Beliefs anchor Protestants in a way that catholic* churches prefer tradition for their foundation. I attend a church where many of the congregates have different social, political, economic, and even religious beliefs than the person sitting next to them, yet all seem to join in reciting the liturgy, singing hymns, and partaking the Eucharist. After the service, we enjoy coffee hour, talking, laughing, and playing tag with the smaller children. Conversations of differing opinions happen, and when they do, we are thoughtful listeners respecting the speaker. When a few of us were asked to present some information about the Occupy movement, everyone was attentive and those who did not agree with us talked about their points of contention and we moved through it. I do not think that I convinced anyone to become an Occupier or an anarchist, but what I did do was offer the face of what an anarchist looks like. I love my church.
Last week, I attended a semi-Pentecostal church (one in which the people sometimes perform the gifts of the Spirit), which had evangelical worship music, a children’s sermon, and an adult sermon which included the phrase, “Mr. Obama’s agenda is not God’s agenda.” That last statement I agree with whole heartedly, and would want that preached for every president in office, letting the congregation know that God is concerned about love, justice, reconciliation, etc., while our country’s authorities are not concerned about these as much as economic affairs, as well as keeping our place at the top of the world by whatever means necessary. However, the minister was not alluding to these points, but to the issues of birth control, socialism, and any other Tea Party phrase you can imagine. Worst of all, the rest of the congregation shouted “Amen!” and clapped when he said this. It seems that if I would disagree with such a stance, it would mean that I could not locate myself in that church.
Later in the week, I ate breakfast with a friend who attends that church. We discussed what the minister said and he pointed me to John 17, where Jesus prayed “‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” My friend told me that the church needs to be of one mind, believing in all of the same things, voting in the same way, etc. I was taken aback. I responded saying that this is how churches become exclusive — that if anyone does not believe or do the same things as the rest of the church, then possibly this could lead to the church excluding people. For example, not voting a certain way or believing that using a gendered pronoun for God grants authority to one sex over another. In addition, how can the church be of exactly the same mind, while Christianity is a global religion? Essentially, I promoted contextual Christianity that is shaped by culture and people. This is not to say that some components of culture are not oppressive and should be changed, but it does mean that if I go to South America, I would like to see pictures of a Bolivian Jesus.
This leads me to a term that I have been throwing around with friends and family, and what I named this post, protestantization. Protestantism formed in the 16th century by the likes of Luther and Calvin, who wanted to branch away from the authority of tradition to the authority of belief. This shift not only split Catholics and Protestants, but has penetrated cultures that have been formed by Protestants. Currently, the state of protestantization has gone a step further with the authority of belief, and has made sure that a crystallization of belief has occurred. In the realm of politics, it has been with the notion of birth control. The debate goes as such. President Obama presented some legislation that mandated that all institutions should cover birth control in their health insurance policy. This caused an uproar from the Right, using weighted rhetoric against the President, using phrases like Socialist. President Obama changes the legislation and gives the option of religious institutions to opt-in or out. Still the Right is not happy, and go as far as to say that birth control should not be used, or, in Santorum’s case any other kind of contraception. This caused a domino effect in the Right and all of the political candidates claimed that birth control should not be even used by women. Which also lead political pundits to use angry rhetoric toward those who did not agree with these thoughts.
A good overview of the debate:
This Right Vs. Left debate concerning birth control is perfect example of protestantization. There are other examples when it comes to crystallizing one’s beliefs, thus excluding other’s with different opinions. Actually, almost anything can be this crystallization.
If one does not think that we should engage in any war, one should not be called American.
If one does not pledge allegiance to the Flag, one is not an American.
If one smokes cigarettes, one is bad Christian.
If one does not like Capitalism, one is anti-American, anti-People, and Anti-world.
If one does not believe that the Christian Scriptures are inerrant, one does not probably even believe in Jesus.
And the list could could go on forever. Because beliefs will only keep on crystallizing, we must allow for difference. Allowing for difference to enter into the conversation and relationships helps us to humanize one another. This is what allows me to sit down with my friend from church and have a thoughtful dialogue polarizing debate.
*catholic in this sense includes Episcopalians, Lutherans, as well as the Roman Catholic Church