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Singleness Sound-off: Are You My Neighbor?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

“Today’s church is not the neighborly, participatory place it once was.”
(Julia Duin, Quitting Church)

Won't ComeMost evangelical churches today will have as a major thrust of their mission statement that they’re there to attract “seekers.” But what are they attracting seekers to? Fancy buildings that stand empty (except for the church staff) more than 80% of the time? Factories where if you aren’t homogenized with the cultural and social and political beliefs of everyone else in the congregation, “quality control” makes you feel so unwelcome you end up leaving? Fancy display screens and upbeat, feel-good music but no real, personal connections with anyone else? Sermons and Bible studies that use dogeared Christianese that is unintelligible to the unchurched and white-noise to life-long believers?

What ever happened to the concept of sanctuary? Remember Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame skulking around and hollering that word? When did the connotation of sanctuary become limited to the room in which a church holds its services? If you look the word up in the dictionary, you’ll find (as one of the many definitions): “any place of refuge; asylum.” What’s happened to this concept? Of the church being the place where hurting people go to find solace? Someone whose life is in shambles is more likely to seek out a professional (usually non-religious) counselor or a non-church support group to deal with their problems—to deal with their sins—than they are to go to church seeking sanctuary. Why? Because they are more likely to face judgment and condemnation by walking into a church in their “unfixed” condition.

When did “the church” become an idol—like the ancient temple in Jerusalem—that cannot be made unclean by the presence of those who don’t fit neatly into that particular congregation’s stereotype of the “right” kind of member: those who leave all their troubles at the door, put on a happy face, and pretend for the few hours they’re there that they don’t have doubts and fears, that their marriage and children are perfect, that they aren’t lonely, that they aren’t addicted to porn or gambling or pain pills?

I’ve always joked that one of the main differences between Catholics and Baptists is that Catholics go into a private booth and confess their own sins to a priest; Baptists go to prayer meeting and confess everyone else’s sins to the whole congregation as “prayer requests.” Sure, it sounds funny, but this is why we’ve lost a lot of that neighborliness and participatory nature in the modern evangelical church: because instead of being quick to love, quick to forgive, quick to help, we’ve become quick to judge, quick to ostracize, quick to gossip.

When I was a member of the seven-year church, with as much of myself as I poured into that congregation, there were things I struggled with that I never shared with anyone there—because I knew it would get all around the church and blown way out of proportion. I could tell my non-church/non-Christian friends, but not the people in my own “church family” because I knew I’d be judged and talked about behind my back. I’d seen it happen far too often to others—who usually ended up leaving the church.

Jesus said in John 13:35 (NASB): “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” But when I get attacked for stating my political affiliation—when someone tells me I cannot really be a Christian because I’m a Democrat who supports this country’s lawfully elected president for whom I voted—that is not love. That is not Christianity. One of the reasons so many people have quit attending church, or are avoiding anyone who openly calls himself a “Christian,” is because for most people outside of the very closed off, very elitist “Christian Community,” being a “Christian” has gained the connotation of being judgmental, condescending, unwilling to accept alternative viewpoints or ideas or ideologies—especially when it comes to politics. Christians are seen by unchurched America as people who are going to beat you over the head with a Bible, tell you you’re a horrible person, and leave you in the dust if you don’t agree with everything they say. (Yes, I am speaking in generalities here and painting with a very wide brush—I know not every Christian is like this—I’M A CHRISTIAN, TOO!)

“Many churches have become like supermarkets or gas stations: totally depersonalized arenas where most people no longer feel a responsibility to be hospitable to the person standing next to them. . . .
As for those who drop out, no one notices.”
(Julia Duin, Quitting Church)

Remember the story of the Good Samaritan? Think for a minute about the characters in it. Jesus was not just talking about doing good deeds or being a good neighbor. He was also making a point about “church people.” It wasn’t the church leader who stopped to help the hurting man. It wasn’t the deacon/elder/teacher who stopped. It was the “unclean” Samaritan who stopped—the person who was part of a group that had been kicked out of “the church,” the person who didn’t fit in, who wasn’t welcomed in “the church” of that time (the Temple). If we were to relate this story in today’s terminology, we might say that the characters were a preacher (the priest), a Sunday school teacher (the Levite), and a member of the LGBT community (the good Samaritan). It is just as shocking today to think that Jesus might use a lesbian as an example of a “good neighbor” in this story as it was for the Jews of His time to think of a Samaritan as a “good neighbor.” But the truth of the matter is that I know more people who are gay/lesbian who do more to reach out to hurting people around them—right in their own neighborhoods, their own local communities—than people from the churches where I’ve been a member.

So many singles feel like that battered, bloody guy in the middle of the road. (Heck, not just singles, so many people feel that way.) But when the leadership and good, upstanding members of our congregation—what’s supposed to be our spiritual family—cut a wide swath around us to keep from having to acknowledge how much pain we’re in, it’s only natural that we’re going to turn to sources outside of “the church” where we’ll be helped and loved and accepted for who we are, right now, without being told we need to change (i.e., clean ourselves up, get married, have kids, or whatever precondition it is) before we’ll be worthy of “the church’s” love and acceptance.

“For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. . . . We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:11–18, NASB)

Let’s be people who notice—people who care, who love, who accept. Let’s show we’re Christians by our love, rather than standing on the street screaming it into people’s faces—then disproving it by our judgmental and condemning attitudes and actions. Let’s covenant together to remember what it means to be a “good neighbor” and just love one another.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Tuesday, October 13, 2009 3:45 pm

    Excellent article, Kay. Your lament echos the cry of millions of Christians who feel their is no alternative to the religious institution called church today. Sadly, Christianity has become a religion with its own set of political agendas, prejudices, unscriptural definitions and pet doctrines based on mistranslation of scripture. Church is now miss-defined as a gathering meeting at a “house of worship” where those of a particular religious culture are “led” in worship before listening to a lecture. Consequently, the reality of community centered around Christ, knit together by genuine relationships and expressing itself through unconditional love and acceptance has been all but lost.

    The good news is that millions of believers are returning to the simplicity of relational church life outside the walls of religious institutions. I have met with such believers in the U.S. and in other parts of the world who are discovering the Father heart of God in the context of genuine community. Among such people the one priority is recognized as intimate, practical relationship with God and with one another, and leaves no room for petty distinctions necessary for the marketing needs of institutional Christianity.

    Like

  2. Wednesday, October 14, 2009 10:54 am

    There’s definitely some interesting thoughts posted here.

    Like

  3. Laura in Texas permalink
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 11:20 am

    So well said, Kaye. It’s long past time that people started telling the truth about this.

    Like

  4. greyfort permalink
    Wednesday, October 14, 2009 1:06 pm

    Very well said Kaye. And yes, we are neighbors 🙂

    Like

  5. Sunday, October 18, 2009 9:36 pm

    I noticed that too,outside of Church we don’t congregate much.I noticed how the people in the churches hang in cliques.It is hard to get in other people social circles.

    Like

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