A BLOG BY SHANNON FISHER
There seems to be a genuine collective resurgence of warmth in Western religion, and I like the direction we are heading. More and more Christian leaders around the world are advocating inclusiveness, love, acceptance and humility – in lieu of the judgment, bigotry and separatism that has filled so many sermons in recent history. Deeply spiritual people, especially those with more left-leaning social views, have been actively fleeing organized religion for years, dismayed by what they perceive as hate speech being depicted as “God’s word” to millions of churchgoers around the world.
Two well-respected and admired Christian leaders, one Catholic and one Protestant, are speaking out against those practices and making grand gestures to bring those people of faith who feel disenfranchised back into the fold of the church – and it just might be working.
During a mass in mid-October, Pope Francis stated about ideological Christianity, “In ideologies there is not Jesus – in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always – of every sign, rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith; he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought. For this reason Jesus said to them, ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements. The faith becomes ideology – and ideology frightens. Ideology chases away the people, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians.”
In an interview with America Magazine, the Pontiff declared, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The 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. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”
These ideas are also becoming more prevalent in the sermons of prominent Protestant ministries, as well. During a recent Huffington Post Live interview , mega-preacher, Joel Osteen, said, “I do think that religion has turned a lot of people off. Part of it is because it was all about the rules and was political. I think now people have a hunger for God, they want to have a relationship, but they don’t want to be called religious. I’m not trying to get them to join my religion, I’m just trying to plant a seed of hope in their heart.”
When asked by host Josh Zepps if that also applies to homosexuals, Osteen declared, “Absolutely! I believe that God breathed life into every person, and that every person is made in the image of God, and you have accept them as they are on their journey. I’m not here to preach hate or push people down. It doesn’t matter who likes you or doesn’t like you, all that matters is that God likes you. He accepts you, he approves of you.”
In a 2005 interview with Larry King, Osteen said, “I’ve always been an encourager at heart. And when I took over from my father he came from the Southern Baptist background and back 40, 50 years ago there was a lot more of that. But, you know, I just — I don’t believe in that [fire and brimstone, hell and damnation]. I don’t believe — maybe it was for a time. But I don’t have it in my heart to condemn people. I’m there to encourage them. I see myself more as a coach, as a motivator to help them experience the life God has for us….I don’t think abortion is the best. I think there are other, you know, a better way to live your life. But I’m not going to condemn those people. I tell them all the time our church is open for everybody.”
The people of faith who have been fleeing the “fire and brimstone” ministry that has been prevalent in recent years have now perked their ears to listen to the loving, inclusive words of these religious leaders with open hearts and minds. If these high-profile ministers continue to inspire love, warmth and joy into the hearts of humanity – in other words mirroring the true spirit of the life of Jesus – I think we will see a large resurgence of active, faith-based communities around the world.
I am an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church (I did not attend seminary, nor did Joel Osteen), and I highly encourage this resurgence of inclusiveness, acceptance and humility in Christianity. Let us all follow our own hearts and our own callings wherever they lead us. It is not our job as humans to judge others; it is our job to compassionately support one another with love and acceptance. If that brings more people of faith back to spiritual practices, all the better.
God Bless You All,
The Reverend Shannon Fisher