Last week I met with some former “ActUp” activists, to welcome them to volunteering at Isaiah House. Times change, and the young man who had invaded masses and embarrassed Cardinals on behalf of gay rights was now a caregiver, his partner having fallen, like all of us eventually do, before the ravages, not of lifestyle, but of time. He asked me to blog about a Christianity that emphasizes our common suffering rather than an adolescent captivation with minute doctrinal distinctions like the defense of marriage.
The insight that captured his imagination was this: I said being a Christian wasn’t like affirming the sunrise, I said it was more like swimming, as in “I believe in Christ like I believe I can swim in the ocean.” Obviously “Sola Fe” makes a lifetime of sitting on the beach holding forth on the breaststroke possible. That a Pastor would have a special wardrobe crafted for such occasions is predictable. That it is both expensive and not at all compatible with water illustrates the lamentable state of Christianity in Orange County.
Faith alone may be theologically supportable, but I find it binding; it ties God’s hands. As a question it is a wonderful spur to the kind of college discussions that shape young people’s lives. As a dogma, an insistence, however, it is a wretched constraint, ruining lives and churches and laying waste to the great gift of the poor. It makes their suffering irrelevant and it renders Christ’s greatest sermon incomprehensible. The priest and the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan were passing by the injured victim because of faith, and faith alone. The basic human impulse to care, and to care for, so called "Works" is crushed beneath the enormity of the Sola. It renders the victim alone, the Priest and the Levite alone. Like the other Solas, it trades community and humanity for nothing but a resolute doctrinality, leaving us all more alone.
My friend has one hope: such a doctrine, being the province of the wealthy young, falls before the poverty it eschews and the infirmity with which God seasons age. It is hard to find that strident doctrinal clarity of voice when you are the one with the broken jaw. And eventually every jaw, if not broken, is mellowed: with time, looser interpretations issue from mouths with looser teeth.
What is lost however, is fecundity. At precisely the time when we should be rearing our children to be Christians by example, we are overwhelming their attention spans with erudite and incomprehensible disputations on Christ’s law. We insist that they attend banal beach blanket Bible bindings punctuated by the occasional unattended drowning.
It is altogether fitting that such a religion must devolve into confusing faith with the exposition of faith. It then becomes a perfect vessel for corporate emanations, which although written by a human are then repeated by a faith-based corporation. When I pointed out that we were for years the largest shelter in Orange County, I was asked what the Village of Hope did with the “extra” $12 million, which was the difference in our budgets. I said they “spread the word,” largely by increasing the people’s faith in the Village of Hope, by using $12 million dollars worth of words to communicate $2 hundred thousand dollars worth of work.
Were they purists, they could have eliminated “works” altogether, spending the entire budget on just talking about helping homeless people. Spending it on faith alone.