WHAT WE REALLY WANT TO SEE
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
Justice Is a Verb!
April 11, 2017
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’
According to a September 2016 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), one in four adults in the United States are not affiliated with any religion. That group is called the “nones” and is larger than any religious denomination. The survey shows that the number of unaffiliated young people has jumped from 10 percent in 1986 to 39 percent in 2016, a 400 percent increase.
The “nones” haven’t given up on religious faith. They aren’t rejecting the notion that “there is sponsorship friendly to the human condition,” a phrase moral theologian and educator Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor used in his book My Moral Odyssey (Judson Press, 1989).
Instead, the “nones” show that people are growing increasingly unwilling to treat organized religion as the clearest and most appealing expression of their confidence that there is a “Friendly Force” in whom our aspirations for love, justice, peace, truth, compassion, forgiveness, and hope can be centered. Within the religion of Jesus, people haven’t given up on Jesus. They have stopped behaving as if organized religion – “the church” – is the best way to understand Jesus, follow Jesus, and live like Jesus.
Jesus embraced marginalized people. Jesus was a refugee as a child, and may have been an undocumented immigrant. Jesus was a religious outcast whose message and methods defied religious orthodoxy. His message was that in God, we can know “there is sponsorship friendly to the human condition.” Jesus presented himself as proof of that friendly sponsorship to women, children, and to other persons, who were disabled, disavowed, or considered socially or morally undesirable.
In other words, Jesus was unlike organized religion. He was not calling people to become part of any version of religious empire. Jesus called people to become part of a great fellowship with God and the rest of creation and to live in love, truth, justice, compassion, peace, and hope as part of that fellowship.
The “nones” appear to have decided that they have a better chance of experiencing oneness with God and the rest of creation and living in love, truth, justice, compassion, peace, and hope if they are not involved with organized religious institutions.
There is growing evidence they may be correct. When churches scramble to be favored by, funded, and identified with people responsible poisoning the air, water, and soil, people who care about respecting the earth and all beings and creatures who live on it have reason to distance themselves. When preachers and religious congregations engage in hateful rhetoric and conduct towards refugees, persons from other religious traditions, and persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, we are entitled to question whether they are trustworthy agents of divine love.
The truth revealed by the PRRI survey is that the religion of Jesus is not about church attendance, buildings, and cash, but about being agents of God’s grace, truth, peace, justice, mercy, and hope. It is about living and behaving so that people and the creation are delivered from oppressive forces and conditions. Whenever people embody the grace, truth, peace, justice, mercy, and hope of God they will show up, listen up, speak up, act up, and otherwise live as prophetic agents of God in our suffering and despairing world. They will not behave in the racist, sexist, materialistic, patriarchal, militaristic, imperialistic, homophobic, and xenophobic ways that have defined so much of organized religion.
We want to live before God and with one another the way Jesus lived. We want to love God and love one another the way Jesus loved. We want to be instruments of healing, forgiveness, inclusion, and subversive community the way Jesus was. The “nones” prove that people are leaving organized religion because they don’t see Jesus in religious capital campaigns, power grabs, doctrinal arguments, and ego-driven competitions for domination.
The “nones” aren’t leaving organized religious institutions to start others. They are doing so to live in oneness with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the rest of creation and its creatures. This is a good thing.
And during Holy Week, people who want to live in oneness with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the rest of creation and its creatures remember that Jesus is the first and best example of what it means to live for God. During Holy Week, we also remember that Jesus is the best proof of the way organized religion and agents of empire mistreat people who live for God.
God summons us to oneness. God wants us to see ourselves as part of divine oneness. People want to see Jesus, not our religious notions of empire, because Jesus represents God’s passion and our aspiration for oneness.
As the passage from John’s Gospel shows, people don’t want to meet organized religion. They want to become one with God like Jesus. Jesus calls us, ironically, to become part of divine oneness by living up, showing up, listening up, speaking up, acting up, and loving up as people of prophetic hope and humility for God and the rest of creation, and doesn’t call us to be part of religious institutions to live this way.
Jesus, not religious versions of empire, is the best example of what “the nones,” and everyone else, want to experience with God. Now, as during the days before his crucifixion, we want to experience oneness with God. Now, as then, people are finding that oneness. That oneness is why Jesus lived. That oneness is why Jesus died. That oneness is why his living, dying, and resurrection matter.