True Religion

I tread this topic with fear and trembling but feel the need to consider what it means to practice “true” religion (Pilate asked “What is truth?”) and “false” religion. Whether this is the beginning of another series of thoughts remains to be seen; for today, I want to ask the question seemingly answered by the writer of James: true/pure religion is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. Simple enough, but maybe too simple. Life is more complicated than that. And we really don’t know what the writer meant by the second part of the sentence.

The answer to every side of every moral question ultimately comes down to believing that we are pleasing God; that is on our side. It was true in the Civil War, and it is true in the debate about LGBTQ inclusion and acceptance. I pick this topic again because these communities are once again in the news. This time it is the Mennonites, a small but pietistic sect with many adherents in the part of Pennsylvania I live in. They are varied in dress and lifestyle and they are one of the few peace churches in existence. This past week they admitted that they had caused damage to people in the LGBTQ communities and – this was a surprise to me – have affirmed same-sex marriage. One of the money quotes is this: The rejection of LGBTQIA people by MC USA has silenced and denied ministry callings, torn apart families, forced parents to choose between their church and their child, and caused many LGBTQIA people to leave the church.

I am sure the Mennonites will go through what the Unite Methodists and others have gone through; there will be debates, churches will leave, and new denominations will be formed out of those schisms. All of this happens anytime there is a struggle for justice. The fact they have reconsidered their stance and voted (narrowly) to change it is a remarkable thing; Mennonites are as or more averse to change than any people of faith I know of. This kind of change is about trying to find the answer to the question: what is truth? If our faith communities aren’t constantly considering what they believe, they aren’t doing their jobs. These decisions are often a balancing act, one in which there are good and bad points to consider. True religion isn’t perfect, but it is constantly evolving. The Mennonites are trying to do just that.

It is the frustrating part of worshiping a perfect God. We are always trying to figure out what God wants, and while we often get it right, we just as often get it wrong. For me, the truest thing about faith is that we need to keep trying to do and be better. I was asked that historic question when I was ordained, “Are you going on to perfection in this life?”; I had to say no (much to the consternation of my soon-to-be bishop!) But I keep trying to be my best, and that is what matters. For those who point fingers at religious people, shouting out our faults and calling us hypocrites, please remember this; most of us trying to be better. That should mean something. We are all sinners, but some of us are trying not to be hypocrites. That should count for something.

Prayer – For the never-ending journey we are on to find out what You want, God of everything, we thank you.