The 2012 Presidential Election has come and gone. The nation along with the electorate has emerged from the rubble intact, although still very much divided. Social media streams remain flooded with ideological rants, rumors of state secession, and folk apocalyptic treatises claiming the “end” is now near. However, most reasonable citizens have stepped outside and glanced up at the sky, taking note that the heavens have not yet begun to fall to earth. They then lower their gaze, confident the ground will not swallow them up on account of President Obama being reelected to a second term. At the end of the day, life goes on. We will go about our lives much in the same way we went about them before the election. A return to normalcy is inevitable, welcomed, and necessary. Yet the normalcy to which we return is still a society of a radical polarization that runs much deeper than our choice for president. Deep prejudices and ideological differences remain, yet many remain hopeful. Some have suggested another world is possible. I agree. To be honest it is not only possible but essential to our country. To break the cycles of division we must abandon the tired debates that perpetuate this gridlock and elect a new paradigm entirely.
Christianity is still undergoing the growing pains of the Emergent Church movement, threatening to splinter the faithful once again into even further disarray. The secular world is still appalled by the archaic social policies championed by many Evangelicals. The more progressive factions of the church still struggle to reveal a meaningful and logical faith to the world while simultaneously fending off their own spiritual leaders who cry heresy. I once held the optimism many still possess today, hoping against hope that a new Christianity would soon blossom. While that indeed may transpire, such revolution is most likely reserved for our grandchildren, if not our great-great-grandchildren.
In the meantime, church councils continue spinning their wheels developing lackluster programs that amount to little more than self-help programs for a dwindling and aging audience. In the meantime, gay and lesbian teenagers are still sinking into depression or opting for suicide because their Christian friends and families condemn them to hell fire. In the meantime, the rift between theists and atheists continues to grow wider and wider, along with the rift between the gospel and any potential receptivity for wider social reform. While the battle rages to define and defend the meaning of authentic Christianity, the world waits for this Jesus to finally emerge from the tomb of irrelevance.
After a decade of theological courses and several years in active ministry, I came to the personal conclusion that the root of the problem was church itself. It was an awkward conclusion at which to arrive since I had invested the entirety of my education and vocational aspirations to serving and ministering to those within the local church. I do not mean to insinuate churches are evil or corrupt. They are simply not effective catalysts for the type of change the Jesus narrative implies. To be more precise, the “good news” has been supplanted by a mandate to invite people to church functions, “win” souls to Christ, or to promote particular “truths” that must be accepted in order to gain God’s favor. To be even more precise, the church has become preoccupied with reassuring itself.
While many streams of Christianity have begun moving in more meaningful directions, it often resembles a mere flirtation with general spirituality. There is nothing wrong with being a progressive Christian, but if your goal is to somehow transform Christianity into secular humanism, then prepare for a long and heartbreaking journey. Such naiveté is paramount to those expecting to convert the whole world to their particular religion or worldview.
So often I come across Christians whose rhetoric screams, “I am a Christian but man oh man sometimes I wish I wasn’t a Christian, because you know how crazy those Christians can be.” They know it and everyone else in the room knows it. Being a Christian comes with a ton of inconvenient baggage. It is a distraction of astronomical proportions. It ultimately led me to seek new answers. After much thoughtful prayer, excruciating spiritual pain, the sum of my personal experiences, endless contemplation, and several conversations with close friends both inside and outside the Christian faith, it became clear to me that the world was still in need of saving, but awkwardly (again) the church, and Christianity in general, was not prepared to be agent of that change. At least not yet.
Immediately apparent in my conclusion was the fact the world does not need another religion, or even another brand of a current religion. On the other hand the world is still largely a religious place, so calling for fewer religions would only further alienate those at home in faith traditions. The problem with the status quo is an unhealthy preoccupation with belief. Any change must shatter that mold. But how?
I came to believe the unifying factor for humanity must be action, not belief. We must rally around something tangible, something real and life-giving. We must set aside our petty disputes of theology, ecclesiology, ontology, and metaphysics. Put simply, we must learn to love each other genuinely. How is this possible? The narrative of Jesus must be our new unifying factor, but not the way you might suspect.
I started weoccupyjesus.org back in March of this year. It is an attempt to reshape the landscape to include all who are inspired by what Jesus represents, to take back the name of Jesus from special interests and religious fundamentalism. It is a community of atheists, theists, agnostics, and anyone who has been inspired by the gospel narrative. We do not denounce our current convictions, nor ask anyone else to leave their beliefs behind. We simply have a new naive hope that in the midst of our unity and cooperation something truly spiritual is taking place.
We do not seek to strip away Christ’s divinity, or to convert atheists to a life of religion. We do not seek to elevate works over faith. We simply believe that living like Jesus is its own reward. We encourage Christians to keep their faith, maintain their roles in local congregations, and to be the best Christians they can be. We encourage skeptics to be critical, to always question, to always seek the truth as revealed to them, to value this life fiercely. By setting aside the disputes over the unknowable, there is a new freedom that quickly emerges.
Immediately some Christians took offense that any group would use Jesus’ name without first signing off on all the tenants of the “in-house” theology, as if we cannot value the significance of Jesus’ story and example based on its own merits. Instead of asking the Church to change to fit our personal convictions, we agree to let Christianity decide its own identity. Occasionally we come across an angry evangelical who believes somehow we are promoting atheism by not taking a stance on God’s existence or Christ’s divinity. The sheer terror of a world filled with atheists living like Jesus is simply too overwhelming. The possibility that God would accept a skeptic’s life of selflessness as an act of worship never crosses their minds.
More often we receive suspicion from anti-theists who believe we seek to kidnap them, throw them in a van, drive them to a creepy Church camp and sing 70’s folk Christian songs to them until they confess Jesus as personal savior. We forgive them quickly for this suspicion, mostly because many Christians have been hauled off to “Jesus camp” early in life against their will. While the secular community is slow to come around, the ones who have joined our fast-growing virtual community are some of our most “devout” and passionate members. It is truly a beautiful experience that would be nearly impossible outside of We Occupy Jesus.
There are also many advantages when doctrine and dogma are removed from the equation. There is no organism we are forced to continuously reform. We are the organism and we are already fixed. We are already united, since unity is our primary goal. We have already agreed to put our differences aside. We are already the embodiment of Jesus on earth because we choose to simply live like him, without the structures put in place by the institutions to cloud our passions, to pacify us with programs and propaganda. When we convene, we have already made the choice to be reconciled to our brothers and sisters. We have already forgiven them, and they us. As Jesus would say… “It is finished.”
We Occupy Jesus is not Christianity, but movements like these are important for Christianity. It allows for those within the Church to participate in communities that affirm their convictions as meaningful without fear of political ramifications or (gasp) excommunication, while reforming Christianity simultaneously by fostering greater love for members of the secular community. We Occupy Jesus is also important because it allows for the general humanistic commonalities held by both theists and atheists to be seen clearly by both sides. For us it is clear that many are saying the same things, working to achieve similar goals for a better world even if we disagree profoundly regarding the metaphysics involved. A new day is coming. Some would say it is already here.