Thursday, September 06, 2007

Phil Wyman and "I Am What's Wrong With the Church"

My friend and colleague Phil Wyman of The Gathering in Salem (in photo on the right) has an article titled "I Am What's Wrong With the Church" that appears in the September/October 2007 issue of The Plain Truth magazine. It's a great article that includes Phil's experiences in Salem as a Christian among Witches and Neo-Pagans, and the negative response by his former denomination, the Foursquare, to his friendships with local Pagans and his preferred forms of engagement with the local subcultures. As Phil writes about Pagans:

"They practice a religion misunderstood and demonized by Christian pastors. They understand what it means to be persecuted for their faith, but they have experienced this persecution from evangelical Christians who have believed the tall tales and urban myths about today's Witches.

"The church in the 21st century does not identify with their needs, and the television version of Christianity appears to be no more than parlor tricks played upon gullible crowds by ministers who are as much magicians as they are preachers."

As Phil reflects on Christianity in his local context, and on the broader national stage he writes,

"My despair and hopelessness is found quite close to home though. I find it in myself. I am what's wrong with the church.

"I find that I can quickly jump to conclusions about people. The way they look, the way they talk, the style of lives they live; these are the things which cause me to disassociate with people or mark them as a lost cause.

"I worry that the church has become too superstitious to see my Neo-Pagan friends as regular people who, like ourselves, were created in the image of God. The church is afraid of their 'magic,' and refuses to connect with them in any manner except a rebuke, and maybe an exorcism rite. Is this same attitude in me?"

I encourage you to download and read Phil's article. It's a bitter pill for Christians to swallow, but I think it's the right prescription for what ails us. The problem with the church is many times the attitudes of the very Christians who comprise it.


Jarred said...

For some reason, your link to the article is not working. I had to go to the PTM site and search for the article myself. It was well worth the time, mind you.

I appreciate that Pastor Phil (with whom I've spoken via his Circle and Cross Talk mailing list) is willing to take such an honest look at his faith, his church, and even himself. We would all do well to follow his example, regardless of which faith we belong to.

It also seems to me that while Pastor Phil may sometimes be a part of the problem, he's made some considerable effort to become part of a solution, too.

John W. Morehead said...

Thanks for your comments, Jarred. I reviewed the link and corrected the problem for future readers. Thanks again for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

aquinas said...

Thanks for posting the article. This is a great article with several areas for further discussion. One of my initial reactions is to say that, I do think we can be hard on ourselves. It is human nature to be judgmental to some degree, and one might argue that no organization is immune from human nature, not even the church. In addition, Christianity does get negatively portrayed in the media and in Hollywood and to that extent it is an easy target for those who lament over societal problems. I think there is a large body of Christians who do not identify with the “television version of Christianity.”

I also think that we need to realize that we are living in a pluralist society. We are bound together by more than religious commitments, and in order to function as a healthy society, we do need to learn to understand our neighbors and get along with people who hold different views.

The notion of questioning and searching within the church is a fascinating topic, which I would like to explore further. To be fair to Wyman, I would say that many of the stock answers he lists under the “Pentecostal blame game” are actually supported in the Old and New Testaments. In the time of Jesus, it was thought that blindness was caused by sin. And in the Old Testament, being conquered in war was often explained as a lack of obedience to the prophets. Much of the Old Testament (though not all of it) is trying to make the argument that good things happen to those who obey the law and bad things happen to those who do not. This worldview often is inherited by Christians, and yet it isn’t the only view espoused in the Bible and it might be healthy to reconsider this paradigm.

I do feel that there is notion that if a person is a Christian that they no longer need to wonder about the questions of the universe, or they need no longer question the meaning of life, since they are supposed to have all the answers. Revealed religion has this dimension to it, in that it is supposed to provide answers to life. However, I do feel that we need to allow Christians and members of faith groups to struggle with the questions of life, without feeling as if they somehow are not faithful. I suspect there is some sort of misunderstanding at the root of this, both inside and outside the church. I'll have to think more about this.

Jarred said...

I think there is a large body of Christians who do not identify with the “television version of Christianity.”

I'm inclined to agree with you, Aquinas. Unfortunately, I don't think that body is always as visible as those who seem to reflect the "television version of Christianity." I've certainly had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know many Christians who don't fit that model, but I think that's at least in part due to the fact that I make a certain amount of effort to look for them.

Assuming that my impression about such Christians' visibility is accurate (and by all means, feel free to challenge it), I'd be inclined to explore why that is the case and what, if anything, can and should be done about it.

aquinas said...

Thanks for the response Jarred. I think the reason is that people who are on TV tend to be more visible than people who are not. I suppose we could go further and say something like, "I think there is a large body of Catholics who do not identify with the ‘Hollywood version’ of Catholicism" or "I think there is a large body of Pagans who do not identify with the ‘Hollywood version’ of Paganism.” I realize broadcasting a sermon and having movies made are different issues. The point, I think, is simply that often because of the visibility of TV and cinema that it is easier to have preconceived notions about people of different faiths portrayed through that media. As for what can be done about it, I suppose some groups can always try to lobby for more things which they can identify with, or to have movies made which represent them more accurately. That seems, however, to require large sums of money and influence. The other route is to inform people that what they see on TV is not necessarily representative of the larger faith community. Much of learning this fact simply comes with meeting and getting to know other people, as you have done. To that end, I think that interfaith dialogue is an excellent vehicle for creating those opportunities.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey John,

Correction needed here. I was not part of the Assemblies of God. Thanks for the great post though.

John W. Morehead said...

Thanks, Phil. I corrected it.