from death into life

I scrolled past this post (click for the whole thread) from Alicia Crosby on Twitter and Instagram yesterday, shared it, and woke up thinking about it this morning:

The church in America, particularly the white protestant church (that’s my tradition, other people can speak to their own) – evangelical, mainline and anabaptist – is terminally ill. It’s incredibly compromised, teaches hate, and disciples people into selfishness, violence, spite, and nationalism. There is no way around this – just read the headlines or pick up a book. (If this sounds like a lie or half-truth to you, I’d recommend Robert P. Jones’ “White Too Long” or Kevin Kruse’s “One Nation Under God.” I’m also looking forward to Anthea Butler’s “White Evangelical Racism”.)

I would be lying if I said I didn’t fantasize at least every other day about quitting. Usually, this thought experiment is focused on quitting my grant-funded denominational job, since that is where most of the terminal illness makes itself known in my life. My congregation is a joy and a light, and even though we are complicit in so much, we are, at least, attempting to confess it. But the fantasy of quitting is really about distancing myself permanently from the putrid stink of American Christianity that graces headlines and my inbox on the daily.

To be clear: I love church. I love the realities of mutual aid and communal discernment. I love that I was raised and formed into a system of belief and practice that prioritizes compassion and service. I love that peace-making and justice were part of my understanding of faith from the beginning. I love potlucks in church fellowship halls and congregational singing and the way that people find love and care and freedom in congregational life. I love Jesus, and I will forever desire to live life with other people who are determined to follow in the ways of truth and beauty that he displayed. Church is a gift, a grace, a movement of the Spirit’s generosity.

And so much of what we’ve made of it is so, so gross.

And yet, here I am, fifteen years into a professional career as a Churchwoman. I have not quit. I know plenty of people who have left, either cast out or completely disgusted. I’m not judging any of that. Your health and wholeness as a child of God is paramount, and only you get to decide how to live in that place of grace.

But I will say that it irks me, big time, when people who refuse to engage persist in lobbing insults and critiques. You want the church to change, but the only thing you’re willing to do about it is yell insults from the sidelines? Sorry, bud, that’s not how this works.

It’s like that old story, where the church leader shows up at the temple to pray and mostly filled his prayer with gratitude that he was not like other people – that he hadn’t turned out to be a thief or a cheater. His prayer was mostly filled with self-congratulatory relief that “I am not like them.” Another guy showed up to pray, a tax collector who knew that his work was compromised and unjust, and his prayer was short and simple: “God, have mercy on me, because I’m a sinner.”

Jesus says that the tax collector was justified, and not the church leader, because “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Sounds a lot like the song Jesus’ mom sang when she found out she was pregnant, actually.

I use “we” language when I talk about the church, both its gross parts and its beautiful ones, because I am part of the church. I am complicit. I am part of the problem. I am here, and even if I quit all my jobs and denounced all my faith, white American Christianity would still be part of who I am and I would still be part of it. It annoys me when siblings in faith point fingers at one another and say “those” awful Christians! “They” are so wrong. Thank you, God, that I am not like “THEM.”

You are. We are. This is our problem, and our responsibility. The sooner we acknowledge that, the sooner we can get to work at some required communal confession and repentance.

The church is dying, and thank God for that. This week, I preached about Jesus’ reminder that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

God doesn’t abandon us, even if our human institutions and structures and systems do. Every little leftover piece is woven up into the new thing that God is already, even now, birthing into existence. I don’t know about you, but I want to be around to witness the transformation.

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