BOOK REVIEW: Jonathan Merritt’s A Faith of Our Own by Gina Messina-Dysert
Have you been a victim of the “Culture Wars”? Jonathan Merritt was, and it inspired him to write his latest book A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars. According to Merritt, the culture wars have led each of us (who identify as Christian) to define Christ in terms of our political party. The Religious Right have claimed a political and pietistic Christ who must be protected from liberals who have sought to chase Jesus out of our “God-Blessed” nation. And Christians on the left have fought against the oppressive theocracy they believe the right wing seeks to implement. Neither side’s Jesus likes the other, and according to Merritt, neither represents the Jesus of the Bible.
Merritt argues that participating in politics foolishly gets churches into trouble and results in a divide within community. Christians must answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” for themselves. By transcending the culture wars, we can return to the Bible, see Jesus with “fresh eyes,” and find a “faith of our own.” Merritt explains Christians who are reclaiming their faith are doing so in search of life transformation and unity among those once divided by politics.
I truly appreciate Merritt’s exploration of the “culture wars” and how they have impacted Christianity and understandings of Jesus. The massive divide that exists among Christians in the U.S. as a result of politics is incredible. I myself can identify with this divide; with the act of ousting. As a feminist liberal, for quite some time I had believed that there was no room within my circles for anyone who had different political ideologies; ideologies that I would have identified as not supporting my own image of Jesus and a social justice mission. However, as Merritt demonstrates of many who are in search of a faith of their own, I’ve come to realize that instead of participating in ousting and demanding that everyone think like me – I can reject the “culture wars” and embrace the differences among us, reach across the aisle, and find middle ground on which to build and work towards change.
I also appreciate Merritt’s exploration of race issues within the Christian community and his acknowledgment that it is impossible to achieve liberation, independence, redemption, and love when domination, exploitation, oppression, and hatred exist. Merritt also maps a constructive path by explaining that it is not enough to simply make claims about what we think is right or wrong, rather we have a responsibility to come up with creative solutions to impact particular issues – a crucial point.
So what does this book have to do with feminism and religion? While I would not call this book feminist, it does make points that are feminist in nature, i.e. breaking away from power structures, unity, overcoming race issues, being empowered to embrace a “faith of our own,” etc. This book is an interesting read and offers an important look at Christians who are practicing post-culture wars. Regardless of how you personally identify politically – right or left – you will find points in this book you connect with. Order a copy on Amazon, download to Kindle, or stop at your local bookstore. You won’t regret it.
Jonathan Merritt is a faith and culture writer who has published over 300 articles in respected outlets such as USA Today, The Christian Science Monitor, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, BeliefNet, Christianity Today, The Huffington Post, and CNN.com. In addition to his latest book, A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars, he is also the author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet (2010). He can be followed on Twitter @jonathanmerritt.
Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D. is a feminist theologian, ethicist, and activist. She is the Director of the Women’s Studies in Religion Oral History Program at Claremont Graduate University, Visiting Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics at Loyola Marymount University, and Co-founder and Co-director of Feminism and Religion. Gina has authored multiple articles, the forthcoming book Rape Culture and Spiritual Violence, and is a contributor to the Rock and Theology project sponsored by the Liturgical Press. Her research interests are theologically and ethically driven, involve a feminist and interdisciplinary approach, and are influenced by her activist roots and experience working with survivors of rape and domestic violence. Gina can be followed on Twitter @FemTheologian and her website can be accessed at http://ginamessinadysert.com.