One subtle shift that has occurred in the realm of spirituality recently is the transition from religious structures that are “right” to religious structures that “work”. Communities of faith are increasingly encountering people who place their allegiance less in systems that are doctrinally pure and correct and more in systems that are internally and externally consistent in and with their teachings. These people are not chiefly concerned on a basic level with forms of worship and theological correctness taken as inputs to the religious equation, but with communal accountability regarding the output of the system as seen in its praxis.
This group of people poses questions significantly unlike the objections our religious structures have traditionally dealt with. Questions like:
- How is it that your religious system claims to treat all people with equal respect, yet appears to foster homophobic, misogynistic, racist attitudes in its members? If your only response is, “We’re not homophobic, misogynistic, and racist,” then a quick look at the segregation and roles of members in your church should quickly sober you up to the merit of the complaint.
- How is it that your religious system claims to be “pro-life”, yet is complicit in the non-survival of millions of born children across the world from malnutrition and disease? Why is it that far more children die of easily preventable diseases and lack of food than abortions every year? Why not take some of the money that goes to funding anti-abortion organizations which seem to make little impact and instead spend it on criminally underfunded organizations making a substantive impact on poverty and hunger?
- How is it that your religious system claims to be a path of peace and justice, yet its members seem to actively promote a hawkish political agenda and are the chief proponents of the death penalty? Is “vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord” simply a theoretical construct?
- How is it that your religious system claims that you will “be known by your love”, yet many of its members are angry, bitter, and judgmental, both with insiders and strangers? Is there any reason to be a part of an organization whose members can’t even be nice to each other?
- How is it that your religious system opposes homosexual marriage on the basis of “preserving the sanctity of marriage”, yet over half of your own marriages end in divorce? How can you claim to have any credibility on “family values” when your families disintegrate at a higher rate than secular society?
Many of these people evaluating modern Christian structures and institutions come to this simple conclusion: the product does not deliver on what it promises.
In the past I have, when in the middle of discussions regarding the level of importance of semi-obscure doctrinal issues, pointed out that until a person answers the question “Is Jesus Christ the Son of God”, all other doctrinal questions are, at best, academic. As we evaluate the issues we choose to spend our resources on, it would behoove us to consider that many people in the world – most notably those we are generally trying to reach – often do not consider disputes about worship styles and other doctrinal issues to be as important as the end product of our faith as demonstrated in our lives. We cannot base our outreach on having the right answers to questions no one is asking – we must change our focus to address the well justified questions which non-churched people demand answers to before considering Christianity as an alternative to their current belief system. In order for Christianity to be viewed as a viable paradigm in the 21st century, we can no longer rely only on our theology being “correct” – we must also make sure that it “works”.