Rector's Blog: Larger, Freer, and More Loving?
“If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him." James Baldwin wrote this, and I believe he meant it with every bit of himself.
Some of my friends and colleagues would take issue. Come to think of it, there are aspects of his claim that don’t gel with my understanding of God: Specifically, I believe that either there is a God or there isn’t one, and how we feel about God’s existence (or lack thereof) has little bearing on the reality of it. And if there is a God and we don’t like the way that God operates, there’s not much we can do by way of “getting rid of Him.”
But this is not the main thrust of Baldwin’s point, and if we get lost in the side arguments and major in the minors (as seems to be our culture’s current spiritual gift) we will miss the force of his prophecy. Baldwin, an African American who wrote these words in the middle of the 20th century, is reflecting on the many ways the Christian faith participated in and promoted the colonization and subjugation of African peoples by people of European descent. He is writing as a former Christian, as a current American, and as someone who recognizes the Christian Church has been neither a hero nor an innocent bystander in the long history of race relations.
Baldwin knows Christianity is not neutral, not passive, not without power, and so his point is simple: If this thing which has so much power, so much influence, so much sway in our lives is not going to sway us and influence us as a people into being larger, freer, more loving people – then we’re better off without it.
And this is true. And it needs to be at the front of our minds as Christians today.
I said earlier that we could not get rid of God even if we wanted to – and I believe that. But so often I live as if I could get rid of God, or as if I already have. Sometimes I’m capable of living as if God is merely a concept to take or leave, accept or deny, and that I can pick this God up or put “Him” down whenever it makes sense for me. And as long as I live like this, I have no capacity to allow Christianity to make me larger, freer, or more loving.
If I, as a Christian, do not give my heart and soul over to the transformative power of the Gospel, how can I expect it to really grow? If I do not live as if I believe that Jesus is working to redeem the whole world, how can I expect to be any freer? If I do not believe that Love is the greatest power of all and is meant for all, how can I possibly be more loving?
Baldwin did not see the possibility of it in Christianity, and he left. I won’t begrudge him that. His testimony is too honest to be dismissed. I left Christianity too, but was not able to stay gone. I was drawn back in – past the hypocrisies, crimes, and prohibitions of the Christian church – and into a worldwide community where I have experienced great love and freedom in my relationship with Jesus.
But I agree with his words above in this sense: If our faith does not make us larger, freer, and more loving we need to get rid of it. A faith that does not turn us toward one another is not a faith worth having. An understanding of God that elevates white people and dehumanizes people of color is a foul and treacherous misunderstanding that has no root in Jesus. A Christianity that allows you to save room for hatred and self-righteousness is not worth practicing. A Church that is not participating with God in the redemption of the whole world deserves not just to die, but to disappear completely.
Friends and siblings in Christ, we are in this together. We are in this Church for a reason. God brought us together. It’s not an accident. We are not here simply to bide our time or meet people of like interest. We are not here to be coddled. We have been brought together by Christ himself to be loved and to love the world and the people God has created.
I ask you today to reflect on why you were brought into this beloved community. What about our faith changes the way you live in this world? What about our Church makes you larger, freer, and more loving? What will you do with it.