A new Pentecost
The time has come to let the fundamentalists have the church.
So says Rev. Matthew Fox in his new book A New Reformation: Creation Spirituality and the Transformation of Christianity, where he presents his own 95 theses in the tradition of Martin Luther who posted his articles of reformation on the church door in Wittenburg. According to Fox, it’s time for progressive Christians to initiate a Luther-like divorce from our more fundamentalist counterparts. Let them have “the church, with its buildings and museums, its debts and payouts for pedophile offenders,” he writes. “We who believe otherwise and are not fundamentalists will take Christ.” (p. 54)
“I think it is time for some churches to say, ‘let the homophobes go,’ because we’re putting too much time and energy into trying to keep this thing together called church. Because the issue of treating other human beings with respect and dignity and as other Christs is not a place where we can compromise, why are we trying to compromise? I think we should let it go,” Fox said in a recent interview with Whosoever.
By letting go of homophobia and other fundamentalism holding the church back, a new Pentecost, a rebirth of the church, will take place. That new church will be rooted in the Creation Spirituality that has been Fox’s bailiwick for the bulk of his career. For thirty-four years an ordained priest, and never shy of controversy, Fox hit the headlines when he was silenced, then expelled from the Dominican Order by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) for founding the Creation Spirituality movement. Dating back to the 9th century BCE, Creation Spirituality is the tradition of the historical Jesus, rooted in the wisdom tradition and carried on by spiritual mystics throughout the ages. It is a tradition, Fox said, that is feminist, welcoming of the arts and artists, wisdom centered, prophetic and caring about eco-justice and social justice and gender justice issues.
Creation Spirituality begins with the idea of original blessing instead of original sin – a concept that did not exist in early Hebrew spirituality but was later given to the Christian tradition by Augustine.
“Augustine’s ideology of original sin is based on sexuality. He had a problem with his own sexuality and so today’s pope had the same problem Augustine had 16 centuries ago which is kind of pitiful,” Fox, who is now an Episcopal minister, said.
Pitiful too, was Fox’s reception at Wittenburg in 2005 when he went to nail his own 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Germany. The fathers of the city didn’t want them to do it because they said it would interfere with tourism. Sure enough, while they were there, Fox said a big tour bus arrived full of people speaking English. They turned out to be from South Africa. Their tour guide took them to the door and explained the history of the door in ten minutes. When she finished Fox invited the group to join them as they made modern day history.
“The tour guide got all huffy and said they were on a schedule and they got back on the bus,” Fox said. “Religion has become a tourist industry where we go to all these places where we once had heroes that did something but don’t think about doing anything today, in fact, don’t interfere with the commerce involved in going to these so-called sacred places. It’s so appalling that it’s laughable.”
However, Fox is dead serious about the need for a new reformation.
“I call it an effort to kick the ecclesial cadaver to see if there’s any life left in it. Protestantism needs waking up. I think it’s very sleepy and it has allowed fundamentalism to roll over it, which is profoundly anti-intellectual. Fundamentalism has nothing to do with the intelligent Protestant tradition of a Martin Luther or a John Calvin or a Ralph Waldo Emerson or anyone else. It’s so scared of science, psychology and anything else it’s just off the wall.”
A truly transformed Christianity will embrace the lessons of science and “fly on two wings,” Fox said – the wing of the historical Jesus and the wing of the Cosmic Christ.
“The historical Jesus calls us to compassion and to critique our cultural values and to substitute values of justice and peacemaking. The Cosmic Christ calls us to connect to all other beings in a sacred way and calls us to interfaith because the Christ is not just about Jesus but about the spirit that works through all traditions and all cultures,” he said.
To fly on those two wings, Fox presents his own 95 theses or articles of faith, calling the church to return to state where it recognizes its role as prophet, aids the poor and marginalized, cares for the earth, and honors the Christ present in each person.
Fox’s personal favorite among the 95 is the first one: “God is both Mother and Father” underscoring the importance of gender. “Meister Eckhart says all the names we give to God come from an understanding of ourselves, so if we only see God as Father or male then we’re giving a very distorted message to our culture and especially to our children,” he said. “In many ways that’s absolutely fundamental. If we can’t bring back the balance of yin and yang, or male and female, as applied to divinity then we’re not bringing it back as applied to ourselves and this is clearly one of the real problems of our species today is that we have a distorted view of masculinity. ”
Distorted also is our view of sexuality. Theses 70-73 deal specifically with the inclusion of gays and lesbians within Fox’s new vision of Christianity.
70: Jesus said nothing about condoms, birth control or homosexuality.
71: A church that is more preoccupied with sexual wrongs than with wrongs of injustice is itself sick.
72: Since homosexuality is found among 464 species and in 8 percent of any given human population, it is altogether natural, for those who are born that way are a gift from God and nature to the greater community.
73: Homophobia in any form is a serious sin against love of neighbor, a sin of ignorance of the richness and diversity of God’s creation, and a sin of exclusion.
It is imperative in Fox’s view, that a reformed Christianity recognize and celebrate the gifts of its gay and lesbian members. By demonizing gays and lesbians, Fox said, fundamentalists are draining energy and time from other issues that Christianity must deal with like poverty, war and other injustices.
“A church that is busy condemning homosexuals is committing suicide,” he said. “It’s destroying its own source and resource for spiritual leadership. Instead of trying to chase homosexuals out of the seminary like the pope is trying to do, it’s much smarter to sit down and ask, ‘what spiritual wisdom do they bring to the larger community?'”
Until this and Fox’s other challenges to the church are answered, he writes that we will not be able to “let go of religion and begin to get serious about spiritual practice.”
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.