As part of Day1's Young Leaders of the Church Series, Lucia Hulsether offers this commentary on the future of the church:
Why does the church matter to the world?
If I have any shadow of I guess, I can only articulate it through experiences.
At my public high school, my classmates showed their spirit at football games by painting their bodies with images of our school mascot: the Confederate flag. After victories, fans would storm the field to pray under this flag. The principal would lead the prayer, "Thank you, Lord, for keeping us safe tonight. In Jesus name. Amen."
Contrast this image with the social justice Christianity espoused in my faith communities growing up. On Saturdays after games, my United Church of Christ youth group visited our interim pastor in federal prison, where he was serving six months for civil disobedience at a military base. After my first year of college, my church's liberation theology helped inspire me to do humanitarian aid work on the US-Mexico border. My group spent days hiking through the desert with water; we rarely ran into anyone, but traces of human life surrounded us in discarded clothes, footprints, and once, a crucifix wedged in the sand.
The juxtaposition of these images troubles the question of why "the church" matters to "the world": there are many worlds and many conceptions of what it means to be "church."
So the church can matter in lots of ways. In my high school, it mattered because it upheld white supremacy. In youth group it mattered for building community. In prison "the church" mattered as a witness against militarism. In the desert, it mattered because we became the church when we responded to need; for people crossing it gave orientation in dire circumstances.
In short, the church matters because it always means something--even if we don't know exactly why or how. This has concrete effects, especially since "the church" also represents an institution with major ideological and material power. For example, recently the head of the Family Research Council said that Wisconsin's union busting legislation was a victory for Christians, because labor movements align themselves with "anti-family" values. Where is the progressive Christian response tot this? Where are the coherent, risky--perhaps even alienating--faith-based statements in support of unions? If churches are not doing everything to use our financial resources, moral vocabularies, and public platforms to mobilize around pressing issues, what are we doing? The theologian Dorothee Soelle says it well: "We have to use our tradition, or it will use us." This is one way the church matters and will continue to matter, but how exactly it will matter is up to those of us who make the church.
I'm Lucia Hulsether.