By Blake Tommey
ATLANTA — “If we want a plan of action for reintroducing the way of Christ in America, we must start by provoking a reconsideration of what Christianity is supposed to be, and that’s a very Baptist thing to do,” Brian McLaren at a June 29 workshop during the 2017 CBF General Assembly in Atlanta.
The workshop, titled Reintroducing the Way of Christ in America: A Plan of Action, centered Cooperative Baptists on the church’s gradual loss of the true way of Christ throughout history and the corresponding work of utterly redefining Christianity itself in the United States, which the church must engage with great seriousness and urgency, McLaren added.
“Everyone is so certain that they have what it means to be a Christian figured out, and we’ve got to provoke some thinking, a reconsideration,” McLaren said. “For starters…we have to acknowledge what Christianity is to a whole lot of people who have left [the church] or are in the process of leaving.
“This is the reason they’re leaving, because of what it is and it has become — a nostalgia enclave, the only place where we keep parlor music of the mid-nineteenth century alive, a place where certain ways of life and certain ways of treating women from the past are kept alive, certain ways of isolating and practicing segregation are kept alive. This sort of nostalgia is very popular in America right now and that’s what Christianity is about.”
Ahead of his keynote address before the entire General Assembly on June 29, McLaren outlined his assessment of the regressive identity markers of Christianity today, acknowledging that for many people the church remains a chaplaincy to white nationalism, an upholder of patriarchy, a friend of environmental destruction, a weapon of mass distraction, a supporter of anti-science world views and a threat to minorities.
Instead, McLaren implored, the church must begin to reintroduce the true way of Christ in the U.S., in which the church becomes an agent of racial reconciliation, an underminer of patriarchy, a proclaimer of the sacredness of creation, a preacher of peace and inclusion, a challenger of ignorance and an includer and protector of despised minorities.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, McLaren added, has the unique challenge, not only of introducing the true way of Christ, but of resisting the temptation to simply become “a sightly less offensive version of the same, old thing.” As the Fellowship engages this work, he added, it must provoke a new conversation, celebrate diverse leaders who espouse peace and inclusion and, more than anything, speak prophetic truth despite blowback and institutional casualties.
“The Civil Rights Act was in 1964 and we’ve still got pastors who have never said a word about racism in America,” McLaren said.
“Come on. How about it? It would have been nice if they were saying it in 1864 or 1764. When is this going to happen? You can get fired, but you can also be so careful that you never address the issues that need to be addressed. In between those options, there is a path of fidelity. [For instance], show up this Sunday, and in your prayer, pray ‘God, help white people in our country to learn to love people of color as their equals and as their neighbors…help us learn to love and trust one another as we should…help us in this church.’ There are ways you can do that; you can provoke a reconsideration. You don’t have to convince everybody tomorrow, but you better take some stabs.”
In closing, McLaren said that the church should model the work of a prophet — someone who speaks a needed truth in the process of being persecuted, expelled or killed — and in order to do so, must create new congregations and faith communities that are growing to embody “a new kind of Christianity” based in reconciliation, justice, peace and inclusion. As it does so, he added, the church will propel a universal movement around Jesus and his radical good news that challenges institutions and prevents them from stagnating.
“We need new congregations that go way out where we need them to be, addressing the issues we need, forming new ways of life we need, living out a faith. We need ones who are going to go way further than 97 percent of the people in our existing churches are willing to go. We need new congregations to innovate so that existing congregations can imitate. Both are important — they’re not enemies — and they are necessary for each other.”
CBF is a Christian network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.