Thursday, March 19, 2009

Losing Faith in the Church

I was almost dumbstruck this morning to read a piece by the Rev. Dr. Anne Brower, senior chaplain and director of the Healing Ministry at the Washington National Cathedral, and contributor to The Washington Post's "On Faith" column.

In the piece entitled "Losing Faith in Institutional Religion," Brower starts off noting the statistics which show that while many Americans view themselves as "spiritual," they are not affiliated with religious institutions like churches. For Brower, this raises the question of whether Americans are losing faith, or just losing faith in institutional religion. While many have noted this phenomenon and the questions it raises, Brower uses it to take the train off the rails. Here's what she writes:

Most Christian institutions cling to the dogma and doctrine established in 325 A.D. by a religious minority. They are not incorporating all the new facts that we have found in recent archeological digs or in recently discovered writings from the periods written about in the Bible. For instance, The Gospel of Thomas, written at the same time as the Gospel of John, yet excluded from the Bible since Thomas did not include the Passion of Jesus Christ, gives us a different insight into salvation.

Fundamentalism in Christianity, or belief in the literal translation of the Bible (or belief in Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation), while providing a safe haven for many, EXCLUDES the majority of spiritual people. Progressive believers by living a metaphorical translation of the Bible are INCLUSIVE. They acknowledge the legitimacy of all religions.

The United States is part of the whole world, economically, politically, socially and environmentally. It must be. Why should we isolate ourselves religiously? We need to be inclusive of all religions. According to Houston Smith, author of "The World Religions," they all lead to the same end.

Besides meriting some of the same criticism leveled against a Trinity Sunday sermon by the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester (the so-called "Buddhist" bishop-elect of Northern Michigan), I agree with Matt Kennedy that the substance of this piece smacks more of an acquaintance with The Da Vinci Code than with sound scholarship in New Testament and Church History.

I also think that The Reformed Pastor hits a nail on the head in response to Brower:

The Rev. Brower knows less about the formation of the Bible, church history, and Christian theology than virtually anyone in my church plant core group, and seems to have gotten some of her talking points from the “On Faith” comments columns, but that’s not really the point. The point is that if people listened to her, and took her approach to religion, there would be absolutely no reason for them to have anything to do with any religious institution. When an Episcopal priest tells you that all religions “lead to the same end,” that pretty much anything you want to call “spiritual” is fine by Whoever (or Whatever) It (or She, or He/She) Is (or Isn’t) that’s in charge (or isn’t) of the universe, why have anything to do with religious institutions at all? Me, I’d just as soon sleep late on Sunday as have anything to do with, e.g., a Cathedral that would employ a person who has such little regard for the faith that she supposedly stands for.

Brower begins by noting the loss of faith in institutional religion, but she ends up endorsing a loss of faith in the Church as the Body of Christ that makes unique claims on our lives and loyalties that cannot be reduced to the claims made by other religious traditions.

1 comment:

Joe Rawls said...

National Cathedral recently had big layoffs, which obviously didn't include her, more's the pity. Her Healing Ministry apparently doesn't include intellectual healing, which she desperately needs--along with a big percentage of TEC leadership.