Tradition is a part of our everyday lives. We all wake up in the morning, put on our clothes, tie our shoes, grab our keys and wallet and head to wherever we need to go. We greet people we don’t know with a proper handshake and introduce ourselves. During Christmas time our families wake up early, unwrap presents, eat dinner and spend time with loved ones.
Tradition has always been a vital component of the society we live in. Most of the time, tradition is understood as a harmless way to transmit the customs that are meant to be passed from generation to generation. However, traditions can also result in some of the most dangerous rituals the world has ever seen.
Look at racism. The belief that particular races and cultures are inferior to others has plagued this country since its birth. The countless number of horrific acts that have been a consequence of racism in America — such as slavery, segregation, the destruction of Native American reservations — were a result of our country’s inability to comprehend another way of life. Although the 13th Amendment eventually abolished slavery, African-Americans fought, and are still currently fighting, for their equality every day.
How can that be? How is it possible that a country which seeks to provide its citizens with a comfortable and promising life allows their own citizens to continuously struggle? I would argue that it is rooted within the traditions of our nation.
The country we live in was built on the tradition of keeping certain demographics above others and it is a tradition that continues to be taught and understood in contemporary culture. Since its birth, America has been a country that provides privilege to those who fit within the mold of tradition — mostly white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied people. In fact, According to statistics from the Pew Research Center American citizens who are black, Hispanic or other ethnicities report that everyday life can be far more demanding based on the pigment of their skin. Actually, over 50 percent of African-American adults state they feel that their race has hurt their ability to socially progress.
These truths are just as apparent within the church.
For decades, the church has been criticized for its static sociological ideologies. The biggest may be women’s place in the church. Several have claimed that congregations are run through a patriarchal system, as men have always seemed to lead the church with women playing a secondary role. Linda Woodhead, a British researcher of religious study, has stated that gender equality is the biggest threat within Christianity.
Although the concepts of biblical equality and Christian feminism have turned some heads, several states remain very traditional when considering gender roles. In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the second-largest Christian denomination in America, has been vocal about maintaining the tradition of men being faith leaders and pastors throughout the last several decades. The same can be said about the denomination’s view on same-sex relationships.
Yet when looking at the core of the Christian faith, it seems odd to be so attached to tradition when considering who they are worshiping. And this is not solely reserved for the Church but is just as prevalent for tradition within race, gender discrimination and so on. When considering the role of shifting traditional values, Jesus may be the perfect representation.
Jesus spoke to a society that was dominated by the traditions of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He asked for them to deeply contemplate those traditions and consider if they are benefitting their own personal walk with faith. Christ preached about the importance of forgiveness, love and acceptance in God’s image, but reprimanded the existing customs and rituals in Jerusalem that were supposedly God-loving.
So, what does this tell us about Jesus? First, he believed in a society that sought to fight for the everlasting faith and love that represents God. Second, Jesus wanted to break tradition. He viewed Pharisee tradition as an obstacle towards understanding what makes a good disciple of God. If indeed this is true, than the church tradition is contradicting itself. And when applying this reasoning to our country, the entire nation has failed for hundreds of years.
I am not saying that you should stop going to church on Sunday, which in itself is an established tradition. I am saying, however, that the Church and its followers can be doing a lot more when it comes to adapting to the culture we experience today.
Realistically, the Church has a few options: It can be oblivious and create its own segregated bubble away from the modern world; It can defy the trends of current culture and judge everyone as “sinners of God;” Or, it can embrace the inclusive changes in society and welcome those who were not previously welcomed to understand how and why the Church is actually useful.
It would be hard to argue that Jesus wouldn’t speak that last option into existence. The Church’s ideological traditions, however, are keeping themselves from seeing this inevitable truth. Christianity was not meant to be a lifeless religion; it’s supposed to be a living and breathing power. But its traditional values are keeping its feet in the sand, and that is incredibly dangerous. By building a stronger foundation based on the early teachings of Jesus, a radical change within tradition can occur.