There is an old joke about a monk coming out of the archives crying to his fellow monks, saying, “We mistranslated something! It should read celebrate, not celibate.” How do we know when we have made a mistake? When driving somewhere new with only written directions, I find that there is always a moment when I ask if we have gone too far, or if this is the right road. Oftentimes, the location is just a bit further ahead. But there are times when I have gone many miles in the wrong direction.
Could there be aspects of our institutional faith that has been mistranslated, or now misunderstood? What if we have been doing something for thousands of years and that a prayer, or understanding is misguided? Would we have the strength and courage to change? The rethinking of slavery was one moment when we rethought and changed the way we had always understood something, but it took a civil war to make the change.
What got me thinking about this possibility was hearing various Christian leaders speaking out on political issues in regards to what was right and wrong. A group of Christian leaders were speaking for political action to be taken, speaking on behalf of their people as people of power. Speaking from a political authority, with the mantle of righteousness, is always problematic for me; especially as a Christian. To do such always has an air of we are right, we are better and we know what others need to do. My experience has always found that we all have problems, shortcomings and have fallen short, and still God offered unconditional love and by doing so, transformed my life. This has changed everything for me. A law, a mandate, or an edict by an authority, rarely makes such a change in my life. It might modify my behavior, but only so as not to experience the consequence.
Not insisting on political dominance but witnessing to the experience of faith is where I sense and have experienced the effects of faith most profoundly. Being right might not always open the door for evangelism as well as simply witnessing what we have heard and seen. Advocating a position of political authority opens one up to the scrutiny of examination of one’s own history. To tell someone else what to do, how to behave and not have a very good record oneself tends to leave one open to ridicule. It is important to speak against injustice, yet raising questions, speaking from one’s experience, and trying to shine light seems to me to be more reflective of our faith than dictating doctrine, dogma and legislation. Having been the dominant political religious force, oftentimes as ruling head of state, our history is checkered with a clouded arena of actions that might be seen as more for political gain than religious renewal. Perhaps our need for power is a thing of the past that we need to get over. Perhaps it is time to rediscover where our true power rests, and it might not be in earthly dominance.