Dearest Church :
A couple of years ago, I was quite prepared to never be part of you ever again. One of your branches decided I was disposable and cast me out without so much as a second thought. My willingness to walk away was a mixture of “well if you don’t me, I don’t want you” and an unbelievable pain at being called horrible names by my church. After several months of crying and reflection and pro/con lists, I decided to stay with you.
I re-make that decision regularly.
Now, do not get me wrong, there are times I find you simply delightful and you are “home” to me in a way that few other things are. As someone who lives outside my home culture and has spent most of my adult life doing so, little makes me feel more at home than singing hymns with a simple piano and a group of family I’ve never met before.
But – like any relationship - choice is a big part of our relationship. Every time someone stands up in your name and makes a comment which makes my blood boil? I choose to stay. Every time I have to defend your true intentions to my friends who have been hurt by false ones? I have to choose to stay. And I know I’m not alone in this.
As someone who is a professional academic studying you and your use of language, can I make some simple suggestions to maybe change how regularly I (and many others) have to make that choice? I had a beloved professor in seminary who used to tell me I was free to abandon a congregational church but that I should never, ever abandon the Bride. I carry that thought in my heart as I write this. I firmly believe that if we could use different language and have different conversations, we could embrace our identity as the Bride more firmly.
Instead of “my pastor speaks for God” can we say “my pastor does his/her best to use the education they’ve acquired and the insights they have to show me new things about Scripture/God/Church that I never would have thought of on my own”?
Instead of “if the Bible says it, I believe it” can we say “I find my truth in the words of Scripture but I acknowledge that I am also influenced by 2,000 years of tradition and history and we may not fully understand everything”?
Instead of “hate the sin and love the sinner” can we say “I don’t need to agree with every choice someone makes to love them”?
Instead of “you are going to hell” can we say … well, anything else? It really is time to stop invoking that threat.
Instead of standing on street corners preaching to anyone passing by, can we commit to loving people for the long term with no agenda? Instead of focusing our budget on the activities of a Sunday morning, can we hire social workers to help craft our interaction with our local and global neighborhoods? Instead of paying for buildings can we talk about meeting in houses or public spaces? Instead of involving ourselves in the reproductive and sexual choices of people we do not know, can we involve ourselves in the rhythms of our communities?
Can we start talking about promoting farming and local food in America? Can we talk about how Jesus wasn’t an American and God is an ahistorical and apolitical deity? Can we promote artistic expression and the laughter of children in countries we’ll never visit? Can we fight for clean water and proper dental care?
Can we be known by what we are for rather than what we are against? Please?