*This was originally written in August 2016*
Dear Progressive Church, My Friends,
I can look you square in the face and tell you all of the reasons why we shouldn’t drive faster than the speed limit. I know it increases mortality rates. But yeah, I just got a speeding ticket for going 15 miles over the speed limit a couple of weeks ago so… So my point is, what I am about to write about isn’t something I’ve perfected. In fact, I think I’m actually pretty horrible at this and I want you to know I’m really not saying that to sound humble. But I’ve been feeling really convicted to write about it. This is one of those pieces that I just can’t shake. So here it is.
I avoided Christianity for years because I didn’t like Christians. They seriously annoyed the heck out of me. How can people be so exclusive? How can people be so judgmental? ESPECIALLY people who claim to follow Jesus, a man who radiated love and inclusiveness. A man who effortlessly loved the outcasts and the marginalized. The outcasts of our day, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, people of color, muslims, etc., are seeming to receive no such love from the church. How can a group of self-proclaimed Jesus followers be so hateful to those groups of people?? It makes my blood boil. I’ll stop there but let tell you, I could go on for paragraphs about this.
I don’t think I’m alone here. I’ve heard many of my progressive Christian friends and even pastors talk down about this group of people. We are harsh when we remind them that the only people Jesus was harsh to were the Pharisees. We rally ourselves around this and claim that we will not be like them.
Now, I’m going to write about the part I don’t want to write about. The part where I admit what is probably quite obvious to outsiders. Wait for it, it’s going to sting. Take a deep breath: We’re projecting.
The Pharisees were the judgmental, exclusive, rule-obsesesed religious folk of Jesus’ day. Somehow, this has given us license to exclude, judge, and maybe even hate the Pharisees of our day. This is not ok. We are doing to them, the same thing that they are doing to the “least of these.” My fellow liberal Christians, we have to figure out a way to extend love to this group and here are a couple of reasons why.
First of all, they are not a “group.” We are talking about individuals who cannot and should not be lumped into a category to be pre-judged. They have real life stories and histories that have molded and shaped them into who they are today. Many of them have have only be taught one way of thinking. We need to have humility and recognize that we only believe what we believe because of information we have encountered. This information may have then led us down a path of seeking more information but we did not choose what we were exposed to initially.
Second, there is NO WAY Jesus’ message of love will sink in if we, their own brothers and sisters, are un-loving to them. How can we expect them to listen to stories of the marginalized if we aren’t willing to listen to their stories? And there are stories, painful ones.
We are in such a critical time in our society. We need all of the advocates for the marginalized that we can get. I truly have faith that if someone is really a Jesus follower, they can be turned to the side of justice. Maybe if we are willing to be a little less harsh and a little more gracious, we can find common ground and we can build a better world together.
Maybe this is all naive. Maybe I’m a dreamer. All I know is what I see now is major division in our country and in our congregations. What we’re doing now isn’t working. The truth is: People are more motivated by emotion than facts. It’s sad, but it’s true. This is the way that our brains are wired. We have to stop pushing the statistics and start breaking bread. Relationship is the only way things can change.
**** Now this is post Election 2016*****
It’s more important now than ever that we listen to the real complaints of those who seem so different than us. We’re not all so different. We all want to live full, happy lives and offer our children the same. We just have different views on how to get there. We do have different values in some ways but I think we would be surprised where we can overlap. It’s time to be Jesus ourselves instead of shaming others into compassion. It just doesn’t work and quite frankly, it’s unkind. Look, I’m going to have such a hard time following my own advice here (remember the speeding ticket??) but this is what I hope to strive for… and I hope I’m not alone.