Evolution is often thought of in terms of science and, more specifically, biology. Yet Painting the Stars wants us to broaden our view of evolution to see that religions evolve. Each facet of Christianity, or Judaism, or Islam, is like a species that evolve in different directions (and just like animal species, some branches of religion will thrive while others will die off). So Painting the Stars makes it clear that in order for religion – particularly Christianity – and science to truly complement each other, we must expand our understanding of evolution and see that religions are evolving all the time.
Today we’ll zero in on the church’s role in an evolving Christianity. When religions are continually shifting and changing, how does the institution productively participate in this evolution? Ken Wilber, an American writer and public speaker, speaks to this very question. Wilber suggests churches must act as “conveyor belts” for people as their faith and understanding of life evolve, helping them reach the next stage, and the next, and the next.When the church is a working conveyor belt, people are gently pushed forward in their faith; when the conveyor belt breaks, religious institutions leave their members to figure it out themselves or, even worse, to sit on the broken belt with no intention of moving forward.
But what does it mean for the church to be a conveyor belt? I think it’s obvious that the church, when it is working, is guiding and equipping Christians to live their faith in the world around them, to be disciples. Yet in order to cultivate modern-day disciples, churches have to be informed about social and cultural news; they have to learn the language of the world rather than insisting the world navigate the language of faith; church leadership needs to engage with science and art, creating their own evolving interdisciplinary community of faith.
Unfortunately, the church is often a broken belt. Maybe it worked 10 years ago, but no one has kept it running and now whole congregations are stuck. Stuck in their conceptions of faith and the divine, stuck in issues of social justice and mercy, stuck in the way things used to be. With the number of broken conveyor belts in the United States, it’s no wonder Christian churches are seeing a decrease in young people. As a 22 year old, I absolutely wouldn’t want to be part of a church that was not cognizant of what was going on and that wasn’t doing anything to engage with the world around it.
As religions of all variety evolve, it is time for the religious institutions to get their conveyor beltsworking again. It won’t be easy or quick. In fact, it is unlikely that we will ever get all the belts working again, which will result in some congregations, and sects, dwindling away. But that’s the way the world, the universe, evolution works, and we will have much more equipped disciples if we actively participate in our evolving faith.