Friday, January 10, 2020

Big Question #2: Does my church look primarily like me?

"Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
1 Corinthians 12:12-19

The second question that has been bothering me lately and causing me to really dig deeper is how much does my church look exactly like me?  In other words, how homogenized is my church?  Could the standard worshipper at my church be described as a type?

We know the standard; Paul lays it out pretty clearly.  The church should be one the most diverse groups that can be found, existing in utmost harmony.  It should be a body made up of diverse parts, all working together to keep the body in motion, in service, and in praise.

As it is, I fear we have too many single churches that are all eyes, all ears, all feet.  We see the pattern, churches fighting, splitting, and then re-forming around commonalities.  This denomination is for conservatives.  This denomination is for liberals.  This church is a black church.  This church is a white church, in fact, if not in charter.  This is a church for older worshippers, with hymns and the King James bible.  This is a church for the younger worshippers, with lights, sounds, a praise band, and comfortable clothes.

We fragment and fragment and fragment the body until we've reached a point where we wonder why we're ineffective.  Why there is so much division in this country, in the world. 

If the universal church of God cannot get along, how can we expect the rest of the world to do so?

I look at the churches I have connections to, and I notice, there is definitely a type.  While there are exceptions, they are largely white.  Largely conservative, theologically and politically.  Largely middle class.  It can be typified even closer based on the particular areas.  Ladies have a country-crafty design sense.  Men are hunters, fishers, tradesmen.  We're Fixer Upper, HGTV churches.

I realize, some of this comes from the areas that they are located in, and that's fine to a degree.  The church should reflect it's location.  The people in the area.  

The problem is that it doesn't accurately reflect the whole place it is located.  The church should be a microcosm of the community that it is in.  It should ideally reflect the demographics of the community, or at least come close.

We're definitely not there yet.  Right now, we're reflecting specific segments.

Perhaps I notice it more because I sometimes feel like an outsider.  I'm more liberal than the general body.  I'm more city than country, despite where I grew up.  I'm art and tech focused, not a hunter, fisher, or rancher.

Does the homogenization of our churches reflect a reluctance on our part to share the gospel with people that are different from us?  Does it reflect our unwillingness to share the gospel to all the ends of the earth?  We might have a great desire to see the gospel shared around the globe, but is that good negated by our unwillingness to share it in the other side of town?  Or worse, do we view that as a mission, a place for us to serve and feel better about it, but something that isn't really supposed to mix with our church regularly?

How much of our outreach is pointed to people exactly like us?  Based on our members interests and preferences, appealing to like minded individuals, but not casting a broader net?

I'll admit, some of this came from discussions with Jamie regarding a powerful book she just went through and the one that is next on my list entitled Insider Outsider by Bryan Loritts.  Loritts writes about being a person of color in predominantly white evangelical spaces and the implications that it has on our faith.  Part of the struggle he outlines is how we may invite the minority in, but we expect them to adapt to our preferences, our patterns and traditions, instead of being open for us both to change from the encounter.  

I guess, that's our fear.  We don't want to be changed.  We want to continue in our same patterns, continue with our same programs, our same traditions.  We're not open to other voices, to the point of sometimes not even being open to God's voice.

The church desperately needs all voices in its walls.  All colors, all creeds, all genders, all classes, untied in one thing - complete surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

"Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another."  Proverbs 27:17.  For this to work, the iron has to approach the other iron at a different angle.  If both are going the same way, neither is sharpened.  It just doesn't work.  We need people to approach things differently.  To challenge us.  To grow us.  To force us to confront different ideas.  Different interpretations.  Different viewpoints.  

We need black voices in our churches and for there to stop being a de facto split in white and black churches in our communities.  We need for 11:00 am on Sunday morning to stop being the most segregated hour in America.  Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized that and we still have that same problem.  We need black voices to help us see black representation in the Bible, like Jethro, Zipporah, Bathsheba, and Zephaniah.  We need to hear their voices on what liberation means to them.  We need to learn their history, their theology, and their perspective.

We need more input from female voices in our churches.  We need to remember there were female prophets, disciples of Jesus, apostles, and deacons all recorded in the Bible.  We need their voices on scripture, to potentially correct some of our interpretations.  To see the woman at the well as potentially a five-time widow, opposed to a woman of loose morals.  To remember that Bathsheba was a victim who was taken advantage of by the king.

We need liberals in our churches.  We need liberals to push us to social justice, to remind us that we are to be about the business of making this world better here and now.  We need them to be pushing us to action to speak for the oppressed, to care for the hurting, to defend the weak.  We need them to ask questions, to force us to confront difficult passages and truths, to force us to determine what we actually believe, not what has been passed down to us.

We need all social classes in our churches.  To force us to confront inequity.  To move us to compassion and provide us the means to do so.

We need the LGBTQ+ community in our churches.  We need them to show us their examples in the bible and for us to wrestle with those texts.  Eunuchs.  The centurion and his pais, his boy.  We need to recognize that they are already there.  If somewhere between 5-10% of Americans identify as LGBTQ+ in some form or fashion, then there is some small portion of your church that identifies that way as well.  They are staying closeted.  Wrestling in silence.  Or leaving altogether.  If you believe it is sinful to be homosexual, then you must realize that there are already people in your church that are struggling with same-sex attraction, that are wrestling with their faith, their orientation, and what they've been taught.  We have to do a better job having these discussions and in presenting the full text.  Our current strategy has led to family expulsion, bullying, discrimination, and increased suicide rates in the LGBTQ+ community.  We have effectively communicated a writing off of that entire group.  We can definitely do better. 

We only get stronger when we do this together.  If we keep splintering, keep fractioning, to where each church is just a little pocket of the same type of people, each church is just one part of the body trying to function alone, then we've given up all pretense of unity.  We're ignoring God's plan for the body.  

It would do us well to remember these differences, these distinctions we draw down here, make no difference.  We are all one in Christ.  The more our church looks exactly like us, the less it looks like the universal Church of God.   That should trouble us.  That should motivate us.

Let's hope our bodies start to reflect that unity more and more in the coming year and beyond.

"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
Galatians 3:28

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