The Death of the American Church: The Holy Divided Church

by - 6:59 AM

It's hard to write an article entitled "The Death of the American Church" without seeming like someone with an ax to grind. The immediate pull of the article will almost assuredly be people assuming I am here to gloom and doom about the woeful end of the sacred lifeblood of our nation. Or, alternatively, those who are here assuming I will spend the article gloating and prattling on in a fit of arrogant glee.  
This site however is dedicated to the concept of hope, and I assure you I will keep the woe and the glee to a minimum. And I will make sure any axes are out front and in plain view.

The Ax

Let me cut to the chase here. I will confess to having more than a few axes sitting on my workbench. 
Each one of them has been passed around quite a bit, and caused a significant deal of harm to our beloved body of Christ. 
Like the Tin Woodsman of Oz we have chopped at ourself, and chopped at ourself, removing limb after limb, claiming "It's but a flesh wound" while we muster ourselves up and start swinging again.
If you will pardon the blatant mixing of metaphors I think it paints an apt picture of how the church has been behaving for the last 50 years.

The church is losing parts of itself.
And maybe it needs to.

I remember watching a comedian as he described the difference between parenting styles. "There are two types of parents" he said "The first, puts covers on all the electrical outlets in the home and only gives the kid spoons to eat with. The second, gives the kid a fork and figures they will learn something no matter where they stick it"
I think we got the fork.

For the last few decades we have been cutting off parts of the body of Christ.  We are finally getting to the point where we can't function and for most of us, myself included, that instills the urge to circle the wagons even more.

It's "Us" vs "Them" after all isn't it? And in our frantic attempt to define an "Us" we keep growing our "Them".

In America we have a Black Church and a White Church. We have an Affirming Church and a Non-Affirming Church. Calvinist and Open Theist, Liberal and Conservative, Catholic and Protestant, Pepsi and Coke; whatever the delineation is, it rapidly becomes more than a line and swiftly marks itself as the new line in the sand.

What will it be tomorrow?

Who will we exclude next Thursday?

When did we drink this deep and when did the Catholic Body of Christ decide it didn't need any dissenting opinions.

Even in the Old Testament we had plenty of people with dissenting opinions. They were called the Prophets.

When I sat down to write this article I had a tentative title.
"The Death of The American Church Part 1: Gay Marriage and the Judgment of the Church".  
It was my ax for the day. It was my tidy way of creating a "Them". But as I started writing, a funny thing happened, I read what I wrote and had to back up. Then I wrote again, read it, and had to back up again. I did this a number of times before I realized I was committing the same mistake I was condemning. I had cast aside those who God created, for their actions and for their beliefs. I was "Them". I was making myself "Them".
And once you are a part of "Them". You begin to understand that "They" are "Us".

The Wound

The church in America is hurting, it's dying, but from self inflicted wounds. We are finally going to have to learn a very hard lesson.
We have to learn to stop drawing lines.
Once they are gone though, I have to wonder what the church would even look like?

I honestly wish I knew.

The church has never been whole in my lifetime, and I don't know if it will before I die.
But I know that if I ever want to see it be so, the first thing I have to do is accept that I am "Them".
Furthermore, I have to realize "I" am the problem. Not I, as in this one small woman, but"I" as in the concept of "I". 
Any vision of the church that doesn't include the entire body is the problem. Any vision of the problem that doesn't include me is the problem. Any desire to separate and divide, to lay blame and claim innocence is the problem. Because we are all guilty, and we are all blameless. We are each of us a part of a new birth even as our old selves linger and fade.

The question I ask is simply this: Can we give up our divisions?
Can we find the image of God in our brothers and sisters we have so long decided are not truly welcome at the table. Whoever that may be.
Can we be a community without a "Them"
As we stare down into the face of a church slowly being lowered into its grave.
Do we dare see "Them"? Do we dare see "Us"? Do we dare see ourselves?
Do we dare hope, that in finding our place in that ragged and limbless wreck, in suffering in the pains of this new death, that we can catch a glimpse of the hope that is to come.

I do, and I hope that this series will serve in some small way as a road map. A simple guide to the basic building blocks of the church that is to come. As people of the resurrection, we can't talk about death without looking forward to the life that is to come. And even so, we can't talk about the new birth without first laying the dead to rest. 

Let Us Pray, for the Church that is Dying and for the Church that is Rising.

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