“Not connected – not responsible”
You’ve probably heard me speak of this, or perhaps even blog about it before…
There are two extremes that I see. 1) people who are religious, but claim to be ‘non-denominational.’ 2) people who are not religious, and claim to have absolutely no affiliation with anything remotely religious or ‘God’ oriented. I see a number of problems with both of these stances – and I think they’re quite prevalent.
If you like to connect with Christian community, that’s great that you’re open to all forms of expression! Openness is a value I share. The down-side to being ‘non-denominational’ is that it expresses ignorance of one’s background or the reason we uphold certain traditions. It’s true that I am Lutheran, but that does not mean I only associate with other Lutherans or that my ministry is exclusive to those who also claim to be Lutheran. I am Lutheran, and I know that it stems from a certain ethnic background (German) and that it is a branch of the western version of Christianity (Roman Catholicism) and that the modern-day expression of it invites thought as to what we do and why we do it, and that it is also a denomination that seeks ecumenical relations. Also, in my version of Lutheranism (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada) I know that we are connected with organizations like Canadian Council of Churches, CLWR, KAIROS, and the Lutheran World Federation, and that such organizations also seek co-operation with other groups (like ACT, Canadian Foodgrains Bank) so to be more effective in ministry in different parts of this country and the world. It is important to know what one’s openness is, based on the community they choose to connect with; it is important to know something of one’s background, too!
On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who claim no affiliation whatsoever. “I don’t subscribe to organized religion,” or “religion causes evil in the world” are the kinds of statements sometimes heard by people who claim no affiliation like this. This seems to be an ignorance of another kind. It’s ignorant of the systems in which we find ourselves – for example, those who are of white, European descent and live in North America are implicated in the awful things that were carried out on First Nations peoples in residential schools. They are implicated by association, whether they like it or not! Yes, I am part of a church, now, and churches have claimed their share of the responsibility for such abuses, but that does not mean that I, myself – or others of my generation in the church – had any direct connection to such awful acts. Yet there are those who would like to “remain neutral” by dissociating. This is just one example. (Another would be the way in which people form opinions of religious groups based solely on negative media reports – such as those of priests who abuse children. Of course, the media does not always balance such news with the good in which churches are often involved, or the positive influence many other priests have had in many other children’s lives.) To be clear, I am not justifying residential schools or abusive priests; hear me when I say that I think it’s good that church communities are accepting responsibility for such things. My point: we’re all implicated more than we may think.
Faith communities – of whatever tradition – are not perfect groups. They, like society, have all kinds associating with them. What they can do well is to gather their communities regularly, journey with their people, and offer moments of reflection and pause in what can otherwise be lives filled with busy-ness.
What I would want to say to those who are either ‘non-denominational’ or ‘non-religious’ is this… Consider embracing a tradition for a while. Perhaps it would stem from your curiosity about your own background, or from your interest in another. And do not fall into the trap of trying to show yourself to be open, and therefore unconnected or somehow without responsibility for that tradition’s mis-steps in the past. Part of faith community – when it is done well – is to acknowledge failings and to seek restoration. The idea is to engage in life in deep and meaningful ways, and such ways are not always comfortable or easy.
Be connected. Be responsible. Peace be with you!