By Samuel Lam
From Andrew Alleyne as he wraps up his “I Hate Church” blog entries.
A Christian lady who lived out in southern California had a daughter who grew up in the church but went astray and got heavily involved in the heavy metal culture, drugs, drinking, and the immoral lifestyle that came with all of that. She met a young girl just like her and they became great friends. A few years later this same friend found herself in a really difficult place in life and decided to walk into a church on a Sunday morning. It was her last cry for help. She entered with her body covered in tattoos and dressed how she always dressed. Instead of being met with loving arms she was met by ushers that kindly asked her to leave. That young girl then proceeded to the rooftop of a nearby building. She took off all her clothes so everyone could see her tattoos, and she jumped off the building and committed suicide.
What a shame.
It always surprises me when Christians are so eager to turn away people that are different from them. And in this case, a person that looked different from what they are comfortable with. Their intent was to not let that crazy sinner into the church because it would disrupt the peace. Their perfect world could not be disturbed.
But that’s not right. The church is a place where uncomfortable sinners are supposed to meet. The church is the biggest sinner-fest out there; the perfect place for the imperfect people. This is where they bond together for and in Christ. Instead, we have instances like this where we just turn away God’s people. And in essence, we turn away God.
What if God was one of us? Would we treat each other differently? Would we be more welcoming, more loving?
It’s so easy to turn away someone we don’t get. The risk in getting to know someone is scary if the exterior isn’t something we already understand. Just looking the other way is so much easier. It’s safer.
I remember when I was in college and I was part of the leadership of my fellowship. As part of the leadership team, we were supposed to be welcoming to people, especially on the very first meeting where lots of new faces come around. Well, every year, lots of those new faces were always the interesting kinds of people. These were the people that would be turned away at that church in the aforementioned story.
We had people who came just for the free food with no intentions of learning about Jesus. We had people that were very old and we knew weren’t really college students. We had socially awkward people. We had people that just acted strange. It was obvious they didn’t blend in with the “normal” people.
My biggest fear was that these “strange” people would scare off the “normal” people and they probably won’t come back. Should I ask them to leave or just have them stay and just enjoy their company? I never considered telling them to leave because I remembered the welcome sign back in my old church, saying that all people were welcomed. I really took that to heart.
In hindsight, I am glad that I was blessed with these outsiders because nobody else would have loved them like we did. And I would not have fallen in love with the outcasts of society if I had turned them away.
At my old church, there used to be posters of starving children from third world countries on the walls. The posters featured this bible verse.
Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.í
Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?
The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
Matthew 25:34-40 (NIV)
That has stuck to me ever since. Why do we treat people who are different like crap? Why do we view them as people whom we don’t want to associate with? If God is in these people, then we shouldn’t treat them like this. If God created these people, then we should be treating them as if they’re the greatest gift that they are. What we do to others is what we do to God.
We live in a generation of comfort. Our privileged lifestyle with technological conveniences, luxuries and numerous blessings has taken us away from reality at times. Somehow we’ve made our lives so comfortable and free of issues that when an issue does occur, we panic. Instead of solving the problem, we try to sweep it under the rug. Or in this case, we just try to ask them to leave our comfort zone.
God didn’t call us to be comfortable. God didn’t call us to live a smooth life. No, that is not what our purpose as followers of Christ is supposed to do.
I want a church where anybody and everybody feels comfortable to come in without feeling like an outsider. Give me the outcasts, the hobos, the pariahs, the ashamed, the bangers, the gangsters, the lost, the confused, the goth, the sad, the confused. The church was made for them. The church was made by them.
What we are called to do is to love the people that we aren’t comfortable with. We are called to welcome them into our church. We are called to treat them as equals. After all, we might be that person’s only chance of getting to know God.
But it isn’t easy, I know. How could we interact and connect with someone that’s so different from us?
Remember, that whatever we do for the least of God’s children, we do for Him. If we treat each other the same way we treat Him, then I think we’ll be all right. We are called to love one another, as He has loved us. We treat them, and welcome them as the beautiful people they are.
What if God was one us? He is, and we don’t want to tell God that He’s not welcomed at church.
This post is part 5 of a 5 part series, where Sam investigates the nature of inclusion and exclusion in the realm of faith. It has been a serious time of soul searching for Sam, and for me too. Our correspondence around these posts took us into core impulses for both good and evil. On the one hand, we both share a positive impulse to call ourselves out on our shortcomings and hypocrises. But on the other, there lies the concern that, pushed too far, we become the problem that we set out to address. In this case, but critiquing judgmentalism, do we become judgmental? I think Sam beautifully holds the tension between these two poles, acknowledging all along the way that he is not talking at us but with us. – Juan