Posted by: minnow | June 18, 2014

Fellowships and Safety Nets

A woman who belongs to a group I recently joined commented on a post about forgiveness saying, “Being somewhere that used to be safe and isn’t anymore is difficult.” These words at first seem so innocent, consoling, and empathetic but they stopped me in my tracks.  The original lament was difficult enough for me to read.  A fellow mom confessed her struggle to forgive those in the Church who hurt (mostly with their words, judgment, and condemnation but also with their behavior by shunning and rejection) those of us who belong to or advocate for the LGBTQ community.  In her comment the second mom empathized with the first mom’s struggle as do the rest in this group since all of us have to varying degrees experienced Church hurt.  In fact, some have left fellowships they were a part of for years and others while choosing to stay experience their fellowships as significantly changed, which brings me full circle. “Being somewhere that used to be safe and isn’t anymore is difficult.”

The problem with the above statement is: we only thought we were safe.  We made an assumption.  But, when life actually set us on our buts and we really needed our safety nets they were no where to be found.  The truth is our fellowships were never safe places to begin with; instead, we had safe problems: problems that never challenged those around us to love us even when they didn’t understand what we were going through, even when there was no easy solution or no “solution” at all, even when they had to set aside their opinions and prejudices in order to show us compassion or solidarity.

Fellowships have split over how they serve communion.  Is it any wonder they are threatening to split over which believers they serve communion to?  In John 13:34-35, Jesus says to his disciples, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” His disciples did not know in that moment the magnitude of what Jesus was telling them.  They had an inkling about how difficult it was to love one another but they didn’t know they would need to demonstrate who they belonged to without having Him by their sides.  Jesus, however, knew and promised His disciples a Counselor.  In chapters 14 through 16 of John Jesus assures and reassures His disciples they will not be left on their own. They would not need to rely on what they could figure out for themselves.  His Spirit sent by the Father through Him would be their advocate.  This same Spirit is our advocate as well. 

The Church has gotten a report card from the “everyone” in Christ’s statement.  Using the “new commandment” from Jesus as our plumb line the Church has received a failing grade.  Disciples of anger, disciples of arrogance, disciples of fear might be believable.  But, disciples of Christ, united by truth, and representatives of an unconditionally loving Father? Not so much. I’ve heard the Church defend itself quoting John 15:18, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” implying that those who point out the faults within the Church hate Jesus.  What they forget is that the “world” Jesus referred to was actually made up of the religious leaders of His day and the reason they hated Jesus was because His message of love, forgiveness, and inclusion was radically different from theirs which emphasized the law, judgment, and hierarchies.

But the truth is, even posts like this one can be received differently than they are intended. Even though I am not trying to make enemies within the Church, even though I do not want to alienate or create distrust, the words I use that are received as threatening need to be exposed, need to be understood, need to be reworded.  If I am going to be a safe place for others to come (in other words, if I am going to be the Church) I must be willing to hear those someones say, “Ouch, that hurt”.  I need to be willing to stop and ask why.  I need to set aside my rightness and attend to their pain.  When I am willing to put my relationship to the other ahead of my point of view on an issue, when I care more about fellowship than having the right answer I demonstrate what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  And at some point in our journey together, they may inquire as to my faith.

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