Sunday, December 23, 2007

Be yourself… as long as you keep it a secret.

Before I came home from school for Christmas break I was invited to a Christmas party. It was more like a Christmas shindig actually, very few people were going to be there. But it ended up getting cancelled.

It was my friend Ty and his wife Julie who were putting on the get-together. Ty is the Youth Pastor at our church up in L.A. and thought nothing of having a Christmas party with some friends where they could be themselves without students around. Every Youth Pastor needs time away from students if only to keep their sanity. He was very careful to keep his get-together as a personal thing—not to represent the church or a church function. On the flyers was printed something like “bring your own dessert and adult beverage.” Being well aware that some of the people in the church might not approve of drinking, he kept it ambiguous and was very careful about who heard about the event, not that he should have had anything to worry about. There is nothing in the church faith-statement that condemns responsible drinking and there are plenty of people in the church who are totally fine with having a few drinks here and there.

Though Ty shouldn’t have had anything to worry about, unfortunately someone else in the church disagreed. Ty got a call that very morning from a “higher-up” telling him that it was not ok to have a Christmas shindig with alcohol and that he needed to cancel the party. Thus it was cancelled.

Essentially, what they were saying is that it’s ok for Ty to be himself and have a drink every once in while as long as nobody knew about it. It wasn’t cancelled because Ty is not allowed to drink, or even because drinking is a sin, it was cancelled because people knew about it. So, the next morning when I saw Ty at church and talked to him about it I told him, “Ty, it’s ok to be yourself… as long as you keep it a secret.”

What kind of message does this send out? It communicates that church is not a safe place for people to be themselves. It not a safe place to talk about drinking. Rather than teaching people moderation, we condemn it altogether. No wonder there are so many people who go to church on Sunday and have a drinking problem during the week. No wonder there are so many people who have double-lives within the church. Church has become a place that is only safe for perfect people (not that drinking makes someone imperfect). Church has sought to protect its safety so much that we avoid the danger of honesty. We do not talk about anything that might make people think less of us—which includes even the most trivial of tasks, such as getting together with some friends to have a drink or two—let alone our sins. And when we do finally talk about our sins, we make sure to use ambiguous language so as not to be so specific that people will actually know too much about us. What if church became a place where we had the freedom to be ourselves out in the open? If we really don’t think that drinking is a sin (and I’m sure there are some who will say that it is) then why can’t our Youth Pastors do it in their own time? Church will never be a genuine place until we are open and honest. And true growth comes only out of genuine experiences.

“Church will only be a place of spiritual healing and transformation when we take the risk to make it the most dangerous place of all—a place where we can be fully, completely ourselves.” (Charles J. Conniry, Jr., Soaring in the Spirit, p34.)

4 comments:

KJKEB said...

Wes,

Very interesting post... I have some thoughts on this subject that would probably not go down easily with my denomination, so I'll keep them to myself for now.

Instead, I wish you a very Merry Christmas. Enjoy your break from the rigors of school and enjoy the gift of the Babe in the manger.

Merry Christmas,
Kevin

KJKEB said...

Well, since you asked about my thoughts on your post, I will tell you.

There are three camps in the church when it comes to this issue. The largest camp is made up of the folks who thing the floor will open and you will fall straight to hell if you imbibe. This is by far the largest camp.

The second camp is made up of those folks who feel that, not only is it OK to imbibe, it is a right to do so. This camp is sometime the most militant.

I am generally in the third camp. This camp generally finds no Biblical prohibition against drinking, yet they themselves do not imbibe. Nor do they take issue with those Christians who do.

For me, it comes down to this. Why would I do something that can be so divisive and be so easily misunderstood or misinterpreted by someone in the church?

The problem is how to hold that view without letting judgementalism and feelings of Holy superiority take over in my heart.

How's that?

WES ELLIS said...

good thoughts! Thanks. I agree with you (though I can't say that I don't drink every once in a while). I think it's important that the first group doesn't dominate so much that people have to pretend in order to be accepted at church.

DaveW said...

"There are three camps in the church when it comes to this issue. The largest camp is made up of the folks who thing the floor will open and you will fall straight to hell if you imbibe. This is by far the largest camp."

Maybe so in the Church in the US (or some3 Churches in the US?). But certainly not in the UK.

I would gess here the 2nd group is the clear majority but I have almost never seen anything approaching militancy about it. The nearest thing to militancy (although that vastly overstates it) would be a few Anglicans who believe Methodist Communion is illegal (and I confess I have never understood the use of the world legal and illegal in regard to worship/communion) as it does not use alcoholic wine (UK Methodist practice is to non-alcoholic communion wine, alcohol is not permitted on Methodist Church premises). Mind you the same Anglicans are likely to be unhappy with the status of the ordination of the Methodist Presbyter (and much of the time unhappy about their gender too) so wine is not the only issue here.

Anyway it should have been enough to say that I cannot imagine this happening in any mainstream denomination in the UK.