A lot of people are interested in reforming the church, and I am certainly one of them. Perhaps we don’t all agree at exactly what this reform looks like, but we agree that it must be done. There is a lot of talk here, but little action. It is time to make some changes.
But what is the most effective agent for change? What is the catalyst that will bring about the necessary reform? Let’s look at some of the reforms of the past and see how it happens:
-We could begin with one small group of reformers and live radical lifestyles. Of course, by the next generation (or possibly even before that) the radical lifestyle will be compromised to such a degree as to be un-radical. And besides, people will just exalt us as “special” or “a saint” and so separate themselves from the change they need to have. (Francis of Assisi)
-We could train the poor the truth of living radically for Jesus and let them preach openly. We just need to hope that they don’t start a war. (John Wycliffe- Lombards; Peter Waldo- Waldensians)
-We could begin a really successful writing campaign that stirs the hearts of angry young men and women until they cause an upheaval in churches around the world. Of course, we had better not get politically involved or else we might find ourselves on one side of a battle. (Martin Luther)
-We could go from congregation to congregation, teaching a single, unified message that becomes an underground movement (John Wesley; missionary movement)
-We could have a top-down decision to make some radical Jesus changes. (Vatican II, Desmond Tutu in South Africa)
-We could take to the streets, to show mass support of our important cause (MLK Jr.)
-We could teach a message that is threatening to the powers that be and have them kill us, which will plant the seed for a future generation to make the changes necessary. (Jesus, Anabaptist reformers)
There are so many ways for it to be done successfully. We don’t want to hang our hopes on just one. Reform is multifaceted and powerful and it can be done in many ways.
However, there is one component that is necessary for reform to happen. We need to have a mass of people—not a majority, mind you, but a good amount—knowing that change is necessary and is ready to make sacrifices for the change. Every reform happens in seasons of discontent and usually oppression.
How can we have reform amidst complacency? How can we have reform amidst people who feel that writing on a blog is their contribution to real change? How can we have reform when cable, DVDs, and preachers keep us entertained and satisfied with our lives? Yes, oppression happens, and our answer to it is to “click here”, and so we feel that we’ve done our part.
There is slavery in the world, the oppression of the poor, AIDS is an epidemic, the U.S. is continuing to stir up war to solve their economic woes—and the only thing we can get stirred up about is medical insurance? Just to give you a hint—the people on the street don’t care about medical insurance. They want a safe place to sleep where they won’t be bothered by the police. The people in Darfur aren’t concerned about medical insurance so much as having their family members survive. And Jesus himself is less concerned about medical insurance as he is about equity between the wealthy and the poor—which the Mennonite church seems to have forgotten about. As well as the Methodists, the Waldensians, the Unitarians and whoever else.
There’s plenty to reform. But it won’t happen until we FEEL the anger. God Himself is yelling at the world leaders, saying, “How long will you judge unjustly And show partiality to the wicked? Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked…. You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High. Nevertheless you will die like men And fall like any one of the princes." And the psalmist replies, “Arise, O God, judge the earth!”
But we, the wealthy of the world are too caught up in our economic slowdown and the latest events on American Idol to feel the anger of God. We Mennonites are so fearful of experiencing that anger, of facing conflict, that we would rather take medication or slave-harvested chocolate to calm us down instead of changing the world as it should be changed.
This is why reform won’t happen. Not because of a wrong method. But because we lack empathy for the poor. And, as much work as I do for the poor, I have to admit that I am part of the problem myself.