Saturday, November 15, 2014

Guarding the Temple Doors

I've stated before that my faith life keeps me far, far away from the politics of the church. Mostly, I'm blissfully ignorant of the issues that agitate and irritate and flair up in Annual or General Conference in my denomination, the United Methodist Church (UMC). My information generally comes from NPR, which hardly ever reports such things unless they involve LGBT issues. On that subject, I feel at least somewhat informed.

What concerns me far more than the big theological or doctrinal issues, however, is what happens to the individual sheep in the fold as a result of faulty theology or doctrine. When is the church as an institution becoming an agent of hate rather than of love? I recently learned, for instance, that a large UMC congregation in our community asks couples who are divorcing to leave. The pastor proudly declares that he will not tolerate divorce in his congregation.

What? The motto of the UMC is Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors. But divorced people aren't allowed in this particular church? Seriously?

Apparently, some churches that have zero-tolerance policies on all sorts of things, with deacons or pastors formally asking members to leave for "sinning." (I thought we all are sinners.) There are pastors who preach that "good" Christians should cut out family members who are gay, who are pregnant out of wedlock, who get tattoos, who drink alcohol, who cuss, who read Harry Potter. They reference Bible verses to support their arguments for ostracism and puff up with pride that these "good" Christians are following the Word.

Never mind that the Word also demands that we forgive others seventy-times-seven times.

Never mind that the Word also tells us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Never mind that the Word also tells us to love one another as Jesus loved us.

Never mind that the Word also tells us that we are blessed to be a blessing to the world.

How can we be a blessing when we're so busy guarding the temple doors to keep the riff-raff out? How can we love when we're so busy judging? Do we really want others to ostracize us for our sin? Are we so perfect in righteousness that we never need forgiveness?

I must be a bad Christian. I sin every day. I fall short. Every. Single. Day.

A pastor once described the horrific conditions of children dying in a famine, and then he deliberately dropped the f-bomb. His point, well taken by some and condemned by others, was that some people were more outraged at his use of that word in the pulpit than the fact that children were dying of starvation.

Which makes you angrier? Have purity laws become more important for you and your church than caring for the least of us? Are you the priest walking past the beaten Jew dying on the side of the road because you're worried you'll get contaminated, or are you the Good Samaritan? Are you guarding the Holy Altar when Jesus' death tore the curtain in two and opened it for everyone?

As we judge, so shall we be judged.

That's the scariest verse in the Bible.

What happens as a result of all this judging and condemning and ostracizing? Individual children of God are cut off from the community of Christ. Sheep are not lost...they are actively thrown out of the flock to fend for themselves against the wolves. They are sacrificed on the altar of self-righteousness for the glorification of a religious institution and its priests, not for the glory of God.

And the King shall answer and say unto them, "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

Maybe I'm being melodramatic here, but I don't think so. When the law becomes more important than the love, when sheep are actively kept from the Shepherd, we all need to sit up and take notice. In just such times did God become Man, our Shepherd Jesus, to show His sheep how to live as a blessing and to open the Kingdom to everyone.

We're all sinners, but God loves each and every one of us and He wants to be in relationship with each and every one of us. He wants us to be conduits of His Love in the world, not executors of His judgment. We aren't qualified to judge. We are qualified to love.

If you're feeling broken and ostracized, if you've been asked to leave a church or bullied out of one, if you've felt God's people reject you, please keep looking for a Christian community that is full of us bad Christians. Such churches are out there...I attend one. We sinners know exactly how it feels to fall short in the eyes of God, and we know exactly how it feels to have God's mercy and forgiveness and love flow over us each and every day. We need Him, and we welcome you to be a part of His community.

Let's stop being guards at the temple doors and turn into greeters. Let's bring the sheep to the Shepherd so they may grow and thrive in the Life given by Jesus Christ.