Graduations seem to be a theme in our family this year. This past weekend, we flew to California to attend our daughter’s graduation from Fuller Seminary. She received her Master’s of Divinity.
I found the ceremony itself uplifting and talking to our daughter about her degree encouraging. In my world, I am exposed to pop theology almost as much as I am to the massage I hear from my own church. Let me be clear, the media representation of Christianity is a lie. Pop theology is a lie. My experience listening to the president of Fuller and the graduates they produced reinforced my own understanding of my faith and our scriptures.
I know many people seem to follow the lie. I know the church has always had some bad teachers and those who would exploit those who wish for a connection with something outside of themselves. From the very beginning people wanted something different from God than a simple connection to the infinite. This is really what those stories in the Bible are all about, people trying to make God in their own image and it never working for them.
I liked that the emphasis the speakers placed on our mission in life is for justice. They talked about justice in how we shop, how we interact, and how we represent ourselves to our world. They talked about justice in our interactions with other countries, our own community and our families.
My daughter explained that for her class work she was limited in which translations of the Bible she could use. She must use a translation with gender neutral and inclusive language. The NIV was forbidden as having too many errors. She spent many classes reading from copies of the ancient texts. The emphasis was on avoiding the mistakes of scholars who over the centuries tried to make God in their own image or the image of their culture.
The people I listened to validated the need to care for our earth and our environment. I never heard a condemnation of any particular group, while many emphasized the need to communicate with and include all people in our community ministry.
My daughter told me a story about a committee of local churches who over a period of several years, started a program where they meet with the local police, schools, social work agencies, and city planners to see how they can serve the needs of the community and have a voice in creating justice around the issues in the community. This is one of the primary functions of the church, to be active in their community to promote justice. I know this is not what the media would have our communities believe, but it is what the people in their local communities are supposed to be doing.
The topic of what local churches are supposed to be doing in contrast to the image of the church the media projects is crucially important. As I watch prejudice against Christians growing and see more ignorance concerning what we are about, I am aware of what has happened in the past when a group is subject to prejudice and ignorance.
I am aware that there are communities where those who purport to be Christians are vicious bigots. I’m not concerned with the vicious bigots. They will survive. I’m concerned about the little old lady down the street who has spent a lifetime loving her neighbors, fighting for justice, feeding the hungry and encouraging the grieving.
Because those who may well decide that the ills of our society are caused by the church and Christians in particular are so very ignorant about who is who, I fear that they will kill the little old lady while ignoring the vicious bigots.
Yes, the church over the past two thousand years has often sided with the unjust and the exploitive. We do see injustice at the level of the institutional power elite. The institutional power elite have very little to do with the little old ladies or the humble pastor who donates his salary to local missions. Power elites in most institutions are going to be out of touch with human need. Those people who are working in the food bank, or clothing bank, or on the street with at-risk teens, or the grief support group are very much in touch with reality and the needs of common people.
Please, before you go out hating, burning and killing, find out more about those whom you think you hate. Find out who believes what. Find out who may be systematically protecting you from tyranny and exploitation. You really do not want to kill the people who silently fight for justice.