This week, in the real life version of Draughting Theology, we will be discussing a chapter from Diana Butler Bass’ book Christianity After Religion entitled, “The End of the Beginning.” In it, she cites as study that showed that in 2010, 1 in 3 Americans said that they “almost never” trust the government to do the right thing. (p. 27) As I finished putting my notes together for tomorrow’s discussion, I turned to the Lectionary Page and re-read these themes in Sunday’s lessons: jealousy, quarreling, anger, insults, lust, and swearing oaths. As I read these words from Paul and Jesus, reflecting all the while on DBB’s chapter, it became clear to me that one of the areas in which Christianity is failing miserably is creating communities of trust.
This is, as the study discussed above suggests, not just a problem for the American Church. The lack of trust in institutions is widespread: see the decline of the United Way, the struggle to find active members in the American Legion or Rotary International, and the tenor of debate in and about Washington; but it seems to me that a tipping point occurs when the Church, the one place where trust should not be an issue, fails to create safe spaces for people.
The occasion for Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth was the constant bickering between Christians of various social strata and theological understanding. They fought over who should get the Eucharist, whose evangelists were the bringers of the true faith, and what a Gentile had to do to enter the faith. There was no trust, no willingness to leave the door open to the work of the Spirit, in the Church in Corinth, which is why Paul essentially called them “a bunch of whiny babies.”
In the midst of a difficult set of teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes time to offer examples of a communal lack of trust for his disciples. If you think you are right and everyone else is wrong, you’ve failed the trust game. If you want to jump ship on your marriage or our community of faith when the going gets even a little bit tough, you’ve failed at the trust game. When your own self-interests trump the interests of others and the heart of God, you’ve failed at the trust game.
The truth of the matter is that the Church in America is failing to create communities of trust. We’ve become so inner focused, so afraid of failure, that we’ve forgotten how to trust God and each other. Even denominations that claim to be united by region (diocese, presbytery, convention) or national office, are crumbling into stratified fiefdoms in which the national leadership hoards its perceived power and money, while mid-level judicatories hoard their perceived power and money, while local leadership does whatever it wants in the name of protecting their own perceived power and authority. We’ve become a nation of denominations filled with whiny babies.
The alternative, I suppose, is to model trust. Trust in God to carry us through. Trust in 2000 years of history to illumine the truth. Trust in our books of order and prayers and confessions to help us find God’s dream for us and for his creation. Trust that God’s yes means yes and God’s no means no, and that in the end, his kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.