I had a friend from seminary visit on Monday. She was traveling home to Iowa from West Virginia. It is always so nice to have time with a friend who is wrestling with the same things I’m wrestling with in ministry, mainly how the church can be relevant in an ever-changing world moving at a fast pace when the church takes decades to do anything.
She is in search and call seeking a pastorate at a new church. She shared with me some of the wonderful conversations she has had with churches who are excited about entering into a new phase of ministry with a new pastor. I’m pretty excited that she could move closer then we can have more days of coffee, pedis, sushi and shopping.
She talked to one church and was having a great interview with the search committee. Then, the committee sprung a question on her that was totally unexpected. The committee wanted to know how she felt about a policy they had recently passed. The church had a new policy that no same sex couples could be married in the sanctuary and the pastor was forbidden from marrying same sex couples anywhere.
She didn’t answer their question. She thanked them for their time and ended the conversation. She couldn’t see herself being the minister of a church that had decided to exclude a portion of the population from their fellowship and barred her from ministering to that population. That church is going to find a majority of candidates unwilling to consider their calling with that policy because it is exclusive, unwelcoming and unloving.
My friend and I pondered some questions about the present conversations being had, like the issue of marriage, that are being spotlighted in this election year and how the church is being heard in those conversations. We wondered:
What if the secular culture is having the conversations the church should have already had?
What if the church is becoming irrelevant because it is being excluded from the conversation?
What if the church is being seen as exclusive because of what the “Christian” voice is saying?
Are we in the church having the right conversations?
Are we afraid to have difficult conversations and wait ‘til “they” come to our pews?
Are “they” going to come to our pews if we don’t have a culture of being inclusive, open and welcoming?
There are now conversations being had and laws being written about who should use which restroom in public areas. There have been conversations about marriage equality that have been decided by the courts. There have been protests and riots about the division between communities and police. All of these important issues of our time are being decided in the public square void of any loving “Christian” voices. If there are churches involved, it is often black ministers from black churches in black neighborhoods because they have a different sense of community than white churches in white communities. There is generally a greater sense of responsibility for justice among black and urban churches…except Decatur.
As my friend and I were driving through Decatur, I pointed out all the video gaming and payday loan establishments. I think,
Where was the Church when this happened?
Why are our churches allowing predatory companies to drive our poor neighbors deeper into debt and further into poverty?
Why are the churches allowing video poker and gaming to steal our neighbors’ rent and grocery money?
Let’s be honest. We, in this sanctuary, are able to get a loan from a bank or credit union or use a credit card if we need cash for an emergency or big purchase. We go to destinations to gamble in casinos. I’m not opposed to gambling. As much as any of us like to gamble, we don’t spend hours in a gaming storefront. The owners of the gaming and loan establishments are getting rich off people who are already poor trying to stretch what little they have even further.
The wisdom of our culture is to exclude everyone who is not like us and get rich by any means possible. The wisdom of God, however, is inclusion and charity. The “Christian” voice should be one who is engaged in conversations being had in the public sphere about who is included, who is protected, and who is loved by God. We should be saying everyone is in, rather than deeming who’s not included or worthy. Too, the “Christian” voice should be defending the needs of the poor, standing up against predatory capitalist practices and stopping them from preying on our neighbors’ poverty.
The wisdom of God, the Good News, the Apostle Paul says is a stumbling block. It’s not easy. It doesn’t make sense. The way of the cross is the path to salvation. Resurrection was God’s response to sin and death. None of this was easy to understand by Paul’s audience. It’s not so easy to hear today in a world where “me” is at the center of everything, where bigger is better, where getting rich on the backs of the poor is common practice, where we want every right for ourselves but won’t consider the rights of others, where we’d rather talk about bathrooms than human trafficking or would rather talk about who shouldn’t be married than why people aren’t getting married.
It is so easy to make sense of “they” aren’t like me so “they’re” out or “they” just need to work harder or we don’t have a problem with that so “they” must be wrong.
If that’s our wisdom, can we say it’s the wisdom of God?
Exclusion, hate and fear versus inclusion, love and understanding?
Christ is the Wisdom and Word of God. The first century Jews thought the Messiah, the Christ, would restore the kingdom of Israel, even if a great war was necessary. They thought He would be a king. They thought He would be great and powerful. They hoped He’d live long and prosper. But, the Christ was nothing like they expected. The Christ was loving and merciful. He came to usher in the kingdom of Heaven, not Israel. He was a lowly servant, a peasant. He died an untimely humiliating death.
Maybe God’s wisdom isn’t as easy as we like to think it is. Maybe God’s Word isn’t as black and white as we make it out to be. Maybe me and us aren’t as important as “they” are. Christ was always helping the poor, oppressed and marginalized. Today, many Christians have made the Gospel out to be all about individual eternal salvation and ignore the call of the Gospel to seek justice for those whom Christ defended and healed in His life.
Throughout American history, our interpretation of the Bible has been in defense of what we want. For instance, slavery was defended among Christian slave owners as being what God intended. There are verses in the Bible about how slave owners should treat slaves. There is much written about being a good servant. Those were propagated to support the ownership of slaves all because slave labor was good for business. You can take any agenda to the Bible and find a verse out of context that will support your agenda. That’s not how the Gospel is to be read.
The Gospel calls us to be Christ-like seeking His values of love, justice, acceptance, and healing. Christ came to affirm God’s concern for the other, the stranger, the marginalized, the poor, the oppressed. As Christ’s church, we should be seeking ways to defend the “other”, not judge them for being “other.” The church has to become the voice of a loving people in a world that needs more love and hope. We have enough hate and fear out there in the name of Christ.
Let’s not be a church who condemns and judges others. Let’s seek to listen to those who think differently than us and try to understand their experience. Let’s be a community that will whole heartedly welcome yellow unicorns and purple dinosaurs. Let’s be a community ready to speak up and protect our neighbors from Dottie’s, Debbie’s, Ruby’s and all the other chicks with slots. What we have the opportunity to speak, let’s be the voice of love.