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    Open Doors

    I believe in a Christianity that makes room for differences. June 5, 2013 by Major Juan Burry
    Filed Under:
    Opinion & Critical Thought
    When considering this final Talking Points column, I wrestled with how to culminate the year-long series. As I reviewed each of my previous articles, I discovered a common thread: I want a Christian faith that is more accessible to the world. I want to see an expression of Christianity that opens doors, not one that closes them.

    I came across a video clip from a Christian talk show produced in April where the host took questions from his viewers. One man asked why miracles such as raising the dead and healing the blind happened in places like Africa, but not in the United States. He wondered what could be done to encourage miracles in the West. The program's host unwisely replied that it was because “those people overseas didn't go to Ivy League schools.” He then pointed out how western culture has relied too heavily on education and become too skeptical to experience supernatural events.

    As often happens when watching so-called “Christian” television, I wanted to shrink away and deny any relation to these people. But then I felt ashamed. I felt like the Apostle Peter, listening to the rooster crow three times while I distanced myself from Jesus. But I am not ashamed of being a follower of Christ. I am not afraid that people might think I am a Christian. I am, however, afraid of their preconceptions of what constitutes a Christian.

    I am a Christian, but I am not an anti-intellectual. I respect people with knowledge and education and rely on them for many facets of my daily life. When Jesus said that we must become like little children, he was talking about humility, not gullibility.

    I am a Christian, but I am not politically conservative, nor could I be deemed a “right-winger.” Ideologically, I lean to the left and believe that living out our faith includes paying close attention to issues of social equality and justice.

    I am a Christian, but I do not believe that gays, Muslims or women are second-class citizens who should be treated differently than I would want to be treated. Loving my neighbour means loving them as I love myself.

    I am a Christian, but I do not believe the world was created 6,000 years ago or that dinosaurs became extinct because of the Great Flood. I also do not believe that the world is about to end in a fiery orb of annihilation. There's more to this story that God is writing.

    I could keep going, but I think I've made my point. I spent the first seven years of my officership in corps. Due to the nature of the ministry, my time was mainly occupied with the activities and issues concerning those inside the church. It's easy to develop tunnel vision, where we see only what one particular segment of society sees. It's not true for everybody, but it was for me. A lot of my views have changed over the last 10 years as I've spent more time with those outside the corps. The people I associate with on a daily basis do not feel comfortable inside most Christian churches or circles—nor do I. Is there room for them? Is there room for me?

    I'd like to believe there is room for me. When I first became a Christian 27 years ago, the corps officer led the congregation in a chorus with the lyric, “There's room at the cross for you.” I replied in faith to that promise. I believed that at the foot of the cross, there was an available space for me.

    Instead of creating stumbling blocks that hinder people from Christ, let's make our faith accessible to all. There is room at the cross for them, too.

    Major Juan Burry is the executive director of Victoria's Addictions and Rehabilitation Centre.

     

    Comment

    On Tuesday, June 18, 2013, Wayne Thompson said:

    Major Bury,

    Thanks for your Talking Point articles over the past number of months. It’s been encouraging to know that there are like-minds in the Army who take a constructive critical analysis to many aspects of our church and faith. I share many of the views you’ve expressed and have greatly appreciated your insights and candor.

    Similar to Mr. Compton, I didn’t see the video clip referenced so it’s difficult to pass an opinion on it. However, on the general points you’ve made in your article, I share many of your views.

    Sometimes I feel a little uncomfortable with what appears to be an anti-intellectual mindset within our church(es) which does nothing to further our cause. In fact, I greatly appreciate the insight and information many “intellectuals” provide on any number of aspects of life which may also have some direct or indirect impact upon my faith. The exciting thing for me is that, in the vast majority of cases, these new insights and discoveries only serve to strengthen my faith. Whether it be new discoveries in the area of cosmology, biology (or any other of the sciences) or even into new textual discoveries and insights into our sacred scriptures, invariably, these serve to broaden my knowledge, educate my understanding and deepen my confidence in the authenticity of our Christian faith. At the same time, many of these may also challenge some previously held presumptions, which needed to be challenged. My life and my faith have been greatly enriched because of the pursuit of knowledge, regardless of whether it’s done by Christians, atheists, Muslims or nearly any other sector of society.

    I couldn’t agree more that our attitudes have to be much more inclusive if we are to be welcoming and attractive to people outside the church. However, much more importantly, I believe that if we are going to truly and completely live out our Christian faith, “inclusiveness” (aka “love”) has to be confidently central to our faith. Whether we are engaging with persons of other religious faiths, no particular faith, of some minority sexual disposition, of a high or low financial/intellectual status or whatever other subcategory we may want to label them with, we all need to experience love, forgiveness, acceptance and posses a knowledge of purpose and meaning in our lives. These very things we have in abundance and need to do more to genuinely demonstrate these (verbally and nonverbally) to the world around us. I would also suggest that, tragically, perhaps among the biggest reasons why many of our churches are in a period of decline is partly because most people outside the church do not see in many of these qualities in us. Instead they see us as judgmental and, in too many cases, they see our faith as somewhat detached from reality or intellectually irresponsible.

    May God help us all to be fully committed to Him, in mind, body and soul and to live a life genuinely guided by the Holy Spirit.

    Thanks again for your column. I believe you have served to challenge and move us all in a direction that is urgently required.

    On Tuesday, June 18, 2013, Juan Burry said:

    Thank you to those above for their encouraging and thoughtful comments. In response to Mr. Compton’s post, I would like to make some comments to clarify the point that I was attempting to make. The theme of the column was inclusivism. The issue at hand is that most people outside of the church see Christianity as a very exclusive worldview in which they could not fit. I want the people of the secular world to know that Christianity doesn’t have to be off limits for them because of their preconceived ideas.

    By making the list that I did in the column, I was in no way trying to draw a contrast between two groups. It is easy for us to fall into this trap of viewing the world this way and I would discourage us from doing so. We categorize people as conservatives or liberals and make judgments about them because that’s easier than thinking through subject matter and taking the time to get to know people and their opinions. Each one of my statements (or “characteristics of what he is not”) stand on their own. They define me - not some imaginary rival of a “conservative”. In fact, not only did I not attempt to define what a conservative is, I certainly did not refer to any of them as bigoted, homophobic or intolerant. The only stereotyping going on here is being done by Mr. Compton.

    As I said, the statements stand independently for me. I do not suppose that all Christians, or even the majority of them, hold all of them as true. Perhaps they hold some, all or none, or even variations of them. My statements come after years of trying to live out my calling to win souls to Christ and finding unnecessary impediments in the way. They reflect the common objections that I face when trying to share my faith. The majority of feedback I get from fellow Salvationists is that these are the same struggles they are having in their attempt to be witnesses. All I want to say to my fellow soldiers in the war is that they are not alone. It is OK to admit that we’re not a homogeneous population. We can tell our coworkers or classmates that they can follow Christ and not have to abandon everything they learned in their biology or physics classes. That you can love and support your gay son or daughter and their spouse and it’s not a deal-breaker for your own faith. In fact, you might even find that these things enhance your faith.

    And let’s be honest here for a moment. When it comes to preconceptions about Christianity, it is the traditional views of the church that come to mind. When I say that we need to make room for differences, I am saying that we need to make room for people whose views may somewhat differ from traditional church-going folk. I am not suggesting that we make room for traditional church-goers. They’re already there! For too long, we’ve only made room for ourselves in the church and this kind of rhetoric above is reminiscent of that. I’ve seen it happen so many times in the church. The moment someone tries to do something to reach out and widen our net, there will be some who will try to turn the focus back on those already in the church. Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” We have a hard time being inclusive because the moment we try, someone will be there from inside the church to say, “Don’t forget me. Now you’re excluding me or oppressing me by adding significance or value to them.” How often do we hear about Christian cliques, when someone attempts to help an oppressed people group, who bellyache that their rights are being oppressed while the other person is being aided? It’s selfish. It’s exclusive. If we want our corps to grow and, more importantly, spread the seed of the Good News, then we’ll realize that we need to make room for people and that means relinquishing a bit of space of our own.

    On Saturday, June 15, 2013, Gary Compton said:

    I did not see the video clip to which the Major refers, so it is somewhat difficult for me connect his argument to what was stated by the 'so-called' Christian television program.

    Perhaps the comment about Ivy League schools is relevant; that we have become so sophisticated that we can explain away miracles. I've experienced vibrant expressions of worship on trips to Jamaica and Barbados, and, growing up in Newfoundland, there was a striking difference in the spontaneity of an outport Corps compared to a Corps in St. John's, where the "educated people" congregated. (The Ivy League is an athletic conference, in point of fact- a few of my former students have attended them) .

    The Major states that he "is a Christian, but"...He then lists a series of characteristics as to what he is not, leaving the impression that if you are conservative, you are anti-intellectual, a "right-winger" (as opposed to a "left-winger", one must suppose), intolerant of differences, unwelcoming, homophobic, and religiously bigoted. Perhaps some of that is true, but it is stereotyping those with whom he may have differences.

    Is this the Christianity that "makes room for differences"?

    On Monday, June 10, 2013, Milt Fudge said:

    Thank you Major Burry for your Talking Points series. They have been challenging and provocative for sure, particularly in the June issue, which unfortunately is apparently the final of the series.
    It so accurately describes my own convictions that we have made what should be the most friendly and accepting environment in the world into one of self righteous elitism that surely must be an intimidating experience for all who are not a part of the "church"' and especially so for the young.

    This is a sad sad admission on my part. My grandparents were founding members of the Salvation Army, having come from the remnants of the Methodist congregation in our part of outport NL, and the Army has been a part of me, all my life. This includes a ten year stint as the CSM in our corps.
    However we seem to have gotten ourselves so out of joint with the people we're supposed to serve and nuture, that I too share your feelings of wanting at times to shrink away from it all. I realize that to do so makes me a part of the problem, and my desire -and I believe god's will for my life- is to find a way to be part of the solution.

    With His help, and the direction of the Holy Spirit, I want to make it my mission to show by my daily living rather than by recycled tradition that god's love is for all. I don't want to be one of those stumbling blocks that hinder, but rather one who in some small way reminds those I come in contact with of the all-inclusive love of God.

    I look forward to further series

    God's blessings to you.

    Milt Fudge

    On Thursday, June 6, 2013, Paul du Plessis said:

    Thank you, Major Burry, for the courage to be who you are and to write as you have. You have given hope to at least one of those who has occasionally read your column.

    On Wednesday, June 5, 2013, MARIANNE TZAUT-BERNER said:

    Hello, my friends,
    I have been an Officer for the last 55 years, and enjoyed every moment of it, even when i had to get out for 6 months, as I did not understand the ways we were going anymore. My parents and grand-parents were Officers too, and -of course I fell in the pot at a very early age.
    In Switzerland, in April, we had a Congress with General Bond, and a video of it came out yesterday. on YOUTUBE. I spent the whole day (double message as we needed translation into French!). The General asked us if our halls were opened to everybody, or if we made restrictions (she said having seen this in some Army Corps) : no old people admited...no black, no whatever...and also If we still wept for the sinners like Jesus on Jerusalem... This has been my concern for quite a while: I see our Army as a very wealthy church, just looking after ourselves, and enjoying meetings, BUT, no more as open to the lost ones...Here we have nomore outdoor meetings, it is rare that we have new people in our beautiful new hall....I could really cry. What would you advise us to do ? By reading your words, I see that we carry the same load, and we have to do some changes in us first, and then in our small piece of land.
    MAY THE LORD HELP US TO STILL CRY FOR THE LOST, AND TO OPEN OUR DOORS WIDE FOR WHOSOEVER WILL, MAY COME. I shall pray for you. Marianne TZAUT-Berner (major)

    On Wednesday, June 5, 2013, Jac said:

    Juan,

    I have thoroughly enjoyed your columns over the last year. I love the Army very much, and I believe that God has a purpose for it, or I would not have signed up. I am also at the very beginning of my own ministry and am in corps, as I minister (not just here in my current appointment, but also in previous training experiences etc) and as much as I love it, my heart also sometimes bleeds because of the tension created in our dealings with those on what we often consider the "outside".

    I obviously don't have it all figured out, and probably never will of course, but as I have thought of the words to that very chorus (often lately) you mentioned in this article I have also found myself wondering as a church do we really believe the words? Or are our requirements getting in the way, or are they helping? I imagine that these are questions I will struggle with for a long time to come, as I believe every officer should.

    It it my hope that even though this series is now done, that the questions will not stop. That we will not be satisfied to say, OK well we had a fellow write a series on these things so we did our part. But may we ever be willing to keep the door of self examination open, and sometimes even be willing to walk through the door of change.

    God bless you Juan!

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