Since starting this blog, I have become more aware of the power of the internet to do many of the tasks with which we are concerned. In the first place information about churches and individuals that abuse is freely discoverable. I am mindful, of course, of the laws of libel that should protect individuals from malicious gossip, but there is nothing to stop an observant resident of Plymouth, UK walking around a huge derelict cinema complex, making a short video, and asking this question of God TV. How is this building going to be ready to be an international Prayer Centre in 2015 when the builders have abandoned the site for six months or more? When are you going to tell the thousands of viewers of God TV the plans you have for the money which has been given for this huge £3 million project? It is thanks to the Internet that such questions can be asked, and one hopes that accountability among Christian enterprises can be in this way sharpened up. Also when an individual in a church setting acquires a bad reputation, either as a power abuser or is guilty of financial malpractice, these facts come to show up through an internet search. More and more people are running such searches to find out something about Church leaders as well the most ordinary people. Few of us have left no trace at all on the internet.
The second thing that makes the internet helpful for our cause is to discover that there are other people on line who have interests similar to one’s own. Thanks to Twitter, which I have recently joined, I have encountered a man in America, Benjamin Corey, who writes some very good thoughtful material on the topic of this blog. Today I unashamedly intend to plagiarise some of his material. His background is that of a typical American evangelical but, through the passage of life, he has come to question many of the old certainties with which he grew up. The reason I do not just give a reference to his material straight out is that I myself also want to comment on two of his insights. The particular post I have in front of me is one with the intriguing title: ‘5 reasons why American Evangelicalism completely lost me’. (I will give a link at the end of my post.) The first two reasons apply more to the American scene and its deep involvement with the politics of the country. That is of course of interest but I need to leave these points to one side for now. The third comment is one that is dear to my heart and it is an accusation that this blog has made from time to time. He states: ‘Today’s Evangelicalism seems generally unteachable and unwilling to wrestle with theology’. He makes the point that there is, in certain churches and church cultures, a willingness to learn, but only if that learning reinforces what is already believed. To quote his words direct, ‘There’s little room for growth, reinterpretation, or the constant need for contextualisation of the scriptures. For a movement that prides itself on following the scriptures , I’m repeatedly shocked at the unwillingness to see what the scriptures actually say, and a willingness to malign those who attempt to point the movement back to the source.’ To interpret his words, he is pointing out to us, once again, that the leader/interpreter has the dominant voice in the way that scripture is encountered by Christians in the pew. The invisible ‘system’ has already decided what is written there, how to interpret it and how to iron out ‘problems’. There is thus no freedom to discover anything new or indeed make fresh discoveries beyond the received interpretations. That is a form of bondage in the Christian life, never to be able to read the Bible as though for the first time and let it speak afresh to the reader.
The other ‘reason’ out of the five in Benjamin’s piece on which I want to comment is his final one. He notes that ‘today’s Evangelicalism punishes people by withholding of relationships’. As visitors to this blog may remember, this is a theme which I resonate with very readily. Indeed it is to be the topic of my presentation to the International Cultic Studies Association meeting in Stockholm next June. Benjamin speaks of his own ostracism by his former church family and the pain that this caused. It is an isolation that affects not only him, but also his family and he speaks movingly of the incomprehension and pain of his own daughter at the loss of old friends. As I have pointed in previous blogs, conservative churches frequently offer a total environment, where all social and emotional needs are met. The price of this is that when the individual questions the system, the emotional ties are swiftly cut. In Benjamin’s words: ‘Today’s Evangelicalism does this to folks who think outside Evangelical lines – it strips them of relationships, cuts them off, and severs ties.’
I hope that some of my readers will go to Benjamin’s blog and read the full piece and other things that he has written. For myself I have noted a piece by him on Calvinism where he succinctly describes why he is unable to worship the God that is presented by Calvin. It is outspoken stuff but my long-term readers will recognise that it closely resonates with the tone of my own writings on scripture and church tradition. I am indeed fortunate to be able utter fairly stringent points of view without losing my livelihood and my place in the church. There has been, by all accounts, a high price that Benjamin has had to pay for uttering ideas, that are by the standards of this blog, fairly mild and uncontroversial. I shall continue to search out other heroic bloggers who are writing on both sides of the Atlantic. Their work will be acknowledged in this blog. Meanwhile it is good to find someone who is doing something comparable to surviving church, even though we have started in different places.