Monday, March 28, 2016

I'll go first

A situation came up recently at one of our churches that caused some friction among the members. When things like this happen, and they inevitably will, there are options for addressing conflict: talking to the pastor and/or addressing the committees. At one point, the whole ugly mess was aired on social media. After I was done feeling hurt and angry, I decided, as I often do, to do some reading on the subject.

Our Great Big American God: a Short History of our Ever-Growing Deity by Matthew Paul Turner takes a look black through history, beginning with the Puritans, and examines the fraught relationship America has with God.  It's a fascinating read, and though I find Turner to be a bit snarky regarding evangelical or conservative Christians, he lays out several powerful arguments about how "...we are all molding God to reflect our own personal, American interpretation of Christian faith."

To me, Turner's most important point is this:

"As hard as we try to demand that God be this or declare that God hates that, in the end, our actions often undermine our understandings about the sovereignty of God. The Apostle Paul wrote that if God be for us than who can be against us?, his point being that God is with us and is powerful enough to take care of us. So if that is indeed true, and if we believe it, wouldn't God also be able to take care of himself? The obvious answer is yes. But then why do so many of us feel inclined to protect God against outside elements, both Christian ideas and non-Christian ones? America's Christians are defensive, known far more for what we protect God from than what we believe God able and willing to handle."

So many people leave church because they are unable to reconcile what they feel about God's love and grace and how they see it rationed out by well-meaning (but wrong) grace gatekeepers. 
They see friendly and pious Christians on Sunday at church, but those same folks act differently at the grocery store or their places of employment. They feel that church isn't relevant or authentic because we sing out our praise during worship and proclaim our hearts and minds changed at Sunday School, but we bicker and gossip about what the pastor said/did or how the sanctuary is set up or how the church budget is handled when we're outside the church's doors.  

Rachel Held Evans recently wrote on her blog:

" I often wonder if the role of the clergy in this age is not to dispense information or guard the prestige of their authority, but rather to go first, to volunteer the truth about their sins, their dreams, their failures, and their fears in order to free others to do the same. Such an approach may repel the masses looking for easy answers from flawless leaders, but I think it might make more disciples of Jesus, and I think it might make healthier, happier pastors. "

I'm not a pastor, but I'm a leader.  So allow me to go first.

I don't have all the answers. What I do have is a personal relationship with God and access to books, blogs, and the Bible to help me stretch my thinking. In my United Methodist context, we call this the Wesleyan Quadrilateral that illustrates how we can use scripture, reason, experience, and tradition to connect with the world around us. We may have had different upbringings and life experiences, and that's OK.  In fact, it's great!  But in my heart I know that if I think that God is telling me to harm, oppress, shame, or slander someone because we have a difference of opinion, that's not coming from God

Grace is for everyone.  If we distributed grace only to those we thought deserved it, would any of us be worthy?  I'm so glad I don't have to be the grace judge--I work really hard to award it equally to my friends and enemies. God isn't "on my side", and he's not on your side either, he is with us. Through all of it.  And he doesn't need us to fight battles for him. He wants us to seek him. 

So I'll go first. I hope you'll follow.  

What is the hardest part about being a Christian?  The most rewarding?  The most isolating?  The most unifying?  

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