In America, the theories of Evolution and Christianity are often seen as the polar opposites of one another. Christian Fundamentalism may have taught you that one cannot simultaneously sport a Jesus and Darwin bumper sticker on the same spiritual station wagon. To suggest that Christianity might be subject to a similar evolutionary process is unorthodox, heretical and anathema to the Fundamentalist. They would argue that to the extent modern twenty-first century Christianity deviates from early Christianity, would be the measure of worldliness and sinfulness that has crept into the Faith.
I believe that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. However, our understanding of God has changed and grown over time. I would point to the speciation and the divergence of life that exists within Christianity as proof.
Christian leaders worldwide have demonstrated this evolutionary principle in their recent public disclosures about their churches pastoral stance on homosexuals. Reminiscent of the US military’s former “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, megachurch pastors and best-selling authors, Joel Osteen and Pope Francis have both recently taken a much softer public relations posture in regard to homosexuality.
Struggling with Scripture and Church doctrine, Joel Osteen will not perform a same-sex ceremony but he is in favor of fostering a softer tone toward homosexuals. As a pastor of the 45,000-member Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, Joel Osteen recently told Katie Couric, “[T]here’s so many things that we can focus on. I’m not going to harp on one group. I’m for everybody. Jesus said, ‘I didn’t come into the world to condemn people but that the world could be saved.’ Our ministry is about lifting people up. Let them make their own decisions, I’m not the one to judge anybody.” Pointing to one of the core teaching of Jesus, Osteen paraphrases, ‘Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself.'” He added that it seems that sometimes people of faith and those in Christian ministry get stuck on homosexuality, when the Bible describes a variety of sins, adding, “[T]hat’s why I try to stay away from it.”
Pope Francis (who I hold in high regard) has also stated that the Catechism, or the Roman Catholic Church’s official doctrine book, condemns homosexual acts. However, he called on the Church to love gays and lesbians, who “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.” He has also famously said “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” While a large portion of humanity, myself included, is overjoyed to hear these words of tolerance and charity, doesn’t it merely beg the question, “Does God judge the homosexual?”
Pope Francis does his best to dodge the question by interposing another question: ‘Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”
However, if pressed, he will tell you, “[t]he teaching of the Church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the Church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
Is that the solution? “Let’s just not talk about it.” Sounds more like a strategy for dysfunction than spiritual growth.
The largest American evangelical pastor and the leader of the Roman Catholic Church don’t want to talk about it anymore. As a former assistant pastor of an Evangelical Christian church, I can identify with the emotion. It is divisive. It is unpopular. It’s not something that you want to talk about on Sunday morning.
Pastors–normally people of good will and charity–experience a great deal of cognitive dissonance when they have to espouse and defend views and theology that runs contrary to the general theme of Scripture, common sense and science. Most pastors do not relish telling the homosexual that they are living in sin and are going straight to hell. The words of Jesus, who said “pick up your cross and follow me,” are offensive enough to the non-believer–without adding additional layers of sexism, homophobia, and scientific ignorance.
The emotion, which I have since identified only after leaving the ministry, is “embarrassment.” It took years of therapy for me to identify that particular feeling and now to say it out loud. I am not embarrassed of Jesus. I am not embarrassed by the Gospel. I think that the themes of sin and salvation through grace are awesome. When I hear the Pope talk about feeding the poor or taking care of the sick and afflicted, my heart soars and I want to hop on the next flight to Rome. I’ll even wear the outdated uniform and beads and learn all the prayers. However, I will not continue to perpetuate a systematic theology of hatred and bigotry.
Can we not evolve into the next level of our spiritual existence? Can we not cast aside the theological dogma that separates so many from God and one another? Can we not admit that perhaps once we thought of gays, women, and non-believers incorrectly, but through the grace of God, have been enlightened?
The “missing link” is a term for any transitional fossil, especially one connected with human evolution. I would argue that humanity is seeking that transitional specie(s) that is going to embody religion in the 21st-century. Which variations will adapt and survive? Admittedly, this proposition challenges the conservative to reexamine their strongly held fundamental beliefs but Fundamentalists should be reminded that they are a relatively new mutation in the evolutionary chain. Only time will tell whether natural selection will be kind to Fundamentalism.
As I read the Bible, it is full of stories of the disobedient, treacherous, and unfaithful. Were the stories of Cain and Abel, David and Bathsheba, and Herod and John the Baptist included as examples of Godly behavior? Or were they were included because they reveal something about the character of God? If you look at Scripture, it is largely a very human book, subject to all the frailties of man, from which we get brief glimpses of God. In between all the “begats” and “thou shall nots” is a beautiful story about how God interacted with humanity over time.
Take the role of women in the Bible. In the very first chapters we learn that they are bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, not chattel or property, which was the worldview of the time. We learn that “thou should not commit adultery,” to “honor they mother and father,” and not to “neglect the wives of our youth.”
Jesus, born of a woman, calls his mother “most blessed among woman.” He spoke to women in public, touched them and allowed himself to be touched; and debated theology and doctrine with them. The early church owed its existence to the largess of several rich women and Scripture would suggest that some women were even apostles. Everywhere Jesus interacted with a woman, it raised her level in society.
If one plotted the biblical appearances of women on a graph, with each data point representing an interaction, and then calculated the mean, the trend over time was to raise the value and importance of women. A similar argument could be made for the poor, the sick, the gentile, and now the homosexual.
As a church, did we stop evolving two-thousand years ago? Can we not take advantage of the lessons we have learned from science, philosophy, and history since then? Can we look at Scripture from a different perspective, allowing some passages to be “descriptive” rather than “prescriptive?” Must we cling with white knuckles to a first-century worldview? Can we not begin to walk on two legs instead of scurrying around on our bellies?
Facing what they thought would be a quick and imminent return of Christ; the early Church was perhaps a little short-sighted on some social issues that are important to twenty-first century Christians. Paul may have been heavy-handed when he told slaves to obey their masters; women obey your husbands and don’t speak in church. Disseminating the Gospel was preeminent to the early church. Individual rights took a backseat. Paul chastised believers that sued one another in civil court, asking the litigants, “Wouldn’t you rather be wronged?” After all, this Earth is eminently passing away.
Additionally, we were dealing with a persecuted church and battlefield conditions. Keeping your head down was the order of the day. Anything that distracted the Church from the battle plan or raised the specter of additional government scrutiny was dealt with quickly and harshly.
Now, with a couple thousand years of perspective, perhaps building a systematic theology based largely on the behavior of the early Church is problematic. The epistles of Paul were written to the Church to solve immediate pressing problems and address issues peculiar to the individual churches. They were not written as doctrinal treatises to address all our theological questions throughout the ages.
The Church has had to change and adapt throughout history. However, we now face a theological tradition of Fundamentalism that has hobbled the Church and has made her unable to think and grow.
I would argue that Christianity, as we currently know it, stands at the evolutionary crossroads. Will it go the way of the dinosaur, unable to adapt to current realities, or will it grow wings and fly? All of creation cries out for the “missing link” that will provide a bridge from antiquity to modernity for the faithful. The rest of humanity stands at the precipice and they are anxiously looking back waiting for the religious to join them or succumb to obscurity and irrelevance.
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