Saturday, August 29, 2009

Representing the Church

A few months ago a man who had been an integral part of his church’s leadership left his church. He left over what became some pretty serious conflict issues with other church members and has since stayed away from pretty much everything in which he had previously been so involved. At first his church thought that his departure would eventually get to him, that he’d need to eventually return to the church he’d loved so much.

He has always been a voice for social justice and an advocate for the needy. Unfortunately, such dispositions put someone in the minority in the little town in which he lives and so he was used to receiving criticism. His church was always a safe place for him to be himself. One could drive by and see him on the street corner protesting the war in Iraq (which he always did tastefully) with others who thought more like he did. You could see him stirring up conversations with people in order to raise their awareness of poverty in places like Los Angeles and Mexico. Sure, he probably received some criticism from people at his church but it was minimal enough, about as minimal as can be in a town as conservative as his.

It surprised everyone to hear that he has no intentions of returning to his church or to any church at all. Even more surprising and disturbing are his reasons. He says he is finally free. He says that he no longer has the burden or the responsibility of “representing his church.” Now he can go out into the community and speak out against war, violence, racism, poverty, greed, and oppression without having to worry about grieving his church. He no longer has to be so careful not to be too “extreme.” Without the church, he’s more effective, more courageous, and more intentional about being an activist. Apparently being a Christian, or at least being part-of/ a-representative-of a church, means being more careful, more quiet, and less revolutionary.

This story offers a critique of American Christianity. If you’re a Christian you always represent your church and this is not necessarily a bad thing. But, often enough, being a representative of a church means being a little quieter about your political beliefs. It might mean being reigned in by your pastor or asked to talk with your elder board (or whatever other board of leadership there might be). Maybe it’s that we all just need to find that church in which we can be ourselves… or perhaps it’s that we need to call the church as a whole to a revolution. The fact that we are the body of Christ, that we represent the church, should lead us to rather than hinder us from speaking out against injustice and violence. Being part of the church should make us more, not less, effective in standing up against the powers that be and the status quo. It should be easier to stand up for the poor if you’re part of the church, not harder.

1 comment:

Rudy said...

I understand where you are coming from Wes. The only caution I would advise is the implications if everyone in church did this. You and I both are not pleased with those in church who are "bold" about their distaste for abortion doctors, homosexuality (or worse gay people), calling to righteousness (their understanding of it), etc. I don't think you honestly want church to be that kind of place--where everyone is an activist. Protesting louder is not necessarily being "more effective." I see in your blogs that the active love, generosity, grace, and patience with others is the truer form of activism. I ache that a man was so despised by those who should have been loving him the most. But what of Paul and Peter's words to the early church (1 Thess. 4:9-12, 1 Tim. 2:1-4, 2 Tim. 2:24-26, 1 Pet. 3:1-4)? It does not mean that we should not stand for what is right or good. It means that our mode or method should be that of temperance and patience. The only ones that Jesus stood in protest against were his own faith's religious leaders who were warping the faith for their own selfish ambitions. Protesting the existing powers--in Jesus' day Rome--was not the call of the day. Should we vote? Yes. Do good in all circumstances! (I loved your John Wesley post awhile ago! It was totally amazing!) But knowing that the Kingdom of God will never have a flag behind it is important to remember. The church is to be the Kingdom... NOT the United States of America. If we would spend our efforts making the church more like the Kingdom, then the kind of government that exists will be irrelevant. Who cares if the government has healthcare if the church would be dishing it out to any who needed it? Who cares about whether or not the USA offers free education if the church would have done so to begin with? WE are to be the salt and light. We should not ever call the government to be what we ourselves are not being. I hope that we CAN be "ourselves" in church and be accepted. What I feel is missed in what has been called "acceptance" means that what I currently am is the finished product. Christ's message is supposed to be transforming all parts of us, whether it be spirit, soul, or body (or as the two of us sat and heard J.P. Moreland make that more confusing than ever). I guess I am speaking to myself in the mirror. I know that I am not currently what God wishes for me. Submitting to His transformation into something I am not is maybe harder for Americans than any other set of people. We thrive on our "independence." That just makes me giggle when I hear it. We are not our own. I know you agree. Cheers to you Wes. I am blessed by reading your posts. Though I don't always comment I am a reader.

Rudy Alexeeff