Lately I've been reading a number of books by emergent (i.e. "postmodern") Christian authors, which may not come as a surprise to anyone who's been following my blog. These books resonate with me in a way that few Christian authors and speakers ever have. They provide little in the way of concrete answers and sometimes raise more questions than they answer, yet there's an authenticity that most conservative evangelical theology seems to lack.
One idea I've gleaned from emergent theology that intrigues me is the assertion that truth is ultimately apprehended through community. You can spend your entire life listening to sermons and reading books, but if you never engage in authentic community it's worth next to nothing. No wonder so many liberal churches are stagnant, and so many conservative churches are nasty and judgmental. No wonder so many people are leaving the church, most never to return.
And no wonder the issue of homosexuality is tearing apart entire denominations. We've placed ideas ahead of people and isolated ourselves from anyone who disagrees with us. Our faith has become so heavily defined by what we believe God is against that we've lost sight of the things God is for.
We can dissect Greek verbs and cross-reference ancient texts until the Second Coming, but we can never truly know what is right until we've lived out our doctrines in the context of Christian community. We can condemn same-sex relationships until our dying breath, but what good have we really accomplished if all we succeed in doing is driving away every gay individual who refuses to conform to the exacting demands (and elusive rewards) of ex-gay ideology?
So what does that mean in practical terms? Is it possible for us to live in community with individuals we disagree with over major (or even minor) doctrinal issues? I certainly hope so, because I may never find the answers I seek any other way.
It should probably be noted that when I speak of Christian community, I'm not just talking about meeting for church and Bible study and maybe the occasional potluck. I'm talking about being actively involved in the lives of a group of people and staying committed to that group through hardship and conflict.
Having said that, the question becomes whether I'm willing to help make such a community work. Am I willing to live and work side by side with those who don't always agree with me? For that matter, am I willing to make the investment of my time, resources, energy and emotions that's necessary to build that kind of community? I'd like to say that I am, but in reality I don't know.
Of course, even if I resolve to bite the bullet and move beyond armchair Christianity, there's still the question of finding such a community. Nearly all conservative churches are out, since it's an unpardonable sin in such settings to even think about whether it might possibly be valid to consider questioning church tradition where homosexuality is concerned - and yet that's the environment I'm most familiar with. I also lean against joining an all-gay congregation, for the simple reason that I don't want to run the risk of isolating myself within any one particular subculture.
I know there are other possibilities out there; it's just a matter of finding them.