I know a pastor who talks about comfort zones…, a lot. Maybe not in every sermon, but the subject does come up on a frequent basis; her point being that we need to get outside our comfort zones in order to grow. I agree, but it’s my belief that comfort zones are incompatible with the practice of real Christianity. I use the term “real Christianity” to differentiate from the conservative cult of Republican Jesus that proclaims love yet excludes, ostracizes and demonizes anyone they believe unworthy. These “unworthy” folks include LGBT people, the homeless, the poor, minorities and anyone else who doesn’t fit their narrow vision of what a “Christian” ought to be. In reality, the worthiness of anyone isn’t the issue; it’s that these people feel unworthy themselves and, like children, have constructed an exclusive club to convince themselves and everyone else that isn’t the case. For that to work, there has to be someone to keep out. Otherwise, what’s the point?
The problem is when we do this, we are rejecting people God has accepted. In fact, we are rejecting the very people Jesus came (and called us) to serve. The Gospels are shot through with instances of His intimate association with the very people that we, the church, keep on the margins. When the Pharisees confronted him about sitting down to eat with “sinners”, He responded
” “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.”
Who are we to exclude anyone Jesus accepted? Especially when we do it because they remind us how broken we are ourselves.
One of the United Methodist Church’s former ad slogans is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”. Unfortunately, in all too many Churches (the big “C” denotes the church universal, my UMC peeps. Not singling you out here), there’s an unspoken addition to that phrase which says “…as long you’re just like us”. What happens when an openly gay couple walks into your church? Is your warm greeting genuine or do you secretly wonder “What are they doing here?” When a young man with tattoos, piercings and gauged ears comes to Sunday service, do you smile to hide the fact that you’re really thinking “What a freak!” What about the homeless person you pass every day? You know the one, reeking of body odor, stale piss and alcohol, panhandling on the corner? Do you make eye contact, or do you lower your gaze and walk past like they aren’t even there? In the Gospels, whenever Jesus called His followers to serve others, there were no conditions. He didn’t say that we should only serve those like us or those we think deserve it. He certainly never said we should only serve when we’re comfortable. Instead, he told us to give up what we want, pick our cross and follow him. Being comfortable ain’t in the deal.