Yesterday was Halloween, which meant parties, dressing up and some scares. It was a big deal for most of us in the United States.
It was also Reformation Day — more specifically, the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s start of the Protestant Reformation. Most of us find this holiday a bit more boring. That doesn’t mean we should ignore it, though.
Reformation Day represents a significant moment in history. People from various backgrounds and beliefs came together to change injustices and corruption they saw in their religious communities.
Churches were very powerful parts of society at the time, with unchecked power in many situations. Inevitably, this power leads to injustice and exploitation. Poor members paid indulgences to better their chances in the afterlife, and this money was often used to support opulent lifestyles by high officials in the church. Dissenters that rose up against this system faced grave, even fatal consequences.
Still, reformers worked to change the injustices in their churches.
Ironically, those who claim the principles of the Reformation are now the ones in power. Nine out of 10 U.S. Senators are Christian, an overrepresentation of the 7 out of 10 Christian Americans. Most of them are Protestants. The church’s power isn’t as concerning as the parts of the church misusing that power. Injustice and corruption have found their way back into many Christian communities.
It doesn’t take much investigating to realize many churches have mimicked systems of power that marginalize certain groups of people.
The majority of Christians and the overwhelming majority of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, therefore signaling at least some approval of his morally repugnant policies that discriminate against differences, disregard the common man and ignore those dependent on the government to simply survive.
You don’t have to be a New Testament scholar to realize this isn’t in line with the philosophy of a biblical Jesus.
It isn’t just politically that some churches have lost the plot of Christianity. Christians with certain beliefs or identities have been told they are not welcome in some communities. From those who believe in evolution to members of the LGBTQ community, many have been excluded, whether a little or a lot.
This is not a victimless sin; LGBTQ people who are in cultures that do not affirm them can be up to 8 times more likely to attempt suicide.
These members, like everyone else, want to be part of a religious community without being degraded.
It doesn’t stop with the LGBTQ community or doubters, though. The Southern Baptist Convention, one of the largest denominations in the United States, only barely passed a resolution to denounce white supremacy after a great deal of clamor and confusion. The roots of racism are alive and well in many churches, with few caring to mention the elephant in a white-washed room.
It shouldn’t surprise us that the same denomination and many others deny women positions of significant authority.
This isn’t to mention the ways some churches misuse the donations they receive. According to a review of evangelical ministries, some churches consistently use less than 20 percent of their income for the actual programs and ministries they run. This is well below the 33 percent standard set by Charity Navigator. The Catholic Church also finds itself in disgraceful spending, paying millions fighting sex abuse accountability, according to an article in The Guardian.
This isn’t an argument that all churches are bad, or an expectation that institutions must be perfect. It’s simply an invitation to look critically at the powers that are sometimes shielded from criticism.
Fostering healthy religious communities starts with asking questions, not avoiding them.
Ask the hard questions. Speak up about injustice and stand with the oppressed. It’s time to reform again.
Daniel Payne is a sophomore integrated marketing communications major from Collierville, Tennessee.