When I served the church in Tantallon I was very involved in the community. The people who were overrepresented at every community gathering were the Buddhists. They came out to every public meeting and participated in all of the communal conversations about our future and what the community was becoming. Most of these Buddhists had come to Nova Scotia from the United States and almost all of them were former Christians. It was interesting to hear their reactions to the United Church theology that I expressed. Many of these Buddhists had come of age during the Vietnam War and the complicity and silence of the Christian churches in their community was a major factor in their becoming disillusioned with Christianity. It opened them up to a new experience of faith, to difference expressions of their spiritual yearning.
Recently I met a retired United Church Minister from Ontario. His home congregation had recently sponsored many refugee families. He told me one family approached his church with a concern, why had the church not explicitly invited the family to attend Sunday morning worship. The answer to United Church people would be obvious, we would not want this family to think there were strings attached to their hospitality and they would respect and honour the religious choice this family had made, since they were identified by the government upon their arrival as Muslim. Except that not all families who arrive in Canada as Muslims want to remain connected to Islam. Some are looking for new expressions of faith. And to some the lack of invitation by the sponsoring church who helped bring them to Canada would seem odd.
While people my age and older have the baggage of the Christian faith always in the back of our minds younger people do not. When I participated in a supper for university students to have a free meal at our church one young woman asked me, “What is it that you believe that makes you a Christian?” I instinctively began with a litany of what I did not believe, so that these students would know I was not “that kind of Christian”. The young woman listened and then followed up with, “that’s fine but what is it that you believe?” It was clear she did not carry the same baggage about the horrors committed by Christians over the centuries, she didn’t need an apology right off the bat, she wanted to “kick the tires” and see what Christianity had to offer.
We live in a different time where religion is much, much, more fluid that it has ever been. In this post-modern era younger people are plucking from different faiths aspects of belief that help make sense of their lives. When I talk to younger Christians, even evangelical ones, there are aspects of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Paganism that have taken root in their Christian narrative.
Unfortunately many of my contemporaries, evangelicals, mainline and atheist, seem to draw very clear boundaries about faith and adopt a very defensive posture when it comes to expressing belief. We older Christians can much more easily tell you what we aren’t than what we are. Those who could benefit from what Christianity at its best can offer are left to ponder where they can hear more about that. And what is it that we would tell them?