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by James M. Kushiner
In March I went to a meeting of American and Canadian church renewal leaders in Hamilton, Ontario. I had a little adventure enroute.
At the airport in Pittsburgh, fifteen minutes before take off I was told I needed a birth certificate or a passport if I were to fly into Canada. That a passport was needed never entered my mind. I have been to Canada perhaps twenty times, having grown up just across the river in Detroit, Michigan. Crossing the border by car without a passport was routine—a question-and-answer with a customs official, rarely a cursory search of the car.
The airline attendant said that I could board the plane—I just couldn’t be guaranteed entry into Canada. To make matters worse, she said that after being barred from Canada I might have to return to Pittsburgh. Then she warned that I, having no passport, could be denied entry back into the United States. Was she pulling my leg? No, she was serious; I might possibly go into limbo.
Then I met someone who was heading to the same meeting as I. He told me the same story. At the airport in Kentucky he was told he would need a passport; fortunately he had enough time to take a cab back to his house, snatch up his passport, and return to catch his plane. He showed me his passport. My heart sank—I had only ten minutes and my home was in Chicago.
So the airline employee called her supervisor. He said there was one hope: they would phone ahead to Hamilton and tell customs I was enroute and had no passport; they sometimes bend the rules if they know in advance, I was told. I got on the plane, wondering if I would avoid limbo.
Once in Hamilton, I asked the customs agent, “Did they phone you about me?” “Who?” she asked. So, I explained. She laughed and said, “Did they tell you that? Did they tell you how we would send you back and all that? They must have some new people in Pittsburgh again!” Without waiting for my response she asked for my driver’s license, looked at it, and welcomed me to Canada.
It was then that I came to my senses. I had thought that getting into Canada from the States, unlike most other foreign countries, was not a big deal. But they were all saying otherwise (even the other traveler whom I met was told the same thing in a different state). What can you do when those who are in a position to know what is true and what is not all tell you the same thing—even if they are wrong? It was hard not to become confused. I certainly was perturbed. Had I listened to them, I might have never boarded the plane.
In Hamilton I learned again that things in the Church can be a bit like this fiasco. The recent uproar over the ecumenical women’s conference in Minneapolis last November is a good example. Two thousand participants had gathered to “Re-Imagine God.” As has been widely reported, participants and speakers invoked an entity “Sophia” (Wisdom), espoused lesbianism, apparently denied key elements of Christian orthodoxy (the Atonement, for example), and seemed to uphold a different gospel.
I would have thought that recognizing this type of conference as heterodox and outside the bounds of traditional Christianity would be easy. But this has not been the case. While many conservative Christians are looking for clear direction from their leaders about this, they are given confusing signals. Supposedly there to help the Church in its mission to proclaim the faith and uphold sound doctrine, the majority of the church bureaucrats act as if they are new on the job.
In this vacuum of leadership, renewal leaders meeting in Hamilton decided to issue a statement (reprinted on the following page) critiquing the “Re-Imagining” conference and its heterodoxy, and to call for a clear affirmation of historic Christianity.
Before signing on, I had one question about the event. Were a lot of people there simply taken in by the organizers? As I was reminded in Pittsburgh, if enough people tell you the same thing (in this case a convention hall of two thousand people), you might be confused by it. Did many in attendance really believe in Sophia and deliberately avoid trinitarian Christianity because so many others there were also doing it? Was the “Re-Imagining” conference a well-orchestrated event led by an elite core? Perhaps, I thought, it was attended by the curious, the naive, the well-intentioned, the frustrated, or the confused. Maybe some were open to syncretism, unwilling to let go of Jesus if they could keep him along with Sophia. Or was it a conference of two thousand committed heresiarchs?
Susan Cyre, a consultant with the Institute for Religion and Democracy, attended the Minneapolis conference. She observed that essentially the gathering was the radical feminist network that has grown up in the academy, seminaries, and church structures—they had already bought into experimental worship and theology. (As someone in Hamilton pointed out, much of what went on there has been going on in seminaries for years.)
Feminists have reacted to criticisms of the conference with cries of “witch-hunt” and “name-calling.” Yet among those in Hamilton who issued the statement, there was no such spirit, no detectable air of smugness, self-righteous anger or condescension—only a determination to speak clearly about how the conference was contrary to Christianity. Radical feminists call for the destruction of traditional Christianity. Yet when we are “critical” simply by pointing out that anything that intends to destroy Christianity is contrary or opposed to Christianity, feminists become indignant. One cannot even criticize these days without being called a name-caller.
Church leaders who are in a position to know better are responsible to inform others correctly about what the faith is and what it is not. If conferences like “Re-Imagining” can be held without correction, if the churches seem to be saying “anything goes,” then many Christians will become like confused travelers. A warning: some of the flights of fancy being passed off as Christianity may be headed for a place worse than limbo.
James M. Kushiner is the Executive Editor of Touchstone.