A common space for harmonic peacemakers
Paul R. Smith
Integral Christianity : The Spirit’s Call to Evolve
(St Paul, MN: Paragon House, 2011, 381pp)
Paul R. Smith has written a lively reminder that in all religious traditions “there are many mansions” and that the role of faith is to unite and enlarge rather than to divide and build wall of defense. Paul Smith has been a pastor of a Southern Baptist church in Kansas City, Missouri as well as teaching in Protestant seminaries elsewhere in the USA. Thus his focus is on Protestant Christianity, especially as it lived in daily life and worship. However many of his insights hold true for other religious traditions which are increasingly in contact with each other. Some form of encounter among faiths can no longer be avoided, and we see fairly similar reactions among both church leaders and ordinary members.
One reaction is what Paul Smith calls the “Tribal and the Warrior church,” closed in upon itself, seeing others as a threat. Their theology is based on a vision of constant conflict, the battle between God and Satan, and they see God acting to punish, ‘Vengeance is mine’, with Sodom and Gomorrah as prime examples. One finds the same ‘Warrior church’ in the Sunni-Shiite divide and in armed attacks upon worshipers of rival mosques and shrines as these days in Pakistan and Bahrain.
While the Warrior church is a minority in all religious traditions, their preachers are particularly active on the internet and among those who feel at home in a tightly defined world of good and evil, of friend or foe, of ‘you are with us or you are against us’.
Fortunately, the great bulk of active religious people are not in the Warrior church and are increasingly active in meeting people of other faiths in discussion and dialogue. They seek out what is common and what unites.
In Europe, there tends to be one major Protestant church in each country with members and pastors having differing theological positions and concerns but who are bound together by a common history and often a status as a ‘State Church — the ‘Church of England’, the ‘Church of Sweden’, etc. In the USA, Protestantism is diverse, with many denominations, and many individuals choose their church on the basis of ideology, socio-political activities, an emphasis on healing and self-development etc. Thus we find denominations which have an emphasis on healing and personal growth: Christian Science, Unity School of Christianity, and other New Thought groups; Unitarian-Universalists and Quakers established around a set of beliefs but now open to a wide range of views, as well as what can be called “mainline” denominations: Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist — each of which has a multitude of currents of thought and practice.
For a pastor such as Paul Smith, the question is how to keep within a single congregation people of different views, wanting to meet different needs, having different expectations and living in a geographic crossroads such as Missouri with people from the South, the East, and Mid-West natives coming together with different styles of life and increasingly different racial/ethnic backgrounds. A pastor needs to meet current needs of people as well as to help people to grow spiritually, to meet new challenges and to respond to new social conditions
In addition, there is an increasing number of people who consider themselves as ‘Spiritual but not Religious’. Smith quotes the late comedian Lenny Bruce who used to say “Everyday people are leaving church and finding God”.
Smith uses the term “the Integral Church” to characterize a broad path of growth within the faith — evolutionary enlightenment — and also as a reference to the wholistic writings of Ken Wilber (1). Much of Paul Smith’s focus is developed around the words of Jesus in Mathew ‘You are the light of the world.’ As Smith comments, “Jesus says to every person ‘You are the light of the world’. Not ‘You can become the light of the world’. Or ‘With the right beliefs and hard work you can achieve being the light of the world’. Jesus says ‘You are the light of the world right now’…The journey to letting our light shine is always one step, one practice, one day at a time. Each repeated practice of exercising and nurturing our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual bodies moves us to releasing more wondrous light into this world.”
Paul Smith has written a useful guide to meet the need for growth and for dialogue among faiths.
1)See Ken Wilber. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution. (Boston: Shambhala, 1995)
Ken Wilber;Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World (Boston: Shambhala, 2006)
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens