Marinating The Future… Again

A theology without empire

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a theology without empire

                                                      “Marinating the Future…. Again “

(from “Christ And Empire: From Paul To Post- Colonial Times “by Joerg Rieger

And “Truth Uncovered “by Mark Henry Miller

I have a friend who is a retired minister. He is a former Conference Minister for the United Church of Christ. After retiring some years ago, he generated another career of being a writer of murder mysteries. Five books have now been published, including an excerpt that you heard, where he weaves ministry, fishing and murder but not necessarily in that order.

My friend is fond of the term “marinating “meaning that he will not come to an immediate conclusion or decision regarding a dilemma, but instead he will allow the thought to sit, and will reflect upon all the various interpretations and options.

I find this idea of “marinating “very helpful particularly now as we consider the future.

As a planet, we are facing huge challenges due to further environmental damage regarding global warming. Increased human population Is generating greater strains on food and water supplies. Growing income inequality is causing a lot of suffering to populations that do not have access to basic life necessities.

Technology, of course, is continuing to make our lives more productive, and yet we are more dependent on our computer screens and servers than ever. Think about what it is like when your computer, either at home or work, goes down? It’s not pretty.

Church life is also changing. More and more congregations are shrinking in membership. Quite a few churches have closed their doors, with the building either going to another congregation or being used for a different activity like a community center.

Four years ago, I presided over the closure of a church in San Antonio, TX. It was a gut-wrenching experience. The reverberations went beyond the disposition of property: one couple divorced, a member who was very upset spent a good year contemplating possibilities before finding a new congregation, others drifted away to other churches, or just dropped out entirely. Unfortunately, there was no denominational official who shepherded this process. The congregation was left without any safety net.

Right now, the membership of The United Church Of Christ is 770,000 members ( www.UCC.Org 2017 ).
There are 199,800 members of the Unitarian-Universalist Association, 800,000 people world-wide identify themselves as Unitarian-Universalists with 1070 congregations

World-wide ( www.UUA.Org 2016 ).

What policies can liberal churches pursue to secure greater sustainability for the future?

Unitarian-Universalism has embraced greater diversity of various religious traditions, both theistic and non-theistic, along with other philosophical and humanistic understandings of what it means to be human.

We are not inclined to be attracted to a theology of empire. Rather, our commitment to the individual uniqueness of every person and the inter-connected web of all creation speak to theologies or understandings of the divine, however known, that don’t endorse empire.

Roman Emperor Constantine changed the status of Christianity.

“the great persecution officially ended in April 311 when Galerius, Senior emperor of the Tetrarchy, issued an edict of toleration, which granted Christians the right to practice their religion, though it did not restore any property to them. (Wikipedia)

Constantine converts to Christianity in 317 AD. The edict of Thessalonica in 380 AD, under Emperor Theodosius I, made it the empire’s sole authorized religion. They in turn outlawed Paganism and confiscated their properties.

As Joni Mitchell noted:

Whoever is in power,

“they take the beach and all concessions.”

Islam declared that the non-Muslims would be Dhimmi. They would have “legal “protection, but they would have to pay a tax to the Ummah.

A Buddhist country will punish and terrorize their Rohingya citizens.

Joerg Rieger in his book “: Christ And Empire: From Paul To Post-Colonial Times “has observed:

“The theologies of blessing and success, for instance, that ground the popular “gospel of prosperity “has little to offer by way of resistance to empire. If God blesses those who are on top, the empire must be the entity most blessed. The doomsday theologies of much of right-wing Christianity fail us here as well because they tell us not only that resistance to empire is futile but that the empire is threatening us is located elsewhere; in any case, for the doomsday theologians, empire has nothing to do with the politics of the United States (P. 274)

Thirty Years ago, I visited with a hospitalized Air Force Chaplain. I was sharing with him my concerns regarding the over-population of the earth. For him, it wasn’t a problem. He said to me:

“Alaska is not full yet! “

How then do we move to a theology or theologies that are not bound to empire and domination?

Joerg Rieger again observes:

“Both the liberal theological projects of “demythologization “and the fundamentalist visions of the end of the world represent extrapolations from the history of empire. In order to say something meaningful and striking about the Christian belief in resurrection and Parousia, the end of time, theologians felt that they had explain their theories in ways that would be acceptable to those who make and shape history.
Thus, the liberal demythologized, resurrected Christ would fit in with the modern world and would not rock the boat. The yet-to-come Christ of the fundamentalists, who used fire and sword and all the other apocalyptic terrors of empire to accomplish its goal, really didn’/t communicate a liberating gosoel..
The other perspective- seeing history in the light of the Resurrection and the Parousia of the Crucified Christ who lived and died in solidarity with people on the margins-leads to a different understanding “ (P.P.321-322).

If a church stands in solidarity with people who are on the margins, then it creates room for those who will push against the wall regarding the contemporary structures of empire.

Mark Henry Miller in his novel “Truth Uncovered “describes his main character Trisha Gleason as she travels to her new church in Tillamook, Or. Trisha is a licensed minister, former fishing guide and detective for the Oregon State Police.

She talks to her Interim Conference Minister Nathan Spark:

“Someone gave me a posted sign. It’s a picture of the rolling Pacific Ocean and the saying in capital letters reads:
“How much do I love you? Count the waves.
That, to me, is about God’s love for every one of us. For me, I don’t look to consider God to be a referee. Don’t believe God wears a striped shirt. Because God’s love prevails but not to get theological “
(P. 17)

Liberal religion, at its best, really affirms the individual right to self-determination, the right to free thinking and the freedom to conceptualize belief or non-belief per individual choice.

Denominations, by their nature, have infrastructure. Here the challenge is to use the resources to help people, especially people in need, versus supporting a bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy.

Perhaps a model for the future might be a congregation without walls, communities that are focused on addressing various human needs without necessarily being localized in any given building. Who knows?

We will need to continue to “marinate “, to reflect and consider just what it will mean to be the effective Church of the future.

Like Tricia Gleason may we be able to stand by the ocean water thankfully and receive the waves one by one.

Amen, Shalom, Salaam, Blessed Be

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