An interesting discussion has sprung up several times on my facebook feed and pages. Who is a Christian? What determines who is “in” and who is “out”?
Usually this comes up in a discussion about abortion or same-sex marriage or another hot button topic, usually in the form of “if you are pro-choice/pro-same-sex marriage then you aren’t really a Christian.”
I can’t tell you how much I freaking hate that. Hate that with a stinking passion.
It’s as if God has given that person some sort of special secret insight into the heart and soul of people that allows them to make the call as to whether one is “in” or “out”. But more than that, it’s as if some opinion on some topic has the power to keep us “out”.
I’m about to get off on a huge angry rant.
What the heck is wrong with people in churches these days? When did we start going around drawing circles to say who was in and who was out based solely on what issues they support or don’t support? When did one group or the other get all the rights to say who belongs and who doesn’t? And why oh why do we treat those we see as “out” so poorly?
I was raised and became active in the United Methodist Church. As a teenager, even though our church was very small and didn’t have much of a youth group, I became involved with the youth on the district and state level. (The Methodist church was – and still is, as far as I know – a huge organization with several tiers filtering down to the local level.) At one point I was even the “president” of the district youth group which covered one of the largest population areas of our state.
During that time I was encouraged to visit many other churches and take part in their service. I visited Catholic churches, Lutheran churches, one that did speaking in tongues and faith healings (I guess we’d call it Charismatic today? I don’t remember what we called it then), several independent churches… there were many that I didn’t visit, but living in the midwest we didn’t have as many denominations around as more populated areas. But I do feel as if I got a pretty good cross section of what the church community looked like at the time, at least in the area I lived in. This was the 80s, before politics became intrinsically linked to faith. In none of these services was there talk of voting or abortion or same-sex anything or the environment or anything.
What all these churches and services had in common was a message of love and hope. Maybe it was the times, maybe it was the area, maybe it was… just what it was. But in every church I visited I heard a message of hope, of redemption, of forgiveness and most of all of LOVE. Everyone was welcome, everyone belonged, and no one was paying any attention to the “bad” things anyone else did. It didn’t matter. No one was walking around with a notepad keeping score of how many curse words you used or what music you listened to or who your friends were. No one cared! If you had a problem, they’d help you, but other than that your ‘sins’ were your business. No one was advocating for laws or business or anyone else to punish you or segregate you for things that you did. It didn’t matter because all that really mattered was love. We didn’t use terms like “love the sinner, hate the sin”, because the idea that people had to be defined by things they did were inconceivable. All that mattered was LOVE.
I’m not claiming any special insight or am I saying that my experiences give me some sort of special authority, I’m just sharing them as an example of how things used to be. It’s very different from today when preachers and teachers on the radio are saying to support this cause or that candidate or screaming about that the President is doing. The church and Christian community weren’t always like this. It’s gotten bad. Really really bad.
No longer are we associated with a message of hope. Now when people hear the word “Christian” they think “who are they complaining about now”. We’ve tied business and politics to the Bible and put a big fence around it and say “this is ours, you can’t come in”. It’s dirty and ugly and wrapped in money and scandal.
And it’s wrong.
Who is in? Everyone. There I said it. Everyone is in. Everyone belongs. If they want to. That’s the key, if they want to. I’m not preaching some kind of universalism where everyone goes to heaven. I’m not the judge, I don’t get to say that. And there are probably many that don’t want to go to heaven, at least not a heaven that allows certain people in. What I am saying is that if you want in, no matter what you believe about any political crap, you are in. If you even a little bit curious about who God is or who Jesus was or anything like that, you’re in. Unless you are a devout atheist – and maybe even if you are because you’ve made a choice – you’re in. (No I’m not saying atheists are “saved”, I’m not saying anyone is saved or not – that’s not my call to make because I’m not God.) And by “in” I’m not saying “I know God approves”, what I’m saying it, if you’re making a choice or decision to learn about God or spirituality in any way shape or form, then you’re moving in one direction or another.
I’ve written about this previously. The Christian faith isn’t about lines and fences. It’s about INTENT and DIRECTION. It’s not your feelings on abortion or same-sex marriage that matter, it’s about your trajectory. It’s about moving toward or away from God as you understand him at any given point in your life.
Does that mean God doesn’t care about any of those political things? I don’t know if He does or not, but if He does, he cares INFINITELY more about you. The tiny little political workings of men are insignificant to YOU, to your well-being. If God is infinite, timeless, and omnipotent, then what difference does our opinions on politics matter?
They don’t. They can’t. Our puny little definitions of who is “in” and “out” don’t mean anything in the light of eternity. To a Being that has been and always will be. Our little tiny mistakes mean nothing to a God that is LOVE. That’s why Jesus taught lessons on forgiveness, acceptance, “turn the other cheek”, “go the extra mile”, and “he who is without sin cast the first stone”. It’s because we can all ALL belong. For God so LOVED the WORLD…. that NONE may perish…
Let me be clear, this is a rant. I’m not trying to preach or teach or claim I know. I don’t know. Anyone that claims they know, unless they are God, is lying. They don’t. Even if you read the Bible cover to cover, you can’t really totally completely know who is “in” and who is “out” because you aren’t God. The Bible isn’t a rulebook we are to apply to others. It’s a guidebook we are to apply to ourselves. We aren’t supposed to wield it at a weapon, we’re supposed to apply it as medicine to our own lives.
Or not apply, if you so choose. Or to completely ignore if you want. One thing is clear, it’s not meant to be forced, legislated, or force-fed to people. The lessons of the Bible make that clear. People tried that, they tried taking the guidelines meant for them and forcing them on others, they were called Pharisees. That word has become synonymous with “hypocrite”.
I’m ranted out now. So I’ll just stop here.