If you live in Georgia the story of Shorter College and the faith statement one is required to sign is about a week old. There has been no shortage of opinions concerning this “goodie-two shoes” approach to controlling people’s lives.
I guess as a private institution they can have any rule they want. With that said, the college has absolutely no business in people’s bedrooms. They choose to quote the Old Testament for the reasoning for this rule…I believe that in the Old Testament polygamy seemed to be acceptable, stoning wives for adultery was the law of the day and marriages for the most part were arranged. Shorter University is certainly on a power trip of the worst kind.
Yet there is a deeper and far more dangerous issue which is occurring in regards to this faith statement that people are being forced to sign.
In fact, it is just not Shorter College and their homophobia; it is a “Church Universal” problem from almost every main-line traditional church to the most conservative, evangelical church. This dangerous issue happens to one degree or another in each and every organized congregation.
The “Church” does not want you and me to own our faith. The “Church” requires you and me to either rent or lease our faith. Sadly, that has been the situation for a very long time.
Remember when Jesus chastises the Jewish leadership in his day (Matthew 23:1-12):
Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.
“Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’
“Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
“Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.”
I would encourage the reader to read the rest of the chapter as Jesus has hit the nail right on the head.
Think about when one signs a rental agreement. There are always lists of things that can you evicted from the property. If there are problems with the property the owner may listen and respond or they may not…if you are not happy, too bad…move out.
Sound familiar? Think really hard, isn’t that what belonging to a church is all about? What is really sad and dangerous is what this does to the individual person of faith.
The “Church” has a list of those things that keep us in good standing as far a renting your faith from God. Screw up enough of them on the list and we are told our relationship with God is no longer valid. Think I am kidding? Consider:
My partner’s father was a hard working man with twelve children. The family was Episcopalian. With twelve children to support and a stay-at-home wife, it required him to work an extra job. The extra job kept him from coming to church very often.
When he suddenly died at the age of fifty-seven from a massive heart attack (probably from working much too hard) the church refused to conduct the funeral or give him a proper burial because he was not in good standing.
What about if we don’t confess prior to participating in “Holy Communion”? We can be refused the host and drink. Don’t take Communion for long enough and we are considered outside the faith.
Are we baptized? If not, then our relationship with Jesus is not valid with God.
Be outside the proscribed norm for the understanding of sexual orientation, the proper participation of sexual activities or not follow the proper definition of gender identity and we are told our relationship with God is not valid.
Another problem with renting instead of owning is there is no reason to invest, grow or improve what is being rented. Why? Because it is not ours, it can all be taken away in an instant…so why bother? How many empty pews are there on Sunday morning these days? People have given up, walked away or found all these rental agreements set forth by the “Church” to be irrelevant to their everyday lives.
Not to be outdone, “The Church” has taken to a marketing campaign to fill it’s quota of rentals not because it cares about our spiritual needs and relationship with God but because… well, please just read Matthew 23. The methodology is even more heinous then in Jesus’ time… PowerPoint presentations, full orchestras, only the best of the best singers, grand buildings, and huge congregations complete with pastors who are nothing more than snake-oil salesmen convincing you if you buy their product you will be saved and if you don’t buy it there is a place reserved for you in the fiery pit of hell.
Shorter College is a perfect example.
The “Church” has had it backwards for a very long time. Jesus taught and lived in such a way that it was clear it was about owning our faith with God and not renting it.
People who own something invest in it. They make an effort to improve it, place value and priority in it. People, who own it, protect it with their lives. Ownership does not allow for one to just walk away and replace it on a whim. When Jesus said the greatest love we can show is by laying down our lives for another…that doesn’t happen with a rental faith…that only can happen when we own our faith.
I have come to understand our job as persons of faith is not about the conversion of souls…it is about the protection of souls. Our job is not to figure out why one has a need and how bad they were to get to this needed place but rather simply meet the need.
Not once did Jesus ever tell someone how screwed up they were but rather treated them as owners of their faith and met the need in measure with their faith.
In today’s world, if we dare to take ownership of our faith, we will be told we are crazy, misfits or rebels. If we dare to claim that our relationship with God is ours and we will no longer allow for guilt trips to be laid upon us or told how and when to practice our faith, we will be called heretics, scandalous or worse, perverts.
When we own our relationship with God rather than rent or lease it, this gives us the ability to understand that maybe by accident or maybe with intentionality, the “Apple” company had it exactly right theological-speaking when they wrote:
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
When we own our faith we can then live out the meaning of these words found recently on the internet:
“I choose…to live by choice, not by chance;
to make changes, not excuses;
to be motivated, not manipulated;
to be useful, not be used;
to excel, not compete;
I choose self-esteem, not self pity;
I choose to listen to my inner voice(God), not the random opinion of others.”