So, I'm back from Cornerstone. In short: it was fun; I met some cool people; I even found a band or two that I like (which I hadn't really expected to happen); I discovered punk monks, which is pretty cool (and who'd have expected to find an Eastern Orthodox group at a midwestern evangelical event?); I didn't get run out on a rail for mentioning the gay rights aspect of the X-Men, and in fact found a rather healthy discussion going on about how the conservative church needs to be better about how it treats gay people; I was surprised at the relative non-prevalence of pro-life activism (particularly considering the very definite presence it's had at past Cornerstones), which seems to be getting edged out in favor of issues like poverty, global warming, and child soldiers; and I have found a bit more respect for conservative evangelicals now, though I'm certainly not going to become one anytime soon. More detailed thoughts will be found in a trio of video reports I shot for Religion Dispatches, which I'm told will be posted throughout the coming week.
Having returned from this great gathering of young evangelicals, I was surprised to find that the chief bishop of the Episcopal Church has summed up what I find to be the central error at the heart of evangelical theology. In the keynote address of the Episcopal Church's 2009 convention,
Ubuntu doesn’t have any “I”s in it. The I only emerges as we connect – and that is really what the word means: I am because we are, and I can only become a whole person in relationship with others. There is no “I” without “you,” and in our context, you and I are known only as we reflect the image of the one who created us. Some of you will hear a resonance with Martin Buber’s I and Thou and recognize a harmony. You will not be wrong. [...] If we want to be faithful, we need to be continually rediscovering that my needs are not the only significant ones. Ubuntu implies that selfishness and self-centeredness cannot long survive. We are our siblings’ knowers and their keepers, and we cannot be known without them – we have no meaning, no true existence in isolation. We shall indeed die as we forget or ignore that reality.
To which I can really only say, "that's what I've been saying all along!" I've never been comfortable with the me-centeredness of evangelical theology, which encompasses the problematic idea of "being saved," and the hermeneutic theory that "it's all about you", the prosperity gospel, and, yes, even the idea of "personal relationship" with Jesus. To my mind, the gospel isn't about seeking a relationship between God and oneself; it's about attempting to embody divine love in one's relationships with all people-- and that's a communal goal as much as a personal one. Too much of today's Christianity is about "What can God do for me?," which is, not to mince words, just plain wrong.
Fortunately, I didn't see too much of that self-based theology at Cornerstone. As more and more of the young evangelical community move in the direction of the emerging church, I think (and hope) there will be a shift toward community activism rather than that "great Western heresy" of spiritual prosperity... but Joel Osteen is still pretty popular. Only time will tell.
The full text of Bishop Jefferts Schori's address is available here.
[Hat tip: Religion Dispatches, whose report on the speech is worth reading, as is the pro-gay ordination comic at the bottom.]