Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Unapologetically Christian vs Christ-Centered" by Tony

One of the concerns I came away from the YAF gathering in Wichita with is the use of the phrases Christ-centered and unapologetically Christian. While some folks seem comfortable using these terms interchangeably, to me there is a significant difference. Christ-centered is a statement of where I am but it does not require or even suggest that anyone else needs to be at the same place, so it feels more open to the kind of theological hospitality that is characteristic of convergent Friends. For me, it is a place of openness that invites people into conversation about what that means. To be unapologetically anything is the language of presupposed confrontation, i.e. I have drawn a line in the sand and I will not back down even if you demand it of me. It feels like the language of walls rather than bridges and seems to invite others to build their own walls as well (what if the next group to host a YAF event decides they need to be unapologetically non-Christian ?). And there it seems you have the history of Friends to date. So why would we need or want gatherings or events that only add another row of stones to the wall rather than seeking to remove one?

I am not unapologetically Christian. When you look at Christianity’s track record, it’s hard for me to imagine how anyone would not feel the need to be extremely apologetic for the persecutions and gross injustices that have been inflicted on the world by those who have called themselves Christians. Not only does the word Christian carry all this baggage from the past, but in the present it has come to be associated with a set of theological, political, and social stances that I do not always find to be reflective of my own understanding and experience of what it means to follow Jesus. This is why I am more comfortable describing myself as being Christ-centered or as being a follower of Jesus, or a disciple, not in the exclusive sense of being some spiritual guru, but in the true meaning of the word which is simply a learner.

If there is hope for a future for Friends marked by anything other than the same divisions and resentments we have nurtured in the past, we have to find a non-confrontational way of being with one another and listening to one another. And the key word here is find. In order to find something, we have to actively engage ourselves in the act of looking for it, as the Scripture says, “seek and you will find.” It will not just happen but requires an intentional atmosphere of openness and hospitality to and for one another. Not just YAFs, but all of us need to work to create that kind of space in all our gatherings.


John Stephens said...

My Friend speaks my mind.


Bill Samuel said...

I have a friend who left Friends who gets upset about the term "Christ-centered" and doesn't feel it applies to him. I think he would be comfortable with unapologetically Christian.

I never really understood why this Friend was so bothered with "Christ-centered" but you've given me a clue here.

I also left Friends essentially because I am unapologetically Christian. But I don't agree that this requires everyone else to be in the same place.

I essentially went to the emerging church. I have found a church which I think can be accurately described as unapologetically Christian, but does not believe in using that as a weapon against those who are not and welcomes them to attend as authentically who they are.

What I have found is a community that doesn't fit the conventional boxes. Neither did the early Friends.

You can be unapologetically Christian and not fit the conservative Christian stereotype.

Tony said...

Several things have happened in my life that changed my perspective on this. One was the experience I mentioned on facebook down in Cherokee when the elderly gentleman told me how the missionaries (who happened to be Quaker) washed his mouth out with soap for speaking his own language. Another took place when our fellowship was having our website built. The guy who was doing it made a point several times of telling me he was surprised we wanted him working on it because he was not a Christian. Along the way I asked him a few questions and realized that he was a person of faith. I finally asked him if he believed in Jesus and he answered yes. So I asked why he didn't think he was a Christian and his response about knocked me over. "I'm not a Republican," he explained. "don't you have to vote Republican to be a Christian?"
Conversations like that make me wonder when I say I'm a Christian what that is communicating to those who hear it. That's why i prefer to say I'm a follower or trying to be a follower of Jesus

Anonymous said...

I've met several people who seem to think Christian is a synonym for Republican -- I've also met Christians who's support of their communist government is treated as religious duty.

Faith and politics mix badly.

Bill Samuel said...

Well maybe we need to reclaim the word Christian, which is basically a fine word. But follower of Jesus may help, although I think most people would translate that in their heads as "Christian" so I'm not sure it really avoids the problem.

"Christ-centered" is not a word in that common circulation, except in limited circles. And it's very ambiguous in meaning. I suspect most ordinary people would translate it as Christian. But some really do mean it as someone less committed to Christ than a Christian.

Tom Smith said...

I have been told the story about Gandhi that in speaking with some Christian missionaries one said to Gandhi that at times he seemed "Christ-like." Gandhi responded that was one of the best compliments he had ever received. Another missionary said "Yes you sometimes seem Christian." Gandhi's response was that he considered that one of the worst derogatory names.

The missionaries that I personally have known have been of at least two types: Those who follow Christ's commands in the Gospels and loved those they sought to serve; and those who treated those they were meant to serve as less than human (even using derogatory terms of the harshest kind) and who supported the worst treatment for those who had not "accepted" their exact view.

Unapologetically Christian seems to ignore the many actions in the name of Christianity that have not been actions that Christ seems to have "ordered."

I keep trying to ask myself "To Whom Do We Listen," as in "You have heard it said .... but I say unto you...."

I suspect that after almost 2000 years of quibbling over what does God/Christ require/say, we are no closer to having an acceptable term than any other the last few centuries.

Quaker Jane said...

It is not "theologically hospitable" to assert that anyone using the term "Christian" needs to not do so to be "theologically hospitable." If thee is seeking a "non-confrontational way of being with" me, as a Conservative Friend, for example, this attitude is not going to be helpful, because for me the term Christian is actually not negotiable. And yet, I am as happy as anyone to have fellowship with people of all sorts of religious persuasions, Quaker and non-Quaker alike.

This concern about what people do who are calling themselves Christian, and that even the majority of those calling themselves Christian are poor examples of anything Jesus called his followers to, is not the least bit new. Early Friends speak at great length about "professors" who "professed" to being Christian but were not, and indeed these "professors" persecuted Friends mightily for Friends' obedience to Christ. Yet early Friends loudly proclaimed themselves Christians, and instead asserted the falseness of the "professors" claim to the word.

My experience of people who wish to use "Christ-centered' rather than "Christian" is that they are intellectually balking not only at the sins of "professors" but are also balking at the submission to Christ that is actually required of true Christians. There is a natural resistance to being identified with the terrible damage that "professors" have done over the centuries, and, truly, a wall has been built up in people's minds against those false Christians. But if Christ is calling thee to him, to witness to the Truth and the Way, then the word for that is Christian. If Christianity is merely an intellectual exercise in what is comfortable for thee and what is comfortable for others, then call thyself whatever thee will.

Isn't it a more powerful witness to Christ to bravely face the terrible things done by those who would call themselves Christians, identify it, reject it, and show how true Christians act in the world? Won't the walls built in the minds of non-Christians by false "professors" be better breached by the Love of Christ as lived in the life of a true Christian than by abandoning his religion to those who are outside of the Truth?

John Woolman relates a dream in his Journal where Christians were oppressing a people (for that part of the dream, see below). This does not result in him deciding to no longer call himself a Christian but rather (eventually) resulted in his expanding his Christian witness against slavery.

Myself, I am a Christian who loves the Truth and seeks to do God's will in everything, as shown to me by the Christ Within.

From John Woolman's dream:
"I was then carried in spirit to the mines where poor oppressed people were digging rich treasures for those called Christians, and heard them blaspheme the name of Christ, at which I was grieved, for His name to me was precious. I was then informed that these heathens were told that those who oppressed them were the followers of Christ, and they said among themselves, 'If Christ directed them to use us in this sort, then Christ is a cruel tyrant.'"

TheYellowDart said...

Maybe Friends of this persuasion feel they need to be forward about their Christian affiliation (and not apologize), because there are many Friends who are unapologetically non-Christian and openly hostile to Christians even in Meeting. I completely understand Friends who are sour and snake-bitten on the institutional church, but that does not (or at least should not) always immediately transfer to every other person who calls themselves Christian.

Others here have said well that there are "professors" and charlatans not acting very Jesus-like who abuse little boys or swindle old ladies out of their pension on TV. Just because someone uses the name Democrat, or Republican, or gay, or Christian or Buddhist doesn't mean you should immediately expect the same behavior, thoughts and feelings from that person as has been your previous experiences with similar professors.

People should be able to self-label whatever they want, and we should still take them as an unique individual capable of surprise. Even if they are lapsed Christians who threw the baby (Jesus) out with the bathwater (the Institutional Church).

s.son said...

In all of what has been shared, I hear the underlying question: what does it mean to be in right relationship with one another and also with your Inner Guide (whether you call it Christ, the Light, etc.)?

In a single weekend like the Wichita gathering, we can really only encounter each other in a brief way that can easily feel like confrontation. Without a way to engage one another in an ongoing way and learn the subtleties and nuances of the other's faith in practice, we resort to the sorts of generalizations that are riddled with the baggage of history (as described in many of the comments here). I believe that if we were to have some means to have ongoing relationships with one another and witness the humility, submission, and obedience that the "other" displays in their life as lived from a basis of faith, we would all be a little closer to realizing a fuller kind of faithfulness.

If we come together without the basis of that experience, the worldly divisions and historical baggage quickly becomes the focus point, because we all know those things much more intimately than we know one another! I would say that allowing such divisions to remain between us when they could be transcended and transformed by relationship is a kind of sin, that such a distancing of ourselves from one another results in a distancing of us, corporately, from God.

And also, I can understand the hurt on both sides of this (those who feel the need to be unapologetically Christian and those who feel the need to be unapologetically NOT Christian). There has been great injustice and condemnation of both sides, and it is vitally important to not be afraid of, or prevented from, claiming your truth. However we all lose (and fail to extend and accept Grace) when we become reactionary and allow that history to become the basis of our gathering together.

I do believe it's possible to have a space where each can stand and speak their truth, name themselves as what they know themselves to be, and claim their experience without fear that they will be condemned or alienated, but I think it comes by focusing on the relationships between us rather than the warped baggage of history and the world's faulty definitions of our identities. Having the starting point of a gathering based in such blanketed way ("an un-apologetically Christian gathering") is in essence, starting with the world's divisions and trying to work backwards. We need to be more committed to hearing one another than we are committed to hearing (and reacting to) the voice of history and mother culture if we are ever to live into that vision of "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven."