Open Means Open: Pastoral Reflections on an Audacious Vision
Dr. Brad R. Braxton
As I wrote the initial vision for The Open Church in 2011, I wanted to form an intercultural community held together by three core theological commitments: 1) progressive ministry; 2) prophetic ministry; and 3) pluralistic ministry.
- Progressive Ministry: Progressive ministry believes that sacred texts and authoritative traditions must be critically engaged and continually reinterpreted in light of contemporary circumstances, or religion becomes a relic.
- Prophetic Ministry: Prophetic ministry insists that God desires to save us not only from our personal sins, but also from the systemic sins that oppress neighborhoods and nations.
- Pluralistic Ministry: Pluralistic ministry is a liberating call to “uncertainty, to a sense of human and religious limitedness. It is an affirmation that what we think we know certainly and absolutely is, in fact, neither certain nor absolute.”1 Truth held in a vise grip often leads to the vice of arrogance. On the contrary, by opening our hands and hearts, we make it possible to grasp, and be grasped by, larger truths.
Like sturdy beams supporting a floor, these three core commitments undergirded every aspect of The Open Church’s founding meeting in October 2011 and continue to inform the congregation’s approach to ministry. Thus, in the very foundation of the congregation is an explicit commitment to radical openness.
In the founding meeting, and subsequent meetings across these five years, we envisioned and have striven to be The Open Church, not just the The Open Door Church. Many churches have referred to themselves as “open door” churches. I do not disparage congregations with “open doors.” However, The Open Church has loftier ambitions in its pursuit of openness. In some churches, the “doors” may be open, but the “windows” are nailed shut through denominational dogma, burdensome bureaucracy, and an obsession with outdated orthodoxies (to name a few nails). Consequently, the free-flowing “wind” cannot circulate properly, and the air becomes stagnant.
We purposed to create a church whose entire existence—and not just its “doors”—was open. We envisioned and are striving to be: A church open to any persons and perspectives that are truthful, just, and compassionate. A church open to theistic and non-theistic religions and to humanist and atheistic moral philosophies. A church open to sexual diversity so that LGBT persons can emerge from the closets they often inhabit in religious spaces for fear of “assault and battery” by the Bible. A church open to the courageous reimagining and embracing of the feminine dimensions of God as an act of resistance to sexism. A church open to class diversity that will enable white-collar salary workers and blue collar shift workers to learn with and from one another.
In other words, when we say The Open Church, open really means open!
1 Joseph M. Webb, Preaching and the Challenge of Pluralism (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1998), 108.