This post is a little different from my usual offering. It’s a contribution to something called the Eighth Letter Project, which encourages people to write a letter to the North American Church similar to the seven letters at the beginning of Revelation. It’s also part of a synchroblog by Rachel Held Evans. Which is kinda cool because, until just recently, I didn’t even know what a synchroblog was.
Where did we go wrong? Where did we get the idea that we are a nation favored by God? How did we go from “love your neighbor” to “God Bless America”? When did it become okay for American Christians to be more concerned about their money and their stuff than their fellow-man? When did we decide that God wanted us to ostracize entire segments of the population because their lifestyle makes us uncomfortable? When did we stop being The Church and start being a nationalist political organization? Somewhere we went off the rails and we should really try to get back on track.
I’m not sure when all those things happened; if it was gradual or quick, or if it was always like that. What I do know is that what we’re doing isn’t working anymore. Young people are leaving the church around the time they graduate high school and start college. That’s not really new, they’ve always done that. In the past, when they started their own families, they came back. They wanted their children to grow up with the same moral education they did. Not anymore. They’re examining things and finding that education wanting. They don’t see it as all that moral. For them it’s vindictive, mean-spirited and just plain wrong. That’s sad, because I know the good we can accomplish when we get things right.
Too much of the church in America is more focused on saving souls than saving lives. We’re locked in on a warped idea of the Great Commission, one that places baptizing people above feeding them. Yes, salvation is important, but someone whose stomach is empty isn’t thinking about going to heaven. Their concerns are more immediate: a meal for themselves and their family, a warm, safe, dry place for their children to lay their heads at night. Preaching salvation to these people without attending to these needs is sowing seed among the thorns. Remember the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words”.
Jesus calls us to love everyone, even our enemies, saying “if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same?” Burning books and begrudging people the right to practice their religion wherever they see fit isn’t loving anyone. He calls us to “turn the other cheek”, breaking the cycle of pain and hatred that revenge begets. He calls us to welcome everyone into our fellowship, saying “And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” He calls us to love God and love our neighbor, telling us that everyone is our neighbor, even the hated Samaritan.
In Matthew 25:34-37, Jesus instructs us to welcome strangers into our midst. Telling people they can’t join our club because they continue to sin, while continuing in our own particular sin not only isn’t welcoming, it’s hypocritical. And, Jesus didn’t do hypocritical. Whether the Bible condemns certain lifestyles or not, it is not up to us to determine who we can come to God. As a Methodist, I’m a great believer in these words of John Wesley, “By “means of grace” I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.” In denying acceptance to our homosexual brothers and sisters, we are denying them the means of grace. And, we don’t get to do that.
I’ve spoken some rather harsh words here, but I’ve spoken them because I see the potential we, the church in North America, has to do good in the name of God. And, as disheartening as some of our current practices are, that potential is a good thing. I see it in the groups working to correct these wrongs and become the church that Jesus wants us to be. And, that gives me hope.