In my Church of Christ tradition, I was taught I was my brother’s keeper. I had some obligation for “seeking the lost.” This did not translate into an evangelical imperative that I should convince my Methodist cousins to give up their love for the piano in Sunday morning worship, or their resistance to baptism by “immersion.”
It took me a long time to appreciate the sincerity and dedication of the young Latter Day Saints or Jehovah’s Witness missionaries who knocked on my door with Bibles and printed religious tracts. I was more appreciative of the welcoming neighbor, bringing baked goods and the offer of fellowship within their steeple of choice. I remember years ago when a new youth minister at the Fourth Avenue Church of Christ first offered a church bus ride to children in a segregated neighborhood to our Vacation Bible School.
Our First Amendment is a wall of separation, a barrier to an established government religion, and also a fortress of refuge for believers from falsehood and fanaticism. The growth of non-denominational Christianity has restructured our paradox of unity and diversity. Congregations offer traditional or contemporary praise and worship, and we promote or quietly deny our liberal or evangelical leanings to recruit the young and the unaffiliated. Christianity, as I knew it in my childhood, has become rare. Even the Church of Christ at Millview now has an electronic screen behind the song leader rather than fumbling through the pages of hymnals. I found them to be very apolitical during the election. Their young minister is academically conversant with contemporary and classic literature and media hype, but astute in rational Christianity and biblical integrity. Still much of their Christmas message was focused on food and heavy coats for charity. I feel a kinship among friends in most religions. Last week, I spent an afternoon at a visitation for a friend among the members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
I enjoy the faith, worship, morality, tolerance, and fellowship of Christians. They are in no way as despicable as they are perceived to be in politics, mega church television charlatans, retail bigotry, ostentatious end zone celebrations, or divine attribution for trophies of vanity. They reach beyond their faith, their praise and worship, and selective biblical literalism, and embrace a harmony of tolerance and fellowship.
Concurrent with Sunday worship, in my extended week, I find a similar harmony in our secular culture. Most people are church going spiritual people for whom their spirituality is more personal and less vocal. Most of them believe in a higher power, the unseen designer and author of truth, morality, ethics, love, tolerance, and charity.
On a more secular note, I find comfort among agnostics, humanists, Unitarians, moralists, and freethinkers who have found and embraced their morality, ethics, tolerance, love and compassion through secular intellect and logic, through reason rather than revelation. Earlier in one of my books, I included a reference to a comparison of religious ethics and secular ethics. I shared a conversation I had with a professor who has taught in more than one Church of Christ universities. Our mutual thought was that secular ethics may be stronger today than fundamentalist religion. This is of course not by design, of God’s will, or the Messianic message of Jesus. Neither is it an apostasy, or a religious falling away of a chosen people.
Academia and the several theories of ethics have served us well historically. Logic bends toward ethics, morality, love, compassion, and fellowship. You don’t have to abandon your Sunday morning praise and worship. You don’t have to abandon the inspiration of the New Testament writers when you receive your doctorate of science, technology, literature, history, political science, or philosophy. Christianity is not a fairy tale or mythology. There is a harmony of faith and reason. The human mind and altruistic love are the creations of higher intelligence, by whatever name or written document.
This harmony requires tolerance without compromise. Absolutes are imperative, or pragmatically idealistic. Truth is truth; falsehoods are untrue; sins are sins and crimes are crimes as defined by appropriate law. In our culture and politics we may find some conflict and compromise of ideology and immorality. We often find less affection for persons who are different by birth, created by a loving but indiscriminate God. We often find discomfort around people with special needs, physical frailty, limited cognitive skills, different sexual orientation, or coveted heroic and gifted attributes. We find our warmest fellowship among those with the greatest commonality.
I have come to rethink the concept of inspiration. As a writer, I seldom find it and make no claim to it. I respect the writing of the Old Testament scribes and God’s covenant with the people of Israel, and the metaphorical story of creation. I embrace the Apostle’s writing and the Epistles chosen to be included in our Christian Bible. This was and is the religion within which I grew up, and eventually grew old. I have less affinity for inerrancy, fundamentalism, charismatic signs and wonders, visual and physical manifestation in praise and worship. I find no common purpose with the Religious Right and no kinship with the movement we have come to know as Evangelical. I like the word Christian, even in derogation, as a label, maybe somewhat short of the image of likeness. As a measurement of attitude and compassion, I like the word liberal. For intellectual integrity, I think I like the designation logical disciple.