A couple of weeks ago I watched a broadcast of an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury in which he pointed out that the average Anglican is a sub Saharan woman in her mid 30’s. This week some reports have suggested that as soon as 2025 China will be the biggest Christian country in the world.
Perhaps you aren’t quite as surprised as me but I found these statistics pretty surprising. To my detriment, I pictured the average Anglican as a middle aged man who lives in a quaint village somewhere in England. I know China is a hugely populated country and that Christianity has been growing immensely for many years but I still believed that it was still small in comparison to other countries such as the US or Europe.
Right now the biggest issue facing the Evangelical church in the West is the debate over gay marriage. Increasingly, some Evangelicals have been voicing their support for their gay brothers and sisters to the sadness and some disdain of their Evangelical brothers and sisters who disagree.
I use the terms brothers and sisters, for one important purpose. They are family terms. As Christians we believe we are part of a family that is greater than blood lines or genetics. Sometimes we don’t like our family, sometimes we want to be as far as away from them as possible. But…we’re still family.
Our genetics could be our doctrine or beliefs about God but our family is based on something bigger than that. Something more beautiful and inclusive.
Since the World Vision story a few weeks ago there has been a conversation in blogs and twitter on what exactly defines an Evangelical. Is it simply the belief in Jesus as Lord or does it have to be more specific? Does being pro marriage for all equate to a distancing of oneself from Evangelicalism or Christianity?
I’ve been quite perplexed by the discussions that have risen not solely because of what happened at World Vision but which clearly was spurred on by it. Some have questioned whether they want to remain part of Evangelicalism. Why do we even have to decide though? Who holds the key to what that means? Does anyone?
I’ve never identified myself as an Evangelical. I’m not Anglican, I’m not Presbyterian, I’m not Baptist (a term that even means very different things depending on which side of the pond you live). I’m not even sure I’m Methodist, the church tradition that I grew up with, although I do hold heavily to a Social Justice ideology.
I’ve never labelled myself as anything really, so perhaps this is foreign to me because it’s not the way I have defined my faith. But for some it has been and I need to be sensitive to that.
But to those people I want to tell you that not everyone thinks like this. You do not need to feel conflicted. The church is broader and more exciting that any of us can imagine. We don’t need to limit ourselves to labels.
The church is an enormous, beautiful, rich, creative, mish mash of people from different countries and cultures. We disagree about many things. In the past I have heard the argument that there are primary issues on which we must agree e.g. that Jesus actually rose from the dead and secondary issues such as baptism or communion, which accepts some nuance and disagreement.
But maybe it is time we moved away from this idea and appreciated fully how different we all are. To acknowledge that believing in things like marriage equality is not a threat to the Gospel. It is not a threat to God and his work on Earth. In fact it is more likely to open up the Gospel to many more people.
Perhaps part of the problem is in how we have defined Christianity or Evangelicalism (whatever that is) based on Western ideas. We have a tendency in the West to view church exclusively in terms we have set. The type of music or way of speaking or the way we construct our churches. But context is crucial. People are different. Cultures have different ideas of how we should worship. People have tastes that don’t align up with many of our church settings. It’s not about us of course but that in itself can be used as an argument to never evolve or grow. I may cringe at how you talk about God but if that is the very thing that gives you life then it would be hurtful and damaging of me to mock that. I know because I’ve done that so often.
So if people can be excluded by something so simple as a musical style, imagine how much more people will feel excluded when we tell them that the very sexuality they were born with is ugly to God.
That they are, in fact, ugly to God.
We don’t have to agree all the time but we should never feel threatened either.
Earlier in this post I said that the biggest issue facing the church today is gay marriage. But isn’t there a chance that I only said that because my idea of the church and Christianity has been formed by Western ideas. By what the Christians I know are tweeting or blogging about. But maybe bigger issues include the persecution faced by millions of Christians in Asia or North Africa. We are blinded by the arguments over same sex marriage and the like that we don’t see it. Does this mean that such issues aren’t important or rather we should place them in the proper light of people literally dying for their faith?
God won’t die if we allow gay marriage but people might if we forget those who are persecuted.
People like Rachel Held Evans who has faced a lot of the brunt of this from those who disagree with her does not need to leave behind the tradition that she knows. It’s a tradition that is constantly evolving anyway and perhaps we are in a major stage of that. She is part of this as much as her detractors.
People like Rachel should embrace this because it will free them from feeling like they need to prove themselves to someone who doesn’t have the right to label them in or out anyway.
Likewise, people who disagree should embrace this because they are not God.
When we start here we will have constructive and respectful conversations which will help us see the beauty in our differences. As big as they may seem.
So next time we are tempted to decide who is part of Evangelicalism or not; next time we limit what Christian faith should look like, we should remember that woman in her mid 30’s in Sub Saharan Africa.
Because unless that’s you, you’re the odd one out.