I’m a pastor.
I share this disclaimer as my perspective is one from inside the institutional beast that is vocational ministry. I’ve been a cog in the Christian faith machine my entire adult life.
Yet today I find myself curious as to whether or not I can stay connected to the Christianity I know, as my faith seems to contradict the Christianity offered and consumed in America.
I am not a Christian Nationalist, and that may be the problem.
The local church as an institution of faith should function as the conscience of the people. There was a time when parishioners and congregants would seek cultural and political wisdom from their clergy as the intersection of faith and day to day life. Now more then ever this has become exceedingly confusing and disjointed. This is due in part to a dualistic living where ones Christian faith is a mode of releasing one’s guilt and shame on the sanctifying road that is life.
Not a perfect system by any stretch of the imagination but seemingly purposeful nonetheless. What is said purpose? Being good humans in the name of Jesus. Sure, this type of system creates an imbalance of power between pastor and parishioner that can — and has — resulted in abuse and self-serving manipulation. Yes, this functionally normalizes a dualistic living where faith becomes a subset of life as opposed to a way of life itself. Yet somehow, it felt like we were heading in the “right direction.”
We were wrong to feel that way.
Today we find an institutional church, represented locally, that is often little more than outlet malls for religious goods and services. People will shop around until they find the goods they desire at a price they can justify… much the same way we interact with our need for groceries.
Is it worth making the 30 minute drive so I don’t have to pay as much for my produce? I mean, its cheaper than the local chain and there is a much larger variety of selection. I can be in and out with decent savings which justifies the increased gas usage in the family SUV.
I petition this is the same with faith.
People are more than happy to church shop until they find a theology and praxis they can justify so they might receive the religious goods and services they desire. Which remains, guilt and shame offloading. The thing is, love no longer defines faith. Faith has become about being right, and we all choose which local body is right in our eyes for our life.
However the biggest problem with our new model is the churches ability to be the conscience of the people.
This has never been more evident than in the face of our current election.
Pastors across the country are regularly forced to cater to the political bent of the loudest or wealthiest voices or suffer the consequence of unemployment. This is a result of the conscience of the people now lying in the ill-informed self-seeking social media opinions of those relying on the success of a Bible holding incumbent amidst a tear gassed backdrop. Being right is supreme. Perhaps more accurately, not being viewed as wrong is supreme; and with a national leader who condemns anyone who doesn’t agree with him, the result has been egregious.
Faith has been sacrificed on the altar of supremacy.
As a pastor this creates an unsettling environment where faithful integrity and popular opinion cannot coexist. Instead of being open to growth and change, Christian Nationalism has set local church congregants on a trajectory where change is discarded and growth is measured by success, majority, and power.
A pastor is one who is to shepherd, guide, teach, and walk with individuals and communities on their personal faith journies. A pastor is one who cares for the people, stands for justice, and facilitates the care of any person or people group who is in need. A pastor is one who stands in love and lives in love. A pastor is one who is faithful, not to supremacy… but to God and the faith.
How can a pastor practice faithful integrity when the system has become less about faithfulness, and more about defeating the opposition and being right? How can a pastor serve within a Christian nationalist movement that seeks salvation from the office of president?
How could we have gotten so far off course?
I justified my involvement for many years now, believing that the good people within the faith would be a part of leading the system back to faithfulness. Sadly, it feels less like faithfulness lately and more like an involuntary sacrifice of one’s integrity and self.
I am a beleiver in Christ.
I am a believer in the resurrection.
And maybe, just maybe, it will take the death of the local church for faithfulness to be resurrected by the power of Christ.
Yes, I am a person of faith. Faith which is the certainty in things we do not see. But can I live and serve faithfully within the Christianity America now knows? Of that, I am not certain.