The American Church is being faced with many questions that need answers. The Church was created to express the love of Jesus in the world, to be His hands and feet, His heart, moving about, drawing people in and together, providing respite for the broken, the hurting, the oppressed, the “sinner”. This goal, independent of political affiliation and certain theology.
We have it all backwards in our American Christianity. We say we love people, but essentially, those who participate in certain behaviors (generally sexual, by nature) are not welcome unconditionally. We say: Your sin separates you from God, therefore it is my responsibility to tell you this. So, since I love you so much, I have to ask you to limit your participation in this body. How does this demonstrate love? How does this create an open environment for people to explore, to ask questions, to seek safety? It creates a tightrope, where we are all terrified to be found out, our shortcomings, our shame stay in the dark where they fester and smolder and wreak havoc in all the other areas of our lives. Shouldn’t our church be the place we can work these things out without fear of judgment?
We say, I love you too much to let you continue in your sin, so you must repent before you can fully belong, before you can fully be yourself in our body. Doesn’t this put us in the precarious position of determining the definition of sin, determining the worth of an individual? Doesn’t this place us in the role of God? Standing in the way of the perfect, redeeming work of the Holy Spirit?
This track never ends well, the result is superiority, condemnation, hypocrisy…which fly in the face of love.
Present logic places the onus upon the weary, tired traveler, upon the person who desperately longs for relief, a soft place to rest, to recover, to dwell in safety. Instead of providing the warm bed, fluffy pillow, steaming bowl of soup with delicious buttered bread, we withhold. We essentially say: Sit here, drinking fountain is over there, ring the bell if you need anything. When you’re done, let us know, we will open the door. Oh, and while you’re at it, the floor needs a good sweep and mop.
All of this leads to potential ruin, for both parties. The marginalized individual is further shamed, put in a place of having to defend oneself, proving worth and value, alone. And the growth of the church body is hindered. It is a beautiful thing to participate in someone’s story, by walking through the valley, being present in the pain, celebrating the manifestation of a new understanding, a new expression of mercy.
In my opinion, the responsibility is on the leadership, the congregation, to say: We love you, we want you here. Please be patient with us. This is about you, about us learning and about you feeling safe to be yourself as you’ve been created. The church may be required to step outside of their bubbles of comfort, their ease of worship, their presumed superiority, potentially threatening the bottom line: the programs, the budget. As love is shown, as people step up, this is where we get to participate in the actual work of Jesus, the hands and feet, the heart.
In deciding to adopt a policy of love through seeking to understand, through humility, through asking questions motivations must be examined. Are we making decisions and recommendations based on fear? Fear of losing our contingency? Fear of what people will think? Fear of God’s wrath? Frankly, any fear is misplaced. Any fear is unholy. Anything done in fear is ultimately going to separate us from one another, but worse, from God and the beauty and generosity of His love. As comfort is challenged, fear unmasked, honesty can rule, integrity and vulnerability will shine forth.
Is the Church in crisis? I hope so. I hope the Church in America is being called to the mat. I hope the faithful will stand up and say: Not on my watch. Love will win. And my job is not to be judge and jury, but to be present in the lives of others, to be the light I’m called to be, and that light has nothing to do with fear, or control, or calling out on sin. All of this is the work of God.
Jesus came so we could see the beautiful alternative to the Law. Jesus came so we could be rescued from this exhaustive need to display our holiness. Jesus came so we could love freely, taking risks, being vulnerable with one another. Our response must be humility and grace. I cannot see things ending well for the churches of our nation that fail to live this.