“In deep disappointment, I have wept over the laxity of the church. Be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love… But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the church, it will lose it’s authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 20th century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – Letter from a Birmingham Jail
I type the following in love (and disappointment) to the American Church:
In the last few months, more than ever before, I have questioned whether I still belong to you and whether you still belong to me. As I type these words, tears are streaming down my face.
Church, you have been such an integral part of my life. As a pastor’s kid and at times, a pastor’s wife, there have been moments when it seemed you were my whole life. You have been my community, my foundation, my habit, my compass, my caretaker, and my safe place. You have also been a source of wounding, pain, and confusion. I have wrestled with the fact that we, the church, have used theology to justify wars, slavery, oppression, and segregation. I have wrestled with how we have historically and presently excluded female and LGBTQ congregants and disenfranchised those inside and outside of our community of faith. I have wrestled with continuing to wrestle with so much but justified the continual struggle with the knowledge that I am human, you are human, and we are imperfectly trying to follow a perfect God. (And I’m not foolish enough to think that I can follow Jesus without a community of people to teach and support me in how to do that.)
But the last few months have shaken me to the core. This election season has felt like one continual wrestling match within my soul and amongst people I love.
Church, we claim to pray to the same God, in the name of the same Jesus, and yet some of us felt convicted to vote for one candidate, and others, the other, and very few others, the other. And afterward, some of us mourned and others of us rejoiced; deeply mourned and deeply rejoiced. I know that part of this mess is that Jesus was not an American, a Democrat, or a Republican, and we tend to forget that every 4 years. But for me, the wrestling goes deeper than blue and red and donkeys and elephants. The convictions behind our votes represent some significant divides in how we believe we should live.
If we claim to follow the same Jesus, how is it that our interpretation of following is so starkly different? If we are reading the same Bible, how is our comprehension so vastly different? I don’t believe that this election season has divided our country or the American church. I believe this election season has highlighted the divide that has long been there. But I also believe this election season is causing a lot of us to question how we can continue to be the church together when there is such a vast divide in our theology, interpretation, and praxis.
I don’t have answers, but I do know that I am not ready to give up on us, church. And here I am crying again.
I want desperately for this relationship to work because even though it’s so complicated, I still believe that we are good for each other. I want to belong to you and for you belong to me.
But I also want us to throw our doors wide open because I believe that Jesus is for all of us, not an elite bunch of us. This struggle I’m having with our relationship is bigger than just you and me.
I want us to be a people who are focused on welcoming others in, not keeping others out. I don’t want to practice fancy invitation-only pressed linen tablecloth dinner party hospitality. I want us to host radical, messy hospitality that look like the dining room table and the card table, and the tv trays are all set with mismatched dishes and chairs (including the camping chairs) because we ran out of room at the dinner table hospitality.
I want us to be people who champion the cause of people and not the cause of causes.
I want us to stop pretending that theology, life, and following Jesus is clear cut, black and white, and figure-out-able. I want us to be humble, to embrace the gray, and to hope for God to continually change our hearts so that with each year, we look more like Jesus.
I want us to see the image of God in every single person. And I want us to fight for others because we see the image of God in them, not because we deem them innocent or not. I don’t want us to be a voice for the voiceless; I want us to give up privilege so that those without a voice have the opportunity to speak for themselves. And then I want us to listen. I want us to be part of the liberation movement, not the condemnation movement.
I want us to do less service projects and do more listening projects. I want us to get out of our bubbles and learn from people who don’t look like, worship like, speak like, and vote like we do. And then I want us to question whether our theology applies to the people we just listened to. If our theology can’t be applied outside of our little church community, it isn’t God’s theology.
I want us to listen to the uncomfortable words from today’s prophetesses and prophets who are calling out forgetfulness, greed, and fixation with current culture. I want us to stop crying for peace and unity when there is no peace, and instead, embrace the tension that might lead us to the repentance we need.
I want us to turn over tables, like our Jesus did, when we see our fellow Christians becoming insular, uptight, and judgmental.
I want us to be known for our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.
I want us to be cities on a hill. We are not called to spread fear and scarcity, but to spread hope and light and generosity.
I want us to commit to the hard, complicated, long-term work of making peace rather than the easier, unholy work of keeping peace (or if we’re being honest, keeping privilege – because there’s too much conflict in our nation and world to claim there was peace to begin with).
I want us to care for the widow, the fatherless, and the orphan. I want us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner. I want us to act justly and love mercy and walk humbly.
I want us to be kingdom people, church. I want to be in this with you. Is there hope for us?