In case after case, when Christianity has faced a fork in the road, the vast majority took the broad highway of compliance. They went along with their leaders, most without any apparent reservations and some with a literal vengeance.
Sure, a few had qualms, and they tried to tweak things with all the moderation they could muster. They had to be excruciatingly patient, because if change would come at all, it would come at a glacier’s pace – in the era before global warming, that is. But even after a lifetime of staying, would-be reformers found that in spite of their years of patient labors, very little actually changed, except for the worse. So again and again, the status quo would win over attempts at reform. Power won. Corruption won. Money won. Fear won. Complacency and apathy won.
But maybe that’s the point: maybe it takes crushing defeat in one generation to create the conditions for the change we need in the next. Maybe death and resurrection, not decline and renewal, is the more accurate model of how change happens.
If that’s the case, then I need to tell myself that now is exactly the time not to leave Christianity. It’s time to keep my skin in the game, to finish my journey, to refuse to conform and refuse to leave, to stay to support the Seths and defy the religious company men.
That doesn’t mean that I am committing myself to saving institutions, theologies, liturgies, and other traditions that are unsalvageable. Instead, it means having faith that the good seed will burst out of the old husk and rise after being buried, that the essence, the pearl, the treasure and spark will resurrect on the third day, no matter how bad things get today and no matter how hopeless they feel tomorrow.
Is it a losing battle? I suspect that’s the wrong metaphor. This isn’t a game or a war that is won or lost once and for all. This is an iterative process, a story that unfolds “through many dangers, toils, and snares,” booms and busts, losses and recoveries. It requires heroic persistence. It requires a death to pride, a death to hero narratives, and a commitment to do what’s right even when the odds are stacked strongly against success. Truth be told, it’s a perpetual process of evolution that unfolds in a time span that makes my little lifetime seem like a lightning bug’s flash.
I have to admit: some days I’m tired. I look at the Christian world today, and it appears uglier and more tawdry than when I was younger. Recalling an old proverb (13:2), my hopes for meaningful change have been so long deferred that my heart feels sick.
I think it’s important to acknowledge these feelings rather than suppress them.
So I admit it: I’m sometimes tired of staying. I can get out of this struggle, I tell myself. I can let others fight the battles. I can retire, fly fish for trout in the solitude of the mountains, read poetry, walk among the trees, tend my little orchard, and notice the birds.
But then I think of the Seths of the world who need to be encouraged, maybe even by this book.
And I think of the religious company men standing guard on their great walls of bias who need to be challenged, maybe even by this book.
So, no. I will not quit. Not today.
Today I will stay Christian.
From “Do I Stay Christian: A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned” by Brian McLaren