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Ism’s and Phobias – Part 1

One of the calls of the deacon (as is with all Christians) is to participate in God‘s mission in the world. This work has reformed beyond mere charity and saving of souls; into a much more layered contribution to community. Service looks at physical, emotional and spiritual needs. If Christian faith communities are to have a strengthened relationship with others, we should consider our public witness. Have Christians done the difficult work of self-reflection, with a willingness to hear and examine criticISM’S?

I have been contemplating these ISM’s lately and seeing the intersection with phobias, but in part 1 here, let’s start with the isms. They describe a practice, philosophy, ideology, dogma… you get the idea. And there are A LOT of them. I found lists of hundreds of them relating to philosophy, sociology, religion and culture. In the 1960’s, Martin Luther King identified three; as the most evil in the world (racism, excessive materialism and militarism). Sadly, those are still high up on the rankings today, with individualism, sexism, ageism, classism and ableism easily thrown into the top 10.  

I have been trying to balance my own critiques of ‘isms’

It seems like our current culture of criticism is quick to speak but less inclined to hold back judgement or go a step further and judge ourselves. The word hypocrisy comes to mind along with the familiar text of Matthew 7: 3-5. One of the reasons I want to share this with you is because I have been trying to balance my own critiques of ‘isms’ of big money corporate taxation outside the church with an examination of my own context inside the church too. 

In the CRC’s charge to the deacons it says, “Be prophetic critics of the waste, injustice, and selfishness in our society…”[1] For that reason I can be upset and critical of Zoom making hundreds of millions of dollars and paying no federal income tax to support the rest of society.[2] Or of 50 plus corporate mega companies that profit in the billions while too finding every tax loophole to avoid paying.[3] Even Canada could recoup billions for more social programs if we did not let corporate America off the hook.[4]

When I start down that path, I can get fired up… but trying not to forget that plank in my own eye, I do have to consider how others may be critical about faith communities getting tax breaks as well. Did you know that your church does not pay any income or property tax? We have non-profit charity status in both countries, so yes while we are not really generating income like a business, we are benefitting from systems that privilege our wealth and freedom to worship on land tax free. I am not saying this should change, but others who are critical about the church sure are.

“We all pay more for the essential services provided by local, state and federal governments because tax revenue is lost by the special tax treatment afforded religious nonprofits. It’s time to ask some very important and difficult questions, such as: Does an honest cost/benefit analysis of the religious organization tax exemption and donation deductibility demonstrate that they make good economic and policy sense for 21st century U.S. society? Let’s face it — the charity “Grand Bargain” is broken in many ways and desperately needs reexamination, especially in this time of enormous societal challenges.” - Bruce DeBoskey [5]

Statements like this make me conscious to listen and be open to the voice of others and ask what is the legitimate criticism?  These questions are being examined and debated, more and more, by faith communities, including Christians and Atheists.[6] If I am critical of corporate America and others are critical of Christian institutions, are there issues here that are connected? What are the words and actions that our leaders and members are putting out to those around them?

Would these principles help us to be communities of respect, trust and love? 

When we read about the words and actions of Jesus, we see him upending the isms of his culture. Jesus is not afraid to call out isms in the church and the gracious way he used criticism changed negative ‘isms’ for the better.  He challenged the Pharisees and teachers of the law and stood in the gap in situations like the woman at the well. By his words he ‘called out’ those in his own circles and by his actions he ‘called in’ those society would say were outcasts. He spent time with the poor and sick (ableism), with women (sexism) and tax collectors (consumerism/materialism). These are only to name a few but the point is that our Christ, was concerned with going against the norms improperly put upon those marginalized in society. 

Does our own emulation of Christ Jesus reflect a willingness to listen to criticism and turn to a better way? Would these principles help us to be communities of respect, trust and love?  Are the things others are seeing and hearing about us from the time we are volunteering in the community, volunteering in church ministry, serving and spending time with others? Or is the only impression we give based on what we post or retweet online? 

Consider these questions and watch for part 2 where I think many of these ism’s contribute to developing phobias.

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