This morning I dropped Carter off at daycare so I could write. I drove him there thinking I’d finally do a parenting blog post about how I’m stepping back with my kids and allowing them to feel more discomfort and boredom. I want to talk about that and plan on doing a post about that topic and how it’s going…but that’s just not what God has for me to write this morning. After I dropped him off I hopped back in the car and decided to listen to a podcast of a sermon I’d missed last month. And Holy Cow, did it rock me. Not in an earth-shattering epiphany way, but as a reminder that I am not alone in what I believe about God and His Church.
America is in a faith crisis. I am in a faith crisis. But it has not always been this way. The pendulum of history can teach us so many things if we let it, and, unfortunately, I don’t think as pastors and Christian leaders that we are looking enough at our recent (past two-hundred years) church history. We have ridden the wave of stoicism and fanaticism. We have seesawed between staunch morality and liberal freedom. We have argued over how to pray, how to worship, and how to baptize. And here we are today…hurting. Declining. You might argue that we’ve been here before with the Puritan colonies in early America. Religious leaders at the time had strict rules for the people that extended into the law (think the witch trials) but after that the Christian Church in America went through multiple periods of revival and growth. We differentiated from one another, splitting off into new denominations that allowed peoples of all backgrounds and differing ideas to worship the same God in unique ways. And then in 1971 the United States began the two-year decision of case Roe v. Wade. And the Church had something to say. From that point forward, in the midst of this country’s sexual awakening and the end of the Vietnam War, the Church ceased to speak into the most painful and terrifying issues that people, especially young people, were experiencing. A dichotomy of the righteous elders and the hippie youth was created and the Church’s answer was to preach morality. Sounds logical, right? In reality, had I been a pastor in the early 70’s for a mainline Christian church I think that’s exactly what I would have done. More potlucks, more youth camps, and maybe even a little more fire and brimstone from the pulpit. A little “let’s scare these youngsters away from pre-marital sex and drugs with the threat of Hell” mentality. So that’s what we did. And this is where we are.
I don’t need to tell you what happens when instead of sitting with people and embracing them and their struggles, we seek instead to fix them. I don’t need to tell you because on a general scale, that’s where we are. A handful of denominations have successfully ministered to their communities over the years with the spiritual attentiveness of the former. A lot haven’t quite known where to go besides a continued push of a theology of morality. But this isn’t really what I want to get at. This is simply the backstory to understanding why we live in an America where 75% of people in the most recent Gallup poll stated that Christianity is losing its influence. What I am becoming convinced of, is that our obsession with society following Christian morality is directly related to our faith. Let me put it this way. Christian leaders are not leading the drive of Christendom into the future, but they certainly have the ability to halt it. Why? Because Christ is and always has been the leader of the Church. He is our compass and the divine purpose for gathering as a body to live as a faith community. But when we spout Christian morality from the pulpits of our church buildings and from the pulpits of social media, that language is being received as nothing but fear and judgement on the ears that most need to hear it. When we begin the conversation with a list of how-to’s we essential shimmy our way in between the person of Christ and the actual flesh and blood person that we want to witness to. And by seeing their sin and not the potential of their heart we are acting out a small and stingy faith in the Holy Spirit’s ability to convict and redeem. Friends, we need to remember how big God is. He doesn’t need us to judge, but He has certainly called us to care. Now I am not advocating that we stay in stuck places. I am not advocating for a decline in Christian morality or for us to ignore our wrong actions. My heart as a spiritual director is to walk through those places with people and to explore their convictions. What I am suggesting is that we start to invite and to include and to extend warmth and reception without even the slightest suggestion that someone change their ways. I promise you, if someone spends long enough in a safe church environment with an authentic community, being immersed in the word of God through scripture and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, they will be convicted of the sins that God knows is holding them back. And if they’re not, guess what? They’re still redeemed.
I understand passion. I understand that a lot of us have experienced the way certain actions block us from having an intimate relationship with God. We want to warn and guide and to steer people away from inevitable grief. Sometimes we get to do that, if we have been invited into that space with someone as a trusted advisor. Or with our children. But there is a time and a place for those zealous admonitions. We need to let God be big. We need to trust His Holy Spirit to convict. Our call is to extend love, hospitality, and care. Let the ministry of our actions be the open door while our mouths, even if it’s hard, be silent.