I just finished a powerful novel called Silence by Shusaku Endo. Written originally in 1966 by a Japanese author, Silence actually will become a Hollywood film released sometime this year.
According to the back-cover, Silence takes place in 1640 and “Father Sebastian Rodrigues, an idealistic Jesuit priest, sets sail for Japan determined to help the brutally oppressed Christians there. He is also desperate to discover the truth about his former mentor, rumoured to have renounced his faith under torture. Rodrigues cannot believe the stories about a man so revered, but as his journey takes him deeper into Japan and then into the hands of those who would crush his faith, he finds himself forced to make an impossible choice: to abandon his flock or his God.”
The book tackles themes and questions such as; does God ever speak in the midst of meaningless suffering? What happens when Christianity just cannot connect in a particular land or with a particular people?
What’s more important: Loving others or the institutional church? God or humanity?
So many people these days have had to ask the choice that Father Rodrigues faces in this book: do I choose the church or the people who suffer or are excluded because of the church? What choice would Jesus make?
And many people have chosen to leave the church, and love the people whom the church rejects. The victimized, the oppressed, the abused, the isolated, the shamed, the shunned.
Why? Because The Church often acts in a way that is anti-thetical to both Jesus’ teachings and the witness of his life, death and resurrection.
And as we leave – we throw out that word that cuts Christians to the bone: hypocrites! The same term Jesus fired at the religious leaders in his community in his time.
Now all of us are hypocrites the minute we claim to believe in something; some of us are just more obviously hypocritical.
But there are environmental activists who drive cars and eat meat.
People who preach against racists are complicit with their own unconscious racism.
NGOs in the Global South fighting hunger support the same food distribution systems that cause hunger in the first place.
“The Church” pisses us off for a reason
It’s easy to blame the church – when really the biggest problem with the church is that it has humans in it, and that it gives faulty humans power over other faulty humans.
But this happens with every institution or movement that has more than 13 people in it.
This is not to let the church off the hook at all. Far from it.
I mean the church pisses us off for a reason.
Mainly, because it makes universal claims that it just can’t back up:
It claims to be universally transformed people, a different people, the masters of unconditional love.
It claims as its God the God who is the author of love, and yet so many people experience church community as so very unloving.
Furthermore, many factions of the church still practice and believe some very archaic and evil things.
But something new is happening.
Church is changing. It’s becoming more fluid, a more a part of day-to-day life, more rooted in the broader community, less organized and institutional, more spontaneous and creative.
I believe it’s a good thing that in North America The Church is being stripped of its power down to its essential parts.
Although The Church is a very big boat moving very slowly (and in that way has moved far too slow compared to the unprecedented rapidity of change in our society), it also boasts a faith tradition that has lasted for 2,000 years all over the world with hundreds and thousands of unique cultural expressions.
It’s far too big and abstract to be wholly good or wholly bad.
But the bad is the most easily visible when it’s that big – and that’s why it’s good that it’s shrinking.
The church frustrates us because it is a mirror on ourselves. Humanity has sooo much potential, we were made in the image of God, BUT we always fall sooooo short.
We don’t like this.
We don’t like to admit we consistently hurt others, or are complicit with evil in our world.
We like to think we can change.
Just as the church sets an ideal it cannot live up to, so we set up ideals for ourselves we cannot possibly live up to.
And this is why it’s good to be pissed off at the church; it’s good to be pissed off in community; it’s only through that frustration that real change can happen.
But it’s up to us what we do with it.