Posted on | April 6, 2016 | 5 Comments
A few weeks ago, I opened my email to a message from a local church leader, inviting me to come visit with him about my beliefs on some of the bills that have been introduced lately across our country, dealing with (among other things) LGBT marriage. His email was in response to a fired off email I sent him earlier in the week asking that I be removed from his “marketing” list due to an email I received telling me to support one of those bills. I thought it was very brave of him to invite me to talk, so I accepted. Because really that’s what is missing in our society right now… polite conversation that doesn’t resort to name calling, about the things we disagree on.
It was with great trepidation that I shook his hand and sat down across from him to talk. See, I have pretty strong beliefs when it comes to What Would Jesus Do, and what it means to be a Christian. I believe whole-heartedly in the ideas that Jesus preached about love and patience and embracing people from all walks of life. So I was worried about sitting down with someone who was a church leader and who seemed to feel so very differently. But I guess I thought that maybe through talking to each other, I would see that we don’t feel so very differently. I thought there would be a common ground we could find where we’d smile and say “Well, yes… THAT we can agree on.”
I wish I could say I came away from that meeting feeling like we found a common ground and that his and my “versions” of Christianity were simply parallel lines that could maybe swerve a bit somewhere down the line and find their way back together.
But I can’t.
Instead, I left that meeting feeling sad and heartbroken about the future of the religion I hold so dear.
I have always believed that when Jesus said “Feed my sheep,” he meant feed and care for them all. He didn’t mean lift and separate them into acceptable sheep and unacceptable sheep. I believe that when Paul wrote to the Galatians “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus,” he actually meant that in God’s eyes we are all the same. As in, indistinguishable.
But in that large and sprawling mega-Church, I was told that Christianity is, “by its nature intended to be exclusive.” I was told that Jesus selected only 12 disciples because he meant for Christianity to be limited in scope. At least that’s what I understood this particular leader to be saying.
When I left after our 1.5 hour meeting, I was depressed. I sat in my car in their wide and expansive parking lot, and I cried into my steering wheel, because I can’t imagine my Jesus turning anyone away from the path to righteousness. I can’t imagine my Jesus saying “I’m sorry, you don’t fit my image of Christian, so I’m going to have to ask you to sit in the back.” I can’t imagine my Jesus embracing a church that says “All are welcome to worship… but you have to fit in this neat box right here if you want to actually be an accepted MEMBER of this congregation.”
Though I had hoped to find a common ground, I left the meeting reminded that my Christianity and his can never see eye to eye. Because my Jesus, my Christianity, is not exclusive by nature. It is wide armed and smiling and ready to forgive again, and again, and again… even if you are exactly like me and you screw up over, and over, and over.
Because we’re not perfect, and I don’t believe that Jesus charged us to go out and find a particular brand of perfect-ish people to embrace into the church… I believe that Jesus charged us to feed all His sheep with the love and compassion of His church. And that doesn’t mean just allowing them to worship in the next pew. Because what sort of message does it send, really, if you tell someone “No, no… you can worship here with us. But you can’t be a part of our membership.”
Doesn’t it say “you’re not as good as me?”
Doesn’t it say “I think I’m better than you?”
Do either of those things sound like something Jesus would say?
So to the church leader who met with me, I will reiterate what I said as I was leaving. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. Thank you for the civil discussion we engaged in.
But I extend a hearty “No, thank you” to your request that I come and worship with you, because honestly?
I like my Jesus a lot better than the one you teach.