As the Church dwindles within the American psyche and society becomes deeply aware of global responsibility, it is high time the Church change. Yet, this change must reach beyond educational literature or worship style, but into a new transformational way of existing, engaging, and being in the world.
My statement that the “Church dwindles” might be too generous, and perhaps should be stated as “dying.” That too has enough presumptions that people would either decry and moan its death, or celebrate that it is finally on its way out. Quite frankly, both are short-sided presuppositions that miss the larger conversation. First, churches have to move to a more universal word that moves away from misconceptions about a building, to an understanding of people. Perhaps, here, we would be well-served to use “congregation.” Not only does this refocus communities of faith upon people, but draws a deeper connection to other communities of faith.
This vision includes an interfaith vision, one that not only creates an awareness of religious pluralism, but one that instills an interfaith vision within congregations. No longer will the solitude existence of a “church” be possible. Sure, conservative voices have and will remain mildly strong, and the point is not to squelch them. Rather, liberal and conservative voices must come together in honest conversation that excludes personal opinion over engaging conversation.
Traditional models attempt to match up conceptions of God. This point remains one of the most difficult tasks and greatest hindrances of the transformation of religious dialogue in America. We have attempted to place conceptions of God in conversation with each other first. More productive would be to retain conversations of what all religions have in common: humans. Religions, regardless of how spiritual one conceives it, depend upon humans to sustain them, if not forward them. Our discussion concerning interfaith dialogue ought first be human, then theological.
My Christian siblings might say Christianity in America needs the interdenominational dialogue first. How can we talk with other religions if we cannot have honest dialogue with our own denominations? A sincere question, and one that necessitates a response. The answer, however, will not place one over the other, but recognize the mutual self-interest. Christians must work with denominations and other religions at the same time. On one hand they are able to make progress with each other, whilst removing focus on themselves. Simple fact is this: the conceitedness of Christianity in America that once was its greatest asset, has now become its greatest liability.
This thought is ongoing, and it is here that I announce the formation of a new non-profit that is centered around focusing on the education and development of congregations with an interfaith, interdenominational, and justice-oriented identity. There remain many details to nail down, and much funding to secure. It is time to stop talking about the future of the church, and start bringing it into existence. Dream alongside me, dream in your communities, and together we can build an understanding of faith that is not comprehensive, but not short-sided; inclusive, but not without conviction.
Dream alongside me, dream alongside humanity.
J. Zachary Bailes is Editor of Crazy Liberals & Conservatives, writes for PolicyDiary.com, and for the Progressive Christian Alliance. He is an ordained Baptist, and second-year Masters of Divinity student at Wake Forest University School of Divinity.