jeudi, septembre 13, 2007
My editorial from the Inky
At the crossroads,
a new choice
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Let's toast Philadelphia's Cardinal Justin Rigali for his visit to a Northern Liberties pub. In a taproom crammed with young people, the prelate grabbed a microphone and shared tales from his decades working for three popes.
Rigali was the third prelate to participate in Theology on Tap, a national Roman Catholic program that sends speakers into places such as bars to reach out to young people.
The fact that Rigali shared personal narrative, not propositional theology, and his choice of venue, indicates that Catholics are hip to a simple truth many other denominational leaders have been slow to grasp: If you want to reach non-believers, disbelievers and used-to-believers, you don't wait for them to show up in your pew on Sunday.
In this post-Christendom age, you have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone.
But with all due respect to Rigali and other proponents of taproom dialogue, those serious about engaging denizens of our postmodern culture need to venture a lot farther than a pub to make a real difference.
The fact is, Christian denominations of all sorts face the challenge of becoming irrelevant to a large segment of the American public.
A Barna Research group study in 2005 estimated that 47 percent of American adults attend church on an average weekend. Other pollsters tell us 40 percent is closer to the truth. Factor in the possibility that people polled sometimes embroider the facts to suit their own version of reality, and the number of church attendants is probably even smaller.
Enter the Emerging Church movement.
Born in places such as England and Australia, where Christianity has increasingly become a sideshow rather than an influential force, the movement tries to engage post-Christian culture in a two-way conversation, not a monologue.
If there is one constant characterizing these new faith communities (many are even uncomfortable with the label "Emerging Church") it is diversity. Participants meet in pubs, homes, warehouses.
They gather for large services or in small discussion or prayer groups. They write blogs and reach across cultures and continents. Some have ordained leaders. Others don't. They experiment with state-of-the-art technological worship tools and ancient monastic liturgies.
Blending contextual evangelism with a commitment to social change, a growing number of individuals and faith communities in the movement are becoming advocates for racial justice, creation care, and other causes.
Because it is quintessentially postmodern in its multiple-media networks and lack of an overarching bureaucracy, it is hard to know how many individuals or faith communities are part of it.
The reform movement doesn't lack for critics. Traditionalists and evangelicals alike sometimes accuse its leaders of giving in to unorthodox beliefs, relativism, universalism (the belief that salvation is possible for non-Christians) and syncretism.
But as author, pastor and Emerging Church activist Brian McLaren implies in an interview with the online magazine Precipice, many Emergents are driven also by frustration with the ideological battles that are tearing apart traditional churches.
"People who like to divide the world into those categories, and who themselves identify with the 'right,' may feel that anybody who isn't like them is 'left.' But really, many of us think that whole binary way of thinking is terribly problematic," he says.
Many of the faith communities that have arisen under the umbrella of the Emerging Church movement may eventually sputter out, or even morph, heaven help us, into institutions.
But even if they do, one message is loud and clear: that the institutional walls we build to protect us often do so at the expense of our Gospel call to engage the hearts and minds of those who provoke us most deeply.