Beth M in Brethrenville asked me to write something for the BVS newsletter. This is what I came up with in my few spare moments. I posted it on my blog and Rachel requested it be posted on this blog. I would be interested to hear if anyone else has had similiar experiences thus far at their sites.
I walked away from work yesterday with two big questions running through my mind: How does one stand up and defend a faith that has been all too malicious and destructive in the past? Even more importantly, now does one talk about your personal faith when your own understanding of faith is in constant flux? Yesterday, I spent the afternoon interviewing Marija, a colleague of mine. Another NGO had sent us a survey to fill out on fundamentalism, and I wanted her assistance in answering the questions. I spent almost two hours asking her questions about the current relationship between religion and the Serbian government. Serbia suffers from a lack of religious diversity. The main church is the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC); this church is closely associated with the nationalist government. It also had a very controversial role in the Balkan wars; many soldiers were blessed by the SPC before being sent out to commit genocide. It’s not exactly the model of Christian love. Therefore, most of the activists in the Women in Black office have a very negative view of religion. Most of the activists are adamant atheists.
Towards the end of the survey the questions asked what we thought would be the perfect relationship between a state and the religious communities. Marija’s answer was that she couldn’t accurately answer that question because she was a radical Marxist and wishes religion didn’t exist. She believes that the belief in a higher power denies one the ability to have true ethical morals. In her mind, there can’t be true freedom while you believe in a higher power; a belief in a higher power means that all of one’s actions are motivated by a notion of that higher power’s ethical morals, and by feelings guilt. Marija talked about in how in her experience she had encountered two types of Christians. The first type used their religion as a motivator for oppression and violence. The second type found their hope in the knowledge that a better world is coming (the afterlife), but this hope allowed them to sit idly by as injustice, poverty, and suffering occurred. These Christians may be pacifists and believe in justice, but they are not activists.
I talked to her about the third type of Christians that I know, the ones who maintain a belief in God and are also activists. She conceded that there were many Christians in the United States who lived lives of activism, but it was a type of activism she couldn’t support. Activists who would deny her friends rights based upon their sexual orientation or their reproductive choices. They were activists fighting against the very values of Women in Black – human rights and women’s rights. I responded that among the third type of Christians that I know there are those who actively work for peace and justice here and now. She said that Rachel, the previous BVSer, was the first Christian she had met (or even heard of) that was an activist of this type. She pointed out that Rachel’s church is very small. At this point, I couldn’t really argue with her; the number of Christians in the United States subscribing to a life of peace and justice activism does seem small. I didn’t know how to defend Christians for being so apathetic and so myopic. As I sat there thinking about how I could respond to her comments, I realized that I don’t know. I don’t have an adequate response. As much as I wish it were different, I doubt the next two years will bring the answers to those questions, or the many other doubts and questions I have regarding Christianity. The one thing I am sure of is that my understanding of faith will continue to be challenged and changed. And for now, I’m okay with that.