A native son of Maryland, McLaren graduated with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English from the University of Maryland and taught English in the area from 1978 to 1986. In 1982, he helped form Cedar Ridge Community Church, an innovative, nondenominational church in Spencerville, Maryland. He left higher education in 1986 to serve as the church’s founding pastor and served in that capacity until 2006.
Many give him credit for being one of the essential voices in the emerging church movement, which crosses theological boundaries and creates moments for holy conversation. The author of many books, McLaren’s latest work is stirring up conversation throughout the faith community.
Titled Do I Stay Christian?: A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed and the Disillusioned, the book reveals publicly what many church people prefer to speak about only in private. In the book, McLaren answers both yes and no to the title question, urging readers to shift from what it means to be focused on staying Christian to how we stay human.
For McLaren, staying human and faithful requires courage, humility, and the possibility of needing to expand one’s thinking. In recent years, McLaren has explored racism and other things that divide us and insists that people need to begin to shed the “family secrets” that may be keeping them from being whole.
In The Unfinished Church podcast he says, Iif people love darkness rather than light, they will not step out into the light. … One of the terrible things our churches do is they allow people to show up Sunday after Sunday and traffic in the language of forgiveness and grace, when they’re unwilling to seek the truth, if that truth is painful.”
Part of McLaren’s discovery of the truth, he said, was uncovering the family secret of embracing a sense of Christian supremacy and exceptionalism. Exploring this idea led him to learn that Christians believed that they had the God-given right, granted to them by the Pope, to make slaves of other nations. “I realized that European Christian supremacy became white supremacy,” he said. “There is a theological dimension to this supremacy.”
“White Christians were, and are, wrong to not face and acknowledge with sorrow, the reality of white supremacy, and centuries and centuries of inexcusable, evil racism,” McClaren said in a video.
It’s essential to shed the veneer of respectability and dive into deep conversations, he said. These conversations can lead to questions and deeper understandings of our shared faith, humanity, and future.
Read an excerpt from Do I Stay A Christian? and explore some of the many questions McLaren and the bishops explore on Episode 5 of The Unfinished Church podcast, “Listening for Understanding.”