There is a lot of reason to wonder about the degree to which the western world is in the midst of a reformation these days. From the advent of new technology that has rocked the world to the subsequent various reimaginings of the faith, these are indeed interesting times. As a former conservative evangelical, one of the beauties of these times is a serious and growing new expression of Christianity coming from former conservative evangelicals like myself.
Many of us have to come to see the many dire, dangerous, and deadly failings of our former religious identity, but within that we also have experiences from our past which are undeniably real- experiences not only connected to some kind of other being, but one expressly connected to the character of Jesus Christ, which has been, and continues to be, at the center of our religious experience and identity. By this I mean not merely the person of Jesus as described in the canonical gospels, but also (as a friend of mine once said) the more conceptual idea of “the jesus” that exists in religious expressions and humans throughout time and space.
All of that is to say that as we hang on to those very real experiences of “the jesus” in our lives, many of us also often come to startling crises of faith as we reimagine the wafer thin religious alignment of our pasts. I stumbled on one of those today. If you’re looking for a great ongoing conversation around these matters, check out The Liturgist Podcast. It’s beautiful. Today I was listening to one of their recent live recordings titled “God our Mother”.
Now let me clear: The idea of the sacred feminine is not new to me. I’ve been on a journey with this for about seven years now, and it was one of my exit points from conservative evangelicalism. But as I listened, Science Mike posed a question based off of some things Christina Cleveland had just outlined that troubled my soul and spirit in all the right and good ways: He asked, specifically for folk like him and I- that is, straight, white guys- “…how do we relate to a faith created by the marginalized when we are citizens of Rome and often its centurions?”
I’ve believed for over a decade about the ways in which America and the American Church are new Rome more so than a new Israel. And in that I viewed myself as one of the countercultural ragamuffin renegades standing in distinction from, if not resistance to, that power. But when Science Mike asked that question, I came to see that not only am I not what I thought I was, but that I was indeed nearly its opposite. I am not a resister to the oppressive Roman religious power, I am guardian of it. I am a centurion.
This is all very a much a mixed bag, but there is a way in which (or perhaps better stated many ways in which), as a straight, married, white, cis-gender, male, pastor I am a centurion of Rome, guarding its systems of power, expanding its imperial reach in society, and benefiting from its patriarchy. Though I may often preach equality, my language, practice, and polity often reflect a distinctly white, euro, male structure, even if not entirely obvious to me.
The question I sit in and wrestle with today is what now? Do I have the courage to lay down my privilege and let the “Black Madonna” repaint my faith? Am I willing to step into the words of Jesus and really let the last be first and the first be last by let new expressions, new metaphors, and new structures reshape my religious identity? Am I willing to let maleness and whiteness and straightness head to the back of the line? Am I ok with being corrected, rebuked, and minimized as I do so? Am I willing to be liberated from the comfortable shackles of 500 years of self-imposed patriarchal protestantism? If I’m honest: I don’t know.
Beneath the hard angled, stiff bricked and cemented structure in which I lead worship every Sunday lay a buried messy earth, silenced in over half a century of foundation. What secrets does she have? What liturgies of liberation abide in her? What songs of salvation have I muted that have not only marginalized those who don’t look nor identify as I do, but have also chained me in the comfortable shackles of power?
I am a Roman Centurion in need of liberation.