The Future of Christianity, by Leonardo Boff

By Leonardo Boff, Brazil, Nov 2016

Pope Francis has already done much for the Church:  he drew the Catholic Church from deep demoralization due to the crimes of pedophilia that affected hundreds of churchmen. He later exposed the financial crimes of the Vatican Bank, involving monseigneurs and people of Italian finance.

Mainly he has given a new meaning to the Church — in keeping with Vatican II — not as a closed fortress against the “dangers” of modernity, but as a field hospital that caters to all those in need or in search of a sense of life. This Pope coined the phrase “an outgoing Church” in the direction of others and not itself, self-finalizing.

The data reveal that Christianity is now a religion of the Third and Fourth World. 25% of Catholics live in Europe, 52% in America and the rest in the rest of the world. This means that, after the Western cycle, Christianity will live in its planetary stage a denser presence in some parts of the world today considered peripheral.  Attaining this universal meaning depends on two conditions.

The first, if all the churches understand how the movement of Jesus recognizes each other as bearers of his message without any of them claiming to claim exclusivity but in dialogue with the world religions, valuing them as spiritual paths inhabited and animated by the Spirit . Only then will there be religious peace, one of the important conditions for political peace. All churches and religions must be at the service of life and justice for the poor and for the Great Poor who is the planet Earth, against which the industrial process carries out a veritable total war.

The second condition is that Christianity relativizes its institutions of Western character and dares to reinvent itself from the life and practice of the historical Jesus with his message of a kingdom of justice and universal love, in a total openness to the transcendent. Maintaining the current canon may condemn Christianity to become a religious sect.

According to the best contemporary exegesis, the original project of Jesus is summarized in the Our Father. It affirms the two hungers of the human being: the hunger of God and the hunger for bread. The Lord’s Prayer emphasizes the drive toward the Highest. Only by uniting the Our Father with the Our Bread can we say Amen and feel in the tradition of the historical Jesus. He set in motion a dream, the Kingdom of God, whose essence is found in the two poles, in the Our Father and in the Bread — Our Daily Bread lived in the spirit of the Beatitudes.

This implies for Christianity the audacity to de-Westernise itself, to become unmasochistic, unpatriarchal and to organize in networks of communities that reciprocally and incarnate in local cultures and together form the great Christian spiritual path that joins the other spiritual and religious paths of humanity.

With these assumptions, four fundamental challenges are now being presented to churches and to Christianity.

  1. The first is to safeguard our Common Home and the system of life threatened by the widespread ecological crisis and global warming.  Our delayed response means that an ecological-social catastrophe could decimate the life of much of humanity. The question is not what future Christianity will have, but how it will help secure the future of life and biocapacity of Mother Earth. She does not need us. We do need the earth.  
  2. The second challenge is how to keep humanity together. The levels of accumulation of material wealth in very few hands (1% control most of the world’s wealth) can divide humanity into two parts: those who enjoy all the benefits of technoscience and those condemned to exclusion, without hope of life or even being considered subhuman. It is important to say that we have a single Common Home and that we are all brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God. 
  3. The third challenge is the promotion of a culture of peace. Wars, political fundamentalism and intolerance in the face of cultural and religious differences can lead to levels of violence of high destructive power. Eventually they can degenerate into deadly wars with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.  
  4. The fourth challenge concerns Latin America: the incarnation in indigenous and Afro-American cultures. Having almost exterminated the original great cultures and enslaved millions of Africans, it is necessary to work to help them stabilize and rebuild, to rescue their ancestral wisdom and to see their religions recognized as forms of communication with God. For the Christian faith the challenge is to encourage them to make their synthesis in order to give rise to an original, syncretic, African-Indian-Latin-Brazilian Christianity.

The mission of churches, religions and spiritual paths is to nourish the inner flame of the presence of the Sacred and the Divine (expressed in thousands of names) in the heart of each person.

Christianity, in the planetary and unified phase of the Earth, is likely to be an immense network of communities, embodied in different cultures, bearing witness to the joy of the Gospel that promotes life with justice and solidarity in this world, especially for the most marginalized, to be completed in the culmination of history.

At present, it is up to us to live the commensality among all, an anticipating symbol of reconciled humanity, celebrating the good fruits of Mother Earth. Was not this the metaphor of Jesus when he spoke of the Kingdom of life, of justice and love?

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