Word of the Week

Religious Litmus Test

American Christianity deeply troubles me.

It's not because average attendance in mainline denominations is dwindling more and more by the year.

It's not because more and more folks are self-describing themselves "spiritual but not religious."

It's not because some sociologists are saying that the influence and prominence of religion in American public life is also declining.

(Not that these things aren't worrisome and in need of smart, creative voices of hope to guide us, like this one to what is next).

Rather, it is how we as Christians across the theological spectrum relate to one another.  It's no secret that Christians are often the most unkind to one another. It is as if our community life is not framed over the love commandment and to do unto others as we would want done to us.

But, what bugs me even more than this is the unofficial practice of religious litmus testing of theology, determining whether or not we "approve" or "validate" or claim the others' faith as real. And, if the others' faith is not "real" according to our standards then refusing to engage them.

It comes out in the particular questions we ask one another: "What is your church like?" "Or what is your pastor's name?" or "Are you welcoming (i.e. do you like gay people)?"

It comes out in rolling of the eyes and looks away in disgust.

It comes on whether or not you watch Fox news or MSNBS and refer to it regularly in conversations.

It comes in the application questions for scholarships, employment and funding from Christian organizations. Buzz words like "I prayed about" "I accepted Christ as Lord" or even "I feel called" are used to validate the strength of faith.

As our culture grows more and more geared toward sound bites, if something is not done about it, our religious litmus tests for one another will grow to be something we don't even do quietly anymore but openly without shame. Consider how mainline denominations are parting more and more as we speak now on issues related to women in ministry, progressive theology and gay rights.  If a church doesn't pass the litmus test, they are often thrown out of a local associations as this Baptist church in North Carolina recently experienced, for example.

There's a song we sing at Washington Plaza every Sunday at the conclusion of services called Make Us One.

Make us one Lord, make us one. Holy Spirit, make us one. Let your love flow. So the world will know we are one in You.

It's a chorus we love around here and my hope for my larger community of faith in the Christian tradition and otherwise-- those who agree with me and those who think I'm a heretic for what I do in being a pastor. After all we're just human beings, ashes to ashes and dust to dust, right? Do we really think we have that much power over the fate of one another in the end? Let's put away the tests.

Like my grandma used to say, when all else fails, "Just be nice."