Christianity in 2010: Who cares?

Christianity was in the news this month when it was reported that Youth for Christ, an evangelical social-service organization, plans to build a $11-million youth centre at the northwest corner of Main Street and Higgins Avenue.

Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin railed against a plan proposing that the City contribute funds to the project, calling it “taxpayer-funded proselytization.”

“These people are evangelical fundamentalists,” Martin said. “Offering much-needed sports opportunities is just their way of luring in young prospects.”

For the next three issues of The Uniter, Rev. Jack Duckworth will explore the topic of Christianity.

Specifically, he’ll look at three questions, each in a separate article: What is a Christian? What does it mean to be a non-Christian? And: What does it mean to no longer be a Christian?

Each week a different Uniter writer will respond to Duckworth’s article, demonstrating the wide-ranging and passionate opinions that arise when questions of faith are brought to the table. 

What do you think? Let us know by e-mailing [email protected].

What is a Christian?

by Jack Duckworth, University of Winnipeg Volunteer Chaplain

Today, Christianity is on a level playing field with all other belief systems. This is good and bad.

It is good because the question considered in this article has to be answered credibly. It is bad because values, once assumed as universal, are lost in today’s broad field of enquiry.

To this end, it is useful to clarify: What is a Christian?

A Christian follows Jesus Christ, but Jesus’s claims are disconcerting because they are both exclusive and global. Who he claims to be and his call to follow him are extreme.

For example, in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I give eternal life … I and the Father [God] are one.” Jesus states he is God, which is tough to read.

Jesus also claims to offer the only way to God. To Thomas, the great doubter, he says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NIV).

These are extreme statements. His exclusive invitation is not easy to grasp.

Accepting the invitation comes at a cost. A Christian accepts the claims that Jesus and God are one, Jesus is the only access to God and willingly gives his or her life to following him every day. In short, Christians live immersed in Jesus’s ways.

These claims are not easy to process. After all, who does Jesus think He is?

In point of fact he answered the question. Yet, in our multicultural nation (which I enjoy and appreciate), how on earth can anyone accept such claims?

They can be accepted if we understand that Jesus’s exclusive claims are a globally inclusive invitation, not an imposition.

His claims are offered in a pluralistic culture. In fact, the Westminster Confession of Faith (an historically significant document published in 1646) grasped the reality of pluralism, where it says some accept all that Jesus claims and offers and know life eternal while others reject it. This invitation extends to all humanity regardless of age, gender or ethnicity.

A Christian life is counter-intuitive. Christians now live out of the margins of our culture. Regardless, Jesus died for the sake of all people who would follow him (John 10:11). In like manner, he teaches that there is no greater love than that of one who lays down his or her life for their friend (John 15:13).

Anyone can choose to do this, but Christians, even as they are honest about their flaws, live out this conviction empowered by the Spirit of God to make a difference in others’ lives (John 6:63, John 14:26). The life that is promised to those who follow Jesus is a life of spiritual abundance (John 10:10). Christians are taught through Jesus to live a life in service to others.

What then is a Christian?

First and always, it is someone who has responded to and understands the spiritual faith commitment of the invitation of the living resurrected Lord (Acts 16:14, Ephesians 2:1–10). Second, they live life with integrity – though flawed and off target at times (Matthew 25:14–23). Third, they serve together with others (Hebrews 10:25). And fourth, they understand their commitment to following Jesus exists in culture but does not integrate with other belief systems with Biblical teaching.

Therefore, as Lesslie Newbigin notes in his book The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Christians are bonded in two interpenetrating purposes – individual and mission – with the call to live one’s faith in Christ through the local church and serve the concerns of the world and its people.

Rev. Jack Duckworth is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church Winnipeg and is available as volunteer chaplain at the U of W Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. He invites all interested to dialogue sessions in room 3M50 related to the articles: “What is a Christian?” (Wednesday, March 3 at 12:30 p.m.), “What does it mean to be a non-Christian?” (Wednesday, March 10 at 12:30 p.m.) and “What does it mean to no longer be a Christian?” (Wednesday, March 17 at 12:30 p.m.).

Christianity is rife with the corrupt and the contemptible

by Ethan Cabel, Beat Reporter

Those without religious affiliation are the fastest growing minority in North America.

The Statistics Canada census of 2001 demonstrates that 16 per cent of Canadians are not religiously inclined. Considering that secularism saw a four per cent jump between 1991 and 2001, the number of Canadians that boast to be free of religious servitude has doubtless increased in the last nine years.

This upsurge of secularism in Canada is justified and indicative of a move toward reason rather than superstition, and tolerance rather than prejudice.

It is impossible for many to believe in a divine creator without first posing the obvious question: Who created God?

It is further impossible for many to believe in a deity prone to doing personal favours.

The rise of secularism can be attributed to the intellectual shortcomings of religion (there is literally no evidence for the existence of God) but is due more to the evil often committed in the name of religion.

Canadians are becoming increasingly wary of preachers and spiritualists that claim to be “the way, the truth and the life” because their claims lack evidence and their supposed moral superiority turns out, more often than not, to be fraudulent.

The representatives of the American Christian right are not content to be obsessed with a moronic doctrine that would deny rights to homosexuals, institute mandatory prayer/creationist theory in schools and outlaw the practice of abortion. They seek to foster prejudice amongst their congregations and are often corrupt and contemptible.

For example, in 2004, the Christian evangelist Jimmy Swaggart spoke to an American television audience about gay marriage: “I’ve never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I’m going to be blunt and plain, if one ever looks at me like that I’m gonna kill him and tell God he died.”

Swaggart has been thrice caught with a prostitute in his car or leaving motel rooms in 1988, 1991 and 1995.

In a New York Times article written at the height of his popularity, it was reported that Swaggart and his wife travelled in a personal jet, drove his and hers Lincoln town cars and lived in a $1.5 million home along with a condominium in Palm Springs, Calif., and that these luxuries were purchased through donations to the Jimmy Swaggart Ministries.

The Christian will argue that Swaggart is an extreme example of hypocrisy. What they forget is that the climate of religious privilege allows demagogues like Swaggart to profit.

Religious institutions in North America are not subject to the same financial scrutiny as businesses. At the height of his popularity, Swaggart (because he ran a church) was not obligated to make financial reports to the United States Internal Revenue Service. Instead, he filed reports with his denomination, the Assemblies of God, while he was their largest financial contributor.

Swaggart maintains a large ministry and television presence that has defrauded ignorant Americans out of millions. His brand of hate-mongering and corruption is in no way an isolated case.

Canadians have looked closely at the systemic sexual abuse facilitated by the Catholic Church over the last several decades and are just beginning to condemn the backwards and tribal sexual restrictions that are found in all monotheistic faiths. These range from homosexual discrimination to the mandatory circumcision of Jewish males, the ban on contraception and masturbation instituted by the Catholic Church, or the estimated 130 million women worldwide that have had their clitorises forcibly removed in the name of Islam.

It must be granted that a great deal of humanitarian work and philanthropy is done by proudly religious organizations. Take a look at Siloam Mission and the Salvation Army here in downtown Winnipeg to see the positive impact a faith-based organization can have on the city’s downtrodden.

But I must reiterate an atheistic challenge put forward by American atheist/journalist Christopher Hitchens: “Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer.”

Ethan Cabel is a beat reporter for The Uniter.

Read part two of the series.

Published in Volume 64, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 25, 2010)

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