Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Religious Tolerance = Weak Christian Identity?

Last week I heard Brian McLaren speak and I'm still chewing on some of what he said. He shared the philosophy that having a common enemy builds a strong identity.

Then he described his observation that there is a strong Christian fundamentalist identity that is built on making another faith (or non faith) group (Muslim, Jews, atheist, etc) the enemy. And there is a weak tolerant Christianity that is unable to make another group the enemy and thus their identity suffers.

McLaren suggests that it doesn't have to be one way or the other. That there is a third way where we can be tolerant of other faiths and still hold onto our own. He does this by making hostility itself the enemy.

I love this way forward. Though, I'm having a hard time moving forward with how this common enemy - hostility- strengthens our common identity. Here's why:

In my generation, many of us who were raised in a tolerant ("weak") Christian identity are choosing not to go to church. We're grateful for our Christian upbringing and take from it that we are to be nice and practice hospitality to others. (McLaren mentioned this, too). But apart from our choice to be nice we're having a hard time CLAIMING Christianity over other faiths or as a faith at all.

I think our identity has to be built on something more than just our commitment to being tolerant and respectful and nice.

Being a ridiculously curious student, I asked McLaren about this and he had a fascinating answer. He said that younger generations need to reclaim rituals and traditions in order to build their new strong identity in Christ.

I've been thinking about this a lot this last week and it seems to hold true for myself and my worshipping community. We're hungry for space, for silence, for meditation, for prayer, for laying on of hands, for communion and baptism. We want to be anointed. We want to find the sacred in the mundane. We want to find God in the mystery, wonder, and awe of our everyday lives.

I wonder how we might reclaim language, too. How we can reclaim our Christian stories and live into those. I'm excited for how worship and service and fellowship space might change to accommodate the new expressions of this new, tolerant, strong Christian identity.

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