Have you seen the pavements?

“Have you seen the state of the pavements? They’re all out of shape.”

The question was a not completely inappropriate opening conversational remark. Walking into the city centre the pavements are indeed a bit uneven. It was the follow on that took me a little by surprise, “That’s religion that’s done that.”. Then slightly more assertively, “Are you religious?”.

Honestly, I try to avoid being tagged as religious, but that’s really me playing internalised semantic games as to most casual observers I do fit the general usage of the label. Tony Campolo wrote, this September, that he no longer wanted to be called an ‘Evangelical’ – fair enough, since he recently revised his original stance on LGBTQ issues his decision will probably be a relief for the Evangelical right in the USA who can now safely dismiss him as ‘sifted out’.

Hi, Tony, welcome to the club. I was informed that I had been ‘sifted out’ myself some forty years ago and have diligently tried to avoid being labelled as an evangelical for some time now. I’ve also been denounced as a heretic – no really – and I’m particularly grateful for this now when the likes of Jerry Falwell are endorsing Trump’s presidential candidacy.

Tony Campolo’s article in Christian Today opens with the comment that “Every once in a while unfair judgements are made”. Blaming any religion for the angle of paving slabs could be a little misjudged but by and large religion’s problems are not the unfair judgements but the demonstrably reasonable ones. I write as a Christian and as a religion we have been judged, at the very least, to be gay hating, inward looking, judgemental, vicious, abuse concealing and irrelevant. Worse that that all of these accusations can be substantiated.

I’ve got a lot of time for both the previous and current Archbishop of Canterbury and the current Pope. I like the tone of some of the things they have said. Perhaps it’s just after so long I’m pleasantly surprised to hear something sensible being touted by institutional religion. And this is the crux of my problem I don’t think the institution of church has anything much of a connection with my faith. Structurally it’s unchanged since God knows when, the 1600s at the least. Still mostly men in strange clothes, in strange ceremonies, with strange words, engaged in esoteric argument incomprehensible to many and comparable to angels and pinheads. The Christian religion and the institutions which control it have cooperated in both propping up and benefitting from the power structures, business and government, of the day. Marx was right “The first pre-requisite for the happiness of the people is the abolition of religion.”

The Christian religion, that should be an oxymoron. The terms simply don’t fit and when they are forced to cohabit the results are all the things we have rightly been accused of. I want a new name. Christian was originally what others called us anyway I think I prefer the old name for ourselves ‘followers of the Way’.

We are, some writers tell us, in a post-Christendom era. Good, that gives a chance for a real paradigm shift. A faith not a religion. Relationship based not institutional. Free not State. Full of grace, not dis-graceful. Not grabbing power over but sharing power with. Not judgemental and exclusive but open heart and handed. There are small signs amongst the tired structures, small voices with big hearts. There is a Way but it is not for the religious.