How Christianity Must Change to Live
Copyright 2010, John Manimas Medeiros
Bishop John Shelby Spong announced to the world in convincing and elegant prose that "Christianity must change or die." I agree. Here I present a summary of how Christianity must change in order to survive and live on a planet that has grown tired of religious wars and the great social and moral damage that is done by political authorities who use religion as a weapon. Many more supporting details appear in my book: The Primacy of Stewardship: The Handbook for Christians Who Believe in Democracy.
#1) Christians must denounce evangelistic violence and fundamentalist violence. This means specifically any religious claim that only membership in a particular religious sect or religious organization will assure that an individual is approved and loved by God. For those religions that require belief in a Creator God, the religion teachers must state clearly that God judges or evaluates everyone according to their conduct. There is no "salvation by membership." To claim that one's religion is exclusively sponsored by God and that one is saved or morally righteous only through membership in such a "one true religion" is the first step toward religious authoritarianism and genocide or holocaust. This is where evangelistic violence leads. One need only make this claim verbally, that there is one true religion before God, to have completed this initial act of violence. The stage is then set for public arguments that non-believers should be punished if they do not convert, and if they resist conversion they should be killed. The claim of exclusive access to God, or to divinity, or to a relationship with the spiritual world, leads to the claim that it is not only acceptable to kill non-believers, but it is required by God.
Christians must renounce this pattern of behavior. It must be agreed that it is against the rules for any Christian teacher to teach salvation by membership. It must be acknowledged by Christians that this renunciation of salvation by membership is explicitly supported by the teaching of Jesus Christ, the alleged first Christian. In both the parable of the Good Samaritan and the parable of the Two Sons, and in many other passages in the four Gospels, Jesus made it abundantly clear that his teaching was that the worth of a person is revealed in their conduct and in the fruits of their labor. When the disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus if he was the one they were looking for, he did not respond "Yes." He said they should report back to John that the lame walk, the blind see, the lepers are cleansed and the Gospel is preached to the poor -- meaning the poor are educated free of charge. He applied to himself the principle that he taught for evaluating a "prophet" according to the results of their work.
#2) Christians must actively defend principles of economic justice. Christians must openly acknowledge that Jesus practiced an extreme form of equality and democracy. His teaching tells us that "socialism" and "communalism" are natural and effective ways for people to maintain standards of social and economic justice. Christians must reject the claims of the American plutocracy that socialism and communism are anti-democratic. People throughout the world, both wealthy and poor outside the United States of America, have experienced socialism and communism as positive experience. Many cultures are more comfortable with law and customs that treat the major tools of agriculture and industry as communal property rather than as private property. In coastal tribal societies, a group of men build a boat; their wives and sisters make nets; they go out onto a dangerous sea and use the nets and other tools they made with their own hands or traded for in their village; they return with fish. They would be confused if any individual said, "This is my boat," or "These are my fish." The boat belongs to the group, the fish belong to the group.
In modern, developed states the principles of socialism lead to such institutions as group homes for the elderly and retired or disabled, social security pensions, public health programs, regulations that prevent the strong and selfish from cheating the gullible, the innocent, the weak. These are principles of justice taught by Christ but also taught by other teachers and recognized throughout the world as serving the needs of the people. In order for the Christian religion to survive and live in the future, Christians must separate themselves from capitalists who use and distort religious teachings to justify the behavior of those who argue that it is okay for the rich to exploit and rob the poor.
#3) Christians must reject the "just war" argument in favor of the "human accountability principle." This means that Christians must denounce any argument that acts of war are ordained or even supported by a Christian God. We must treat war as caused and sustained only by human desires and human decisions. All religion teachers of every religion must be invited to participate in a universal rejection of doctrines that teach the viewpoint that God wants religious people to address social and political conflict by violent destruction of property and killing human beings. Acts of war are not necessarily absolutely forbidden, in the sense that one might argue that in order to be a Christian one must be a pacifist. A Christianity with a future may allow the individual the decision to participate in war, but with the understanding that the individual must accept full and final responsibility for the act of war. Every Christian must be forbidden to teach that God wants one group of people to kill another group of people.
#4) Christians must allow individual judgment regarding belief in "God" and complete individual freedom for every person to apply secular science in the service of explaining and understanding the origin of life. It must be admitted publicly that even if we were created by a Creator God, a benevolent God would have to provide us with means to understand who we are and what we are. Therefore, it is consistent with a divine plan that we use our own intellectual and scientific resources to search for understanding. Belief in the human capacity to know must not be deemed to be a violation of faith, but rather an affirmation of faith in the creation, however created.
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