Long, long ago Peter had a vision about clean and unclean animals. Of course, there were questions about what was necessary to be Christian in the early days of church. Was circumcision required? Were the dietary laws of Judaism necessary? Did you have to become Jewish first? Peter’s vision indicated that there was no clean or unclean food for the followers of Christ. Yet, the question of what was necessary was not resolved.
We are still asking that question today, aren’t we. There are those who would say that a literal interpretation of the Bible is necessary. Only men can be preachers. Men can only marry women. Sex is only for procreation. There is nothing outside the gender binary. Some would even go so far as to say that the U.S. must become a “Christian” theocracy in order to carry out God’s will.
Where is the visionary with a response to all that divides today’s church?
If Peter’s vision taught that the followers of Christ could eat any food and maybe didn’t need to follow all the laws of Judaism, does it give any indication of how to resolved the ever-widening divisions of today?
Of course, I say that it does. Peter’s vision indicates a welcome of all. It indicates that mythic and moral imagination has a role in today’s church. A literal interpretation of scripture gets us nowhere good. Excluding and judging folx for who they are causes more harm than good. Moreover, the world does not need any kind of theocracy.
While the founders of this country did much harm and many of us are just learning how to make reparations for the damages of colonialism, they were correct in insisting on the separation of church and state. No good comes from governments dictating the religious views of the people, especially when those religious views can cause harm.
Today’s church would do well to take learn from Peter’s vision and make a move toward inclusion of all people and the use of imagination, particularly when it comes to interpreting scripture. The theocracy envisioned by the extreme right, is not about propagating faith; it is about a few people (read White, cis, heterosexual, men) maintaining power and control.
I’ve said it before and I will continue saying it – God does not need our help saving souls; God needs our help saving lives. If we continue on the way we have, even those of us who are more progressive, lives will be lost. If we do not ask ourselves who is not included in our churches – actively or passively – we are leaning into that theocracy whether we admit it or not.
Unexamined beliefs that stem from archaic theological perspectives still govern us. They prevent us from accepting the universal, unconditional love with which God wraps Creation. I’m not sure Peter grasped this or even if he understood the full power of his vision. We have 2000+ years of history to learn from. We can do better.
I imagine a church that includes ALL peoples. Moreover, I imagine a church that minsters to and with people from every culture and faith tradition as need arises. I don’t need to have this presented on a blanket while I am praying. The truth is that if we do not let go of some of the limits we have placed on God through unexamined, outdated theology, we cannot be the church needed in the world today. We will continue to diminish in power and presence.
We must continue to ask ourselves who we exclude, how do we serve Empire rather than God, and who do we harm with the limits of our love? These are hard questions. They need answering, though. And they need answering now.
It must be noted that the early church erred on the side of inclusion and breaking with tradition in order to thrive. Jesus spoke against legalism and commanded us to care for the vulnerable among us. He never required anyone to believe as he believed before he saved their lives and brought them into community. Let’s be more like Jesus and save lives.