I’ve had several disheartening conversations lately with vibrant, creative people who have been powerfully attracted to my religious tradition: convicted by our insistence on the whole of Jesus’ life and not just his death, intrigued by our origins as a movement resisting religious tyranny, sold on our desire to be people of Christ’s peace and invited in by our practices of communal discernment.
Each one of these people that I’ve talked with has been welcomed, promised a place in the body, and committed – fully – to life with us. They have made sacrifices, incurred debt, left other communities and places of safety. In our tradition, we talk about “counting well the cost” of following Jesus, and these beloveds have done exactly that. They have had their hearts changed, considered fully what that might mean, and made conscious decisions to follow Jesus *with us.*
And each one of these people has been subsequently insulted, betrayed, broken down or cast out, because the Church of the Brethren lacks integrity. Our actions do not match our words. Our systems contradict our convictions. We do not keep our promises.
I am part of this betrayal. I have enthusiastically encouraged some of these folks, talked up the good parts of our tradition and talked around the massive cracks in our foundations. I have shepherded people through discernment and credentialing processes, managed intern programs that promise ministry to be rich, full and supported. I’m not pointing fingers “out there” at “someone else,” I’m making a personal confession that might also become a communal one.
Queer people welcomed in enthusiastically to a particular small group who are promised fidelity and safety are just as quickly abandoned in larger conversations when their identity is assaulted and their worth is questioned.
Leaders of color are held up as token voices, encouraged to take on more and more responsibility and then heart-rendingly betrayed when people they were called to lead heap racist invective on their heads.
Young pastors whose gifts were called out and nourished, who were led into processes and contexts that we promised would lead to flourishing, collaborative ministries are left lonely and isolated when congregations refuse to acknowledge their humanity and the shifting contexts of congregational life.
I am tired of being a cheerleader for a broken system that continually breaks people. I am tired of yelling “it’s fine! there’s so much room for growth!” while the machinations and willful ignorance continue uninterrupted behind the scenes.
Our congregation has been studying Jeremiah this summer, and his ministry is instructive. God gets so mad at the religious leaders in Jerusalem who ignored the wounds of the people, treated them “carelessly” and forged ahead, saying “peace! peace!” where there was no peace.
I’d so much rather tell the truth: that we are in an inescapable season of destruction and decline; that this is the way of all human institutions; that anything built on a foundation of human power or human shame will be taken apart, brick by brick so that God, the divine potter, can re-form us, re-shape us, mold us and make us into something new, something that seems good not to us, but to Her.
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.Jeremiah 18