By Kelsi Peace, Managing Editor
When I think of my church-going experiences as a little girl, I don’t really recall the people who filled Our Savior’s Lutheran Church- perhaps the back of a head, or my Vacation Bible School teacher. However, a few images do come to mind: shiny Mary Jane’s with glistening buckles. Dresses adorned with bows. Sitting straight. Squirming. Knowing I had to behave. And from the quasi-adult view I hold today, not much has changed.
I know to wear nice clothes (they call it your Sunday best for a reason). I know to sit straight. And I know to behave – or, rather, to convince everyone around me that my composure means I’ve been a “good” Christian lately. And afterward, we’ll gather a large group of people together and eat lunch at Chili’s; maybe we’ll even pray over our food.
But all these cushy images clash with the Christ I’m supposed to be following. I think of him: hurling vendors’ tables from the temple. Weeping over Lazarus. Teaching. Holding out his arms to children. Welcoming the broken.
And somehow, sitting straight and putting on a nice dress seems like such a trivial action my stomach turns.
When I think of the churches I know here – Lutheran, Church of Christ, Baptist, non-denominational, all denominations – I sometimes wonder if we break God’s heart.
We lay out rules and scorn one another when we fail. We turn people away, or condemn them, when we do not agree with them.
We fight over doctrinal issues, squabbling over verses we pluck from the Bible, while ignoring the repeated call to reach out to the downtrodden.
I know, on a small scale, what walking into the church as one broken feels like. Much of my sophomore year was spent secretly wallowing in remorse over a bad decision.
I wanted to tell someone what I had done, to hear someone say my God still loved me. But I remembered the comments and the attitudes I often observed, growing up in church and studying at a Christian university. Scorn for adulterers, homosexuals and alcoholics. Sweeping judgments for those addicted to pornography, dancing in the strip clubs or practicing witchcraft.
And then, to maintain a pleasant exterior, we say we “hate the sin, not the sinner,” all while rendering our churches hostile to those who don’t fit into the church-going norm.
I am one of the lucky ones, though – I just sat near the front and acted as if nothing had changed – and no one asked if it had.
We can pretend to love everyone all day, don “greeter” badges and smile at everyone who walks in our church buildings. But one day, we’ll still have to answer for the people who didn’t feel welcome enough to walk through the door.
I’m not sure when modern churches replaced Christ’s passion and overwhelming love with pretending and selective acceptance. I think of what we sometimes are; I think of what I wish we were more often: Communal. Welcoming. Devoted. Passionate. Loving.
And I pray we can set aside our concern for blending into some ideal church stereotype and reach outside – to people who will push us to be more than a nicely dressed crowd sitting comfortably in our pews.
Someday, I hope the people who most want a family will burst through the church’s doors and into the arms of Christ. And maybe my son or daughter will remember the people – not the rules – at church.