In many ways, Pastor Scott perfectly represented his denomination.1 From the interior of his home office, he greeted me warmly and asked a few questions about my own life and work. Even across a Zoom screen, his face spoke kindness, gentleness, and empathy. And he couldn’t stop talking about Jesus. Drawing on years of experience pastoring Brethren in Christ (BIC) churches, he fluidly and thoughtfully answered my questions about his spiritual journey, his ministry, and his denomination.2 “The identity of the Brethren in Christ,” he explained, “it used to be the tenets of Anabaptism and Wesleyanism and Pietism.” As our conversation continued, he also described what this identity might look like for an individual. Using practical illustrations from his own life, he underscored the centrality of following Jesus:
When I work in the yard, when I exercise, and anything that I do, Jesus is a part of that. . . . When Jesus is kept out of the picture I think you miss the good experiences of life. I think they become much richer when Jesus is a part of it, and you begin to understand the blessing it is to be able to take in God’s creation, to be able to marvel at how different things grow. I don’t know if this is a good answer to your question or not, but [BIC identity] is just talking about Jesus and his involvement in our day-to-day lives.
Accented by a warm and winsome demeanor, Pastor Scott’s words convey a deep, otherworldly spirituality.
But he also aimed a very this-worldly critique at his denomination. “Over the past couple of decades,” he mused, “maybe 50 years or so, we’ve lost our identity.” He had watched his own congregation, he told me sadly, the people he referred to as “family,” polarize along political lines. “We are deeply red,” he described the community, “Conservative Republican, Trump-loving, and it’s a challenge, to be honest with you, just trying to navigate through those waters, because the [church leadership] is not.” He continued, juxtaposing his own convictions against the increasingly politicized postures he saw within the congregation:
The government is not supposed to be fighting our battles for us. The Church has its role. Government has its role. The state has its role. And we’re just in a mess of trouble right now because [the Church] has gotten in bed with the political realm . . . Our kids and our grandkids are looking at us. We’re talking about following Jesus, and they look at us, and they say, ‘you lie.’
Pastor Scott, however, was an optimist. He expressed hope for the future and appreciation for the denomination’s current national director whom, he believed, was doing “a really good job of trying to bring us back to where we were . . . : a Christocentric reading of the Bible. Non-political. A simple lifestyle.” Pastor Scott’s vision for the BIC’s future, in other words, resembled his understandings of its past.
Read the rest here:giantbagofvalues-aug2022
- All names used in this article are pseudonyms. Pastors are sometimes quoted without pseudonyms to preserve confidentiality.
- The name “Brethren in Christ” speaks to the deep, familial bonds that originally characterized the denomination and, indeed, persist among its pastors, as the following pages demonstrate. In contemporary usage, however, the androcentric language of “brethren” also suggests a gender-based hierarchy, belying the denomination’s own commitments to the equality of men and women in the life of the Church. Recognizing this tension and the denomination’s own ongoing conversations about the use of language to best signify its identity, this article will use the full name “Brethren in Christ” when it is employed by the pastors themselves, but shorten it to “BIC” otherwise.