental evangelicals.
McLaren does his share of bashing:
- Religious communities often take a short-cut to building a strong group identity -- by defining themselves in opposition to others. Muslims, atheists and gays are high-profile "others" which can be scapegoated to build a strong "Christian" identity.
Admittedly, we all have the sinful tendency to bond at the expense of others. However, some struggle against this sin of “scapegoating,” and some don’t. Evidently, even as McLaren issues his indictments, he regards himself far above this struggle.
We need to have our shopping-lists, but we need to re-check them every so often to see if they contain items that are truly rational and even needful.