We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Evolution of Our Faith

Evolution is not just a biological phenomenon.  It is built into us culturally as well.  And where we seem to be evolving is away from violence and toward nonviolence, away from injustice and toward justice, and away from discrimination and toward inclusiveness.  It is likely that we are still in the early stages of our social and ethical evolution, and its prospects for success are not clear.  We may consume our planet and ourselves before the arc of our evolution has a chance to fully kick in and take us back from the brink (or lead us around the brink, or show us how to leap across it).  Or it may well be that we evolve toward the Kingdom faster (if only slightly faster) than we destroy ourselves and our world.

Theologically, we can understand evolution as being both a divine test and a manifestation of God's grace.  Why we have been created in the way we are is beyond our knowing, at least now.  Why we can't just be perfect and skip the massive amounts of pain and suffering that are a part of evolution is also beyond our knowing.  It is true that the pain and the beauty of our evolutionary experience are deeply entwined and in their intimate dance lies a truth we keep reaching for and never quite grasp.  The Test and the Grace are two sides of the same coin—perhaps dimly like the athlete who must invest hours of dreary sweat and physical pain in pursuing that instance of victorious glory.  Or, more powerfully, the reality of both the Test and Grace, that is Cross and Resurrection, are exposed to our view in the person of Jesus Christ.

Theology evolves as well, and a key moment in our Protestant corner of that evolution came with the dawning realization that in spite of certain very clear biblical passages we can, should, and must open the gates of opportunity for full service and authority in the church to women.  The battle for racial equality has been of central importance in American society, but it has been the battle for gender equality in the church that has brought us face to face with the need to balance doctrine with justice—actually to tip the scales of faith in the direction of justice over doctrine and the social injustices that sometimes accompany our doctrines.  We are learning thus to see the Other who is not our gender, race, ethnicity, political suasion, sexual orientation, or religion as being fully within the shade of God's grace.    In this evolutionary direction lies the Kingdom of God's love, justice, and peace.  Amen.