This marks my 400th post! Where, oh where, does the time go? I figure that the phrase "Go Big Or Go Home" should apply to all major milestones and a 400th blog post should be no exception.
I told you earlier in the week that I watched a Lisa Ling documentary on the Oprah network recently about Christianity and homosexuality called Our America: Pray the Gay Away? . The premise of the documentary was to look at the question of weather or not one can be both gay and Christian at the same time. I'll be honest- I was expecting to watch this documentary and cringe all the way through it. I am unashamedly a Christian- meaning that I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I find that usually documentaries like this portray Christians in an overtly negative and skewed way. This one was no exception- but it did make me think about how to verbalize my thoughts on "the church" in regards to inclusion and equality. I'm in no way a theologian. I've read the Bible, but I'm just a mom sitting in her kitchen shaking children of her legs. Take my thoughts for what you will. They are just that- my thoughts. I like to visit churches and have been in a whole lot of churches over the course of my lifetime. I've been in some churches who totally get it right and some who totally miss the mark. These thoughts are not always about my specific church, but about the church as a whole.
Growing up in a small country church, I don't remember anyone who was black, gay or single parenting ever gracing the doors of our church. When I grew up and changed churches, I find that it is still mostly the case. I love my church- but I fit the "norm". I am white, middle class, and married to a man. I always wonder if any of these characteristics about me were different, would I still be as accepted? As I watched the documentary, I watched gay men walk into church. They were searching for something- God, peace, connection- something. Every now and then, they were welcomed with open arms into a church. But more often than not, the church immediately began to work on these men to change them, giving them books about how to erradicate their femine ways and embrace God's plan for masculinity and praying over them to be "healed" from their homosexuality. The documentary followed how conflicted these men felt as they worked through choosing between being themselves and having a relationship with God.
I laid awake that night not understanding why you can't have both. I think that many times, today's modern church is a conglomerate of man made rules and conventions that often deviate from the message of love and inclusion that Jesus preached. It is a place where damaged and fallen people go to feel good about themselves and put on the mask that they have it all together. We use the church as a staging area for our good works, instead of a staging area for building deeper faith. In doing so, we alienate all those fallen people who walk through the doors without their masks on who are seeking an authentic relationship with Christ. When word got out that our adoption adjustment wasn't super peachy, I felt really ignored in our church. Many people stopped reaching out. People didn't understand what we were going through and thus we kind of fell through the cracks. Our struggles were seen on the outside and since they weren't the things that churches rally around (illnesses and deaths) we found ourselves in no man's land. For a long time, this shook my faith. Until I realized that my disappointment was not in Jesus- but in people. Jesus got it. He understood my pain, my hurt and my unfathomable guilt. And he delivered people who supported me and lifted me up- but it wasn't through the church. Many of those people were Christians, but it made me think that something happens to us when we walk through the doors of the church. We take our selves and we bend to convention. We conform to the idea that we must present our perfection. God's not looking for perfection- but authenticity and communion with him. Unfortunately, I think what we are looking for and expecting as a church is exactly the opposite. We stamp out authenticy. We call it sin and we demand perfection.
It wasn't long ago that author Ann Rice denounced herself as a Christian and called herself a Christ Follower. I get it. I have often found myself feeling like sometimes the church and it's endless stream of meetings and drama actually pull me away from doing the work that Christ has laid out for my life. I look around at churches with their lack of diversity and wonder if sometimes as a church we are sending a message to "keep out!". I heard a man speak a couple of weeks ago about a church that he started that meets in a community building in an impoverished inner city neighborhood. He said that most of the people that come to the church are in some stage of addiciton recovery. He talked about how many addicts often come through their doors who are strung out, drunk and hurting. Is this not the time when someone needs Christ the most? But I look around most of the churches that I know and visit and can't help but think that they would look at that addict and sit in their pews and cast judgement because we don't want that in "our" church. We are more comfortable leaving people who's sins that we deem worse than ours for the more inner city "missional" churches. When need comes walking through our door, we panic. We panic without realizing that our own need for redemption is just as great- even if it is less glaring or unseen. I feel like this same thing goes for anyone who doesn't fit the manmade "perfect Christian mold". We ostracize homosexuals, felons, people of different races, etc. and then we wonder why people hate Christians.
We hear sermons from the pulpit about God's design for families. Mom. Dad. Kids. Period. We alienate single moms, divorced couples, and families that are made in unconventional ways.
I know people who attend churches where the history of racism is so entrenched that if an African American came in the doors, it would probably stop the service. Likewise, I have spoken with my gay friends who feel so judged by the church that they feel they have nowhere to go to further their relationship with Christ within a communtiy of believers. I've seen it happen. We've taken teenagers who are searching for faith and because of their sexual orientation, we've condemned then and turned them against Christ because Christians are not being good ambassadors of Christ's love.
I think we spend so much time as Christians puffing ourselves and our goodness up, that we forget it is about bringing others to a loving and personal relationship with Jesus. We forget that the things that separate others from God are the same things that separate us from God. Sin is sin is sin. Judgement is a sin. It seems to me the ultimate anomoly. In judging people for their perceived separation from God, we in turn separate ourselves.
Christ said that above all else, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself." Not judge your neighbor. Not turn your back on your neighbor. Not welcome your neighbor to church only if they fit the mold. He said LOVE your neighbor. We are people. We have a guidebook for our faith that is written by other people. If we take man out of the equation and focus on our relationship with Jesus, I think we will find that all the labels fall off. Those labels are between each of us and our creator- not to use against one another. Because someone is gay, does that mean that they have less of a heart for God? Or because a woman is an unwed mother does that mean that her family is less pleasing to God? I think not. I think that the ultimate reason that each of us is created is because there is something unique in each person that delights God. I think that all the circumstances that bring us to each point in life, create that uniqueness in us that brings pleasure to Him. He created those things in us for his delight for a reason. Even though we don't always understand different lifestyles, cultures, or behaviors- doesn't mean that they are wrong or that they separate us from God. I think that God created YOU to be YOU and man's judgement is inconsequential. When the church becomes a place where ALL people are truly welcomed and valued, only then do I feel like we are carrying out the true mission of the church to bring ALL the world to know Him.
If only we spent as much time spreading messages of acceptance and inclusion as we do casting stones...
*I've turned off anonymous commenting for this post. Please keep it nice. We can debate if you'd like, but only if it is civil. All mean spirited comments will be deleted.