By Terry Smith
The mainline is dying. That’s no surprise to anyone. Conservative denominations are growing though. In America, the only steadily growing denomination is the Assemblies of God, a conservative evangelical Pentecostal denomination. Many mainline denominations (my beloved Disciples of Christ, included) are grasping at straws to stop from fading into obscurity.
But, “obscurity” isn’t the worst thing that could happen to the Disciples of Christ and other mainline denominations. The worst thing that could happen to us is that we flake on our call to be the prophets in the wilderness. The worst thing that could happen to us is that we manipulate people into joining our churches with fear-driven sermons. The worst thing that could happen to us is that we stop being the voice of justice in the wilderness. The worst thing that could happen to us is not spending 40 years in the desert, but the worst thing that could happen to us is that the fear of the desert drives us to compromise our beliefs.
Walking in the desert isn’t the worst thing that happened to the people of Israel. Not everyone made it through the desert though. Not everyone has what it takes to follow the cloud of the Lord and survive off manna from Heaven. Let those who need to survive off their bastardization of God. Let them make God into an American and Jesus into a Republican, but do not let us compromise our beliefs and the message God has given to us for fear of the desert.
It is in the desert that we learn to trust God, because we have to. And it is then, when we have no other choice but to trust God and each other for our sustenance that true community happens. And on the other side of the desert, the Promised Land stands and our giants of church debt, tradition and pride will have to be fought to find hope in the Promised Land. But the desert isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to the mainline or the people of Israel. The worst thing that happens to us is when we stop being the JUST people of God and start relying on the religion of the state to sustain us.