The American Christian church once again finds itself at odds with itself, especially in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump. On all sides, there are a lot of questions.
To understand where we are, we must look at where we’ve been: Part of the American church’s history includes genocide and colonization of indigenous people all over the world and slavery of African people, all marked by the actions and words of people claiming Christ as conqueror. And today, we’re wrestling with the consequences of those actions. We’re wrestling with an American Christianity that was built on the back of those actions, a church of patriarchy and racism, a church that is now split over who supports a man like President Trump. How are we to reconcile this?
What are we moving away from in the church and what are we headed toward?
If you’re any kind of gardener, you know there is an art to pruning back or deadheading a shrub or plant to make room for new growth. We have a garden in our front yard, full of kale, lettuce, sugar snap peas, and flowers. I work with my 5-year-old son to deadhead the ones that have died — to make room for new growth. We grab and harvest the sugar snap peas so that new ones can be born, and we pluck the largest kale leaves from the plant for kale chips, while we wait another week for new harvest. This constant tending to a living and breathing thing is what keeps us fed, what keeps us healthy and alive.
Likewise, the church must be constantly tended to, constantly watched and cared for with steady hands. We must do the hard work to produce healthy results.
If you catch any Twitter conversations lately about the church — women, authority, patriarchy, inclusion, people of color, politics, Jesus’s voice — you’ll begin to see that what’s ahead of us is the hard work of pruning and deadheading to make room for new growth again.
The church has handled this before, and she can handle it today, because the church is something we are always working toward as followers of a Jesus we don’t always understand. If we admit that Jesus is not the American version we’ve adapted him to be for us today, maybe we can make room to ask questions, to begin pruning back the dead fruit to make way for a new season of church growth.
We ask why our churches are shrinking, why they are dying, why there is fighting, why it feels like we are imploding. As a body, what in the church tradition is moving on to make way for a fresh start?
Jim Wallis said last week, of the difference continuing to emerge among Christians, “This stark contrast reveals white evangelical Christianity in America as a bubble — a very destructive one, and one that is about to burst.”
If the bubble is about to burst, we have to be ready for what needs to happen now and as the process unfolds. The hard work of pruning off the fruitless parts of American Christianity to make way for something new is our current task. It may be our history of racism, our patriarchal power plays, or our blind eye toward the least of these — the poor, widowed, orphaned. Maybe it’s lack of care for the earth and creatures on it, or the constant support of companies that take advantage of the earth’s resources and the poor communities that have what the rich want.
If we are to pave a new way forward for the church, we must make room for the painful work of deadheading. It is messy and uncomfortable, and it takes time for new fruit to be born.
Nevertheless, it is necessary for a beautiful plant to grow, for new fruit to make its way into the world. Perhaps what the church needs today is a fresh start, a new blossom into a world that is going from spring to summer, a world asking for the voice of Jesus to be sparked anew.
May we be brave enough to do the hard work that gets us there.