"Simon Stoker (not his real name), stand up! Your eyes are red with drink." So thundered the preacher from the pulpit of the rural church of my childhood.
I love the church. It is in serving here I feel most alive. But I often do not feel at home. I often do not feel safe and I suspect that's why more and more people keep their distance from us. The church is not safe because of a spirit of judgment. I do not mean the willingness to discern right from wrong or speak out for justice. I mean a frozen, stiff spirit of moral superiority established by condeming others.
The criteria for judgment vary. In the little congregation where I grew up, drinking was the number one thing to judge. "Oh Lord, please straighten out my brother in law who is a sorry alcoholic and has wronged my sister and their children so pitifullly."
In the schismatic churches, it is judgment of LGBT people. In liberal circles, the folks who disagree with them about inclusiveness are labelled "hate-mongers." In total ministry circles, beware of using words like "rector," "pastoral," even "diocese." In traditional structures, they still call locally trained priests "Canon 9" -- which was abolished years ago. Then there are the high church and low church folks who hold each other in ecclesiastical disdain.
We seem to compulsively generate criteria we can use to build ourselves up by tearing others down. Again, my problem is not with convictions held, but with the use of convictions as swords and shields.
If the church were a safe place, we could welcome more people, serve more compassionately, and show the world God's unconditional love.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
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Sometimes there are grand ways in which we can make church a safer place such as talking together about these issues of judging. Most times, however, I think we change the atmosphere at church just by the behavior each of us models for the others. If I welcome in a non-judgmental fashion - even when speaking in private to friends - it will encourage others to do so. When others exhibit this same welcome, I am more comfortable reflecting that same openness. Sadly, I have not always done this.
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