“I don’t know if I could still call myself a Christian.” Before you call my bishop, please note that this was not a statement said by me. It was said to me by an elderly man who’d asked for spiritual guidance.
That it was not said by me might come as a surprise to those who have already judged me to be outside the Christian fold. I’ve been called a heretic and accused of leading my congregation down a slippery slope into relativism. I’ve been asked why I don’t just join the Unitarians and be done with it. My work with interfaith organizations has made me suspect in some camps. For others, the fact that I have high regard for other “heretics,” such as Bishop John Shelby Spong, certainly places me beyond the pale.
So let me be clear. I am a Christian. I’m a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, who showed us in words and in actions what living in the commonwealth of God is all about. I’m also a believer in the mystic presence of the Cosmic Christ, who existed before time began and was exuded so magnificently in Jesus.
I could go on and on about what that means to me, but I’d rather talk about my elderly friend who is questioning about what it means to be a Christian. Here’s someone who was baptized and raised in the Christian tradition, but rejected it long ago. From what I can determine, this was for several reasons. One of them being that for his very logical, intellectual mind many of the claims, creeds and doctrines just didn’t make sense.
In our ongoing conversations about religion and spirituality, we laugh about how I’ve turned him into a heretic by exposing him to progressive Christian writers like Spong, Elaine Pagels, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. My detractors will shudder at the path on which I’ve led this lost sheep astray. But I would venture to guess that he’s been thinking and talking about Jesus more now than ever before.
Still, he knows what traditional Christianity is and so reflects, “I don’t know if I could still call myself a Christian.” Only he can answer that, but in my mind there is no reason why he could not. In fact, I see progressive Christianity opening the way for many of us to be able to still make that claim with honesty and integrity. In fact, I wish with all my heart that those who have been turned off by exclusivistic doctrines, outdated biblical scholarship and problematic creeds could know that there is an alternative.
I’m eternally grateful that I discovered it. My faith and my commitment to the church has been stronger because I did. And I’m grateful that I can minister to those, like my elderly friend, who is longing for spiritual guidance – as well as intellectual conversation.
Thank you, Jesus (and I do mean that) that we are able to do both!