My Christian formation is rather eclectic. The lion’s share belongs to the Baptists and Pentecostals. I grew up in a nominal Baptist family and the church we attended for much of my youth was rural and folksy. Every now and then we attended the Seventh Day Adventist Church down the street on Saturdays (I remember that the food we ate after service was divine). It wasn’t until my teens that I joined a church, which was United Methodist, but with its rousing Gospel choir and new school pastoral leadership, it felt more like a big black non-denominational church. My conversion, my affirmative answer to God’s work of grace, was through a variety of Pentecostals and Charismatics. I learned much from each of these Christian tribes and am to this day shaped in large measure by the ecumenical Afro-evangelicalism that each of these movements share in.
But what has attracted my theological imagination in many ways has been the Eastern Orthodox Church. Eastern Orthodoxy is rather strange to most Southerners but what I found among them is a rich tradition that spoke to my sensibilities in many ways. While at Duke Divinity School I took two classes under Father Ed Rommen, one an introduction to Eastern Orthodoxy and the other a course on a modern Orthodox theologian named Bulgakov. Admittedly, my Protestant Evangelical bias wouldn’t let me get down with bowing to and kissing icons. But the mystical theology and social engagement within the Orthodox tradition is amazing. Go here to learn more about their faith.
I think we in the West would learn much from our brothers and sisters from the East.
My friend Anthony Bradley, who too has an affinity for the Eastern Church, posted the following on Facebook:
“Orthodox Christianity has been on the right side of racial justice in America upon arrival. Orthodox Christians may be the only community of Christians in American history who did not encourage or defend racial oppression in the 20th-century. Three cheers for The Greek Orthodox Church on this MLK-Day weekend!!”
If Bradley is right (and I think he is), we can indeed learn much from the Orthodox. Take a look at some of their engagement here. What was and is it about their theology and life in Christ that called them to resist white supremacy and institutional racism in this country? Why did they stand with Martin Luther King, on the right side of history, when many Evangelicals (both white and black) told him to slow down or go home? With the resurgence and introduction of Reformed theology among a new generation of black Christians, one wonders what we can imbibe from the East, a tradition older than Luther or Calvin, and one that hasn’t been schizophrenic about theological anthropology.
Though we certainly will not agree with everything the Eastern Orthodox believe, there is yet much we can learn from them about what it means to be the Church, to be Christ-like, to be stewards of the mysteries of God. May their wisdom teach us new insights about ancient truths.