Must the Church Die for the True Church to Live?
Updated: Dec 27, 2019
Could these words indeed be true for the Church? Could it be that the Church as we know it must also die, in order for the true Church, to live?
The Church of which I speak is the Church of literalism, fundamentalism, exclusionism and even abuse which has arisen out of a patriarchal structure of protectionism rather than the perennial love which Jesus came to both embody and teach us that we are also intended to incarnate. This was and is the historical Jesus whose paradoxical teaching often drifted over the heads of his male disciples. This was and is the cosmological Jesus who acknowledges each of us as brothers and sisters, created in God’s image, equal to each other as to himself; the embodiment of human and divine. This is the same Jesus who often speaks of the mystery of dying to our former selves in order to manifest our true and intended nature.
With great sorrow--but sadly, no surprise--I began reading the growing number of #MeTooChurch accounts finally becoming public. A database has been created to list the names of accused priests in an attempt to provide accountability while Ted Haggard and Bob Coy introduced the ranks of guilty Protestants. While I was a seminary student in the late 90’s, Bill Hybels was the evangelical pastor’s prototype. Groups of students made pilgrimages to Willow Creek Church, gleaning from Hybel’s expertise and style while his book, Becoming a Contagious Christian adorned desks as required reading. Now the voice of Pat Baranowski joins those of Mike Jones, a 14-year-old nameless girl and countless others who are forced to begin trusting the Church and God anew--if they are capable of overcoming the shame and betrayal they have experienced.
If we were to step back and ask ourselves honestly how and why this is currently happening, would it not be more appropriate--in light of the Church’s history of exclusion and silencing--to question, “How could this not have been happening all along?”
The mid twentieth century discoveries of the gospels of Thomas and Mary Magdalene among other sacred Christian wisdom writings present beautiful and mystical examples of Jesus’ teachings which contribute to a more balanced view of the status of women in his circle of disciples. While contemporary scholarship testifies to the early origins of these texts, decades after their discovery we hear almost nothing of their content. History has always been written by those in positions of power; is this why we have given so little attention to what is written in these texts and the possible role their exclusion from canon has had in perpetuating a male dominated Church?
Sadly, early Church leadership began to define sin in sexual terms and female desire while asserting a priestly progression of male celibate priesthood--none of which hold Scriptural validity--while subordinating Mary from enlightened disciple to prostitute and practically eliminating any mention of female followers of Jesus. By the time Constantine declared Christianity the official state religion and formal canon was established, the gospels of Thomas and Mary were hidden away, along with their truths about the nature of integral spirituality, the divine available within each of us and the place of women among Jesus’ followers.
Understandably, we are now experiencing the consequences of a Church which has been limping through the centuries, missing a significant portion of Jesus’ teaching and the voices of those silenced. Just as God cannot be understood without a plethora of male and female descriptors, the Church depends upon a full understanding of Jesus’ inclusive teachings. Jesus came to lift humanity out of mythic religious practices based upon saying and doing the “right” things in an effort to appease a God “out there.” Yet most of Christianity remains cemented in magical beliefs and practices which exclude anyone who refuses to go along with this tribal mentality and eliminates or at least regulates the full contribution of women and others.
#MeTooChurch is but a symptom of the true problem. It is not just the problem of each victim, nor that of the predator or even their churches. This is your problem; this is my problem. So once again, I ask the question whether the Church with its lopsided paternalistic power structures of saying and doing the right things must die, so that a Church of transformative love embodied through all persons of any gender might live?
Are we, the Church, willing to face the behemoth lurking behind our closed doors of patriarchy and power, or is this Church simply too big to see the monster in the mirror? Is the risk of losing contributions to oversee megachurch mortgages and staff salaries so high that looking at ourselves is too frightening?
Or are we able to hear the promise of new being again as God’s voice from the garden resounds in Jesus' words, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12.24)?
I believe that #MeTooChurch is reflecting the monster and revealing the dirtiness lurking behind the closed doors of patriarchy which has accumulated over centuries. Yet I also believe that #MeTooChurch could be the necessary start to the unraveling of a tightly woven tapestry such that each thread of its history might be rewoven into the once suppressed voices of women, gays, transgenders and all who have been formerly silenced, to create a divine, relevant masterpiece.
To say that the Church must die in order for the True Church to live may sound brutal and severe to some, but then again, so was that death on a cross which brought the new life, of which Mary Magdalene was the first to proclaim.