I've been busy getting my other blog up and running these past few weeks, hence the continued lack of regular posting on this blog (I'm thinking "well, no one can serve two masters..." as I write this!). However, I have kept up-to-date with various news and discussion via my Twitter account - and have become increasingly impressed with the output from the religion section of the Huffington Post.
In particular, it was heartening to happen upon a piece by Christian Piatt titled "The Fallacy of Statements of Faith" in which the writer argues against creeds established in a top-down way. Speaking of faith traditions in which there is a centralised leadership who enforce written statements of belief, Christian Piatt notes:
"When it comes down to it, what seems to me to be at the heart of such traditions is not so much faithfulness but control. If your inclusion in a system is contingent on you conforming to the beliefs of the leadership, then that institution has the power either to coerce you into compliance or to exile you for disobedience. But the problem is that it sets up a dynamic that actually encourages people to lie. The fact is, no institution, no matter how powerful, can indelibly change the hearts and minds of its members. They may outwardly claim uniformity, but the inner sanctuary of a human being ultimately is off limits to anyone other than God and that individual. We can use fear, punishment, or even positive incentives to get people to fall into place, but there's never any guarantee that they actually believe what we're trying to force them to believe."
Going further to add:
"From what I can tell, Jesus never made his disciples sign a statement of faith. In fact, when his followers pressed him for more specifics on what to believe and how to act, he would tell them a story rather than nail it all down in clear terms for them. If it's good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me."
I think this sums up the Free Christian mindset which I, admittedly standing an ocean away and just looking in, have long guessed was alive and well in parts of the Disciples of Christ church in the US - and as a member of this movement, Christian Piatt confirms this further. Another possibility for American Christians wanting to find this expression of faith, I guess, would also be parts of the United Church of Christ.
I have recently spent time visiting a variety of denominations in the UK (a result of moving cities and trying to find a local church) and I have been pleasantly surprised to find that this spirit is also alive and well in parts of the Church of England, General Union of Baptists, United Reformed Church and Religious Society of Friends - as well as the 'natural home' of self-avowed Free Christians, the General Assembly of Unitarians and Free Christians.
I sometimes think I would like to see some effort by Free Christians to come together formally - in the same way Progressive Christians, Unitarian Christians and Liberal Christians come together via societies, networks and associations - but I have also come to realise the beauty of Free Christianity, much like the Emergent Church movement, is that it has no central organisation and explicit sense of tradition (beyond the short-lived 'Free Christian Union' of James Martineau). By remaining in this paradoxical state of being (a movement without a movement) it avoids becoming a niche group with its own 'groupthink' and de facto 'floor up' creed. Instead it shapes Christians who are able to cross boundaries ('free range Christians') to engage with other Christians across a spectrum of beliefs and traditions, to the benefit of both.