Making Christianity More Christian
On the subject of Christianity, Mohandas Gandhi remarked, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Less known is the rest of the quote: “The materialism of affluent Christian countries appears to contradict the claims of Jesus Christ that says it’s not possible to worship both Mammon and God at the same time.”
Sixty-three years after the great teacher’s passing, Christianity still has an image problem.
In March 2009, 75 percent of Americans self-identified as Christians, down from 86 percent in 1990. A survey conducted in 2010 of nonchurchgoers found that 72 percent believe in a supreme being.
But the same percentage believe that churches are full of hypocrites; 44 percent find Christians annoying; 61 percent believe that Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists worship the same deity; and 79 percent said “that Christianity today is more about organized religion than about loving God and people.”
Enter the Wild Goose Festival, an event patterned after the UK’s Greenbelt Festival for “people who want to connect with each other at the intersection of justice, spirituality and art.” It was held June 23-26 at Shakori Hills outside Pittsboro. Gandhi would have been right at home. In fact he was everywhere, featured prominently in the program and on the website, and he was easily the second-most-quoted figure among the speakers.
Those speakers included some of the most prominent progressive Christian figures in the country. Among them were Jim Wallis, author of “God’s Politics” and head of Sojourners; Richard Rohr, author and director of the Center for Action and Contemplation; and Brian McLaren, author of “Naked Spirituality” and “A New Kind of Christianity.”
John Dear, Jesuit priest, author and relentless peace activist, gave witness. North Carolina NAACP President Willam Barber shared his experience in working for justice in North Carolina. Shane Claiborne, founding member of The Simple Way, who worked with Mother Teresa for 10 weeks in Calcutta and spent three weeks in Baghdad at the start of the Iraq War as part of Christian Peacemaker Teams, spoke passionately about grace.
Frank Schaeffer, author and filmmaker, shared his journey from prominent traditional evangelical preacher through an estrangement from faith and ultimately to a more progressive understanding of belief.
Paul Knitter, professor of theology, world religions and culture at Union Theological Seminary, shared the synergistic effect Buddhism has on his Christian faith. Abdullah Antepli, Muslim chaplain for Duke University, imparted a greater appreciation of the overlap of Christianity and Islam. Knitter and Antepli teamed up with Rabbi Or Rose, associate dean of Hebrew University, for a panel comparing and contrasting the three major Abrahamic religions.
There was a lot more. Between the main stage, the speakers’ tent and the geodesic dome, as you were enjoying one speaker, you were missing two others. And there was music, with Michelle Shocked, David Wilcox and Beth Neilson Chapman among the most notable performers.
What I left with was the possibility of … what?
In theology, as in every aspect of life, liberals stand befuddled as the most extreme conservatives define us. Ann Coulter wrote a book about it, called “Godless: The Church of Liberalism.” (Holy slander!) Instead, we’re hearing terms like “progressive Christianity” or “emergent Christianity.”
It’s more like re-emergent Christianity. It’s less about commandments than beatitudes — Christianity as practiced by James Reeb and Martin Luther King, by Agnes Bojaxhiu (Mother Teresa) and Desmond Tutu. It’s a theology of love — not the noun, an idealized emotion, but the verb, the things you do. It’s less dogma and more action.
It respects other traditions and believes that there’s more potential in raising each other up than in shooting each other down. It is the courage not to leave the right thing undone.
The Wild Goose Festival was about the re-establishment of a Christianity that Gandhi and Christ might recognize — a church for the unchurched.
Kevin Smith lives in Aberdeen. Contact him at email@example.com.
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