This year’s Easter sermon responded to”Five Easter Questions to Answer for Millennials.” Here is an excerpt, responding to the question in this post’s title. . .
Hatred and judgment in churches. As a pastor, should I be defensive?
As a visible representative of the church – not just this church, but the church of Jesus Christ – what I need to do is say . . .
“I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
One of my favorite books is Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. In the book, Miller tells of being a Christian at a college known for its hostility to religion. He convinced the small group of Christians on campus to set up a confession booth during a school festival. But it wasn’t the kind of confession booth you usually think about – people weren’t invited to come in to confess their faults, but rather to enter and be confessed TO by the Christians inside.
Listen: “We are going to confess to them. We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry. We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and the lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness, we have misrepresented Jesus . .. We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them.”
And confession is my first response to those who ask this question about hatred and judgment in churches. To confess the church has not always done a great job of expressing God’s love for the whole world. To say “I’m sorry” to those who are apart from the church – and even separated from God – because they have been let down or hurt by the church.
Although Jesus came to lift up the marginalized, the church has a history of affirming the powerful. The church has participated in the marginalization of women, of people of color, of the poor, of LGBTQ folks – and those failings are certainly not confined to the past in our churches. Church authorities have perpetrated abuse, and have covered it up, caring more about the institution than the victims. And I’m not just talking about the Roman Catholic church.
As a member of the Body of Christ, as a leader in the church . . .
“I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
My own perception of the judgmental nature of the church and of church people was one of the things that kept me out of church and away from God when I was a young adult. But what I came to understand was that the church is made up of people, and the Bible is exactly accurate in describing people as imperfect, essentially messed up beings.
One of the primary reasons I have come to believe the Christian claims about Jesus is because the Christian view of corrupt human nature is so consistent with my experience of who I am.
The reason we’re in church, the foundational basis of our faith, is that we are messed up and need forgiveness. We need a new start. That’s what the Cross and the Empty Tomb are about.
What happens, though, is once we get into church we’re liable to forget why we’re here. We look at all the folks on the outside and see how they need to change. We insiders look down on the outsiders. We forget that we are still messed up and we become judgmental especially of those whose failings are different than ours.
I’m sorry. Please forgive me.
Part of our messed up human nature is that we give in to our desire to associate with only people who are like us, and exclude those who are different. That is reflected in our churches; What Martin Luther King, Jr. said in the early 1960’s is still true today – America is never more segregated than it is on Sunday mornings.
Our first step as individual Christians and as the church is to acknowledge that we fall short, to remember that we begin each worship service with confession and forgiveness because WE NEED IT, to strive together to be the people God calls us to be, loving unconditionally and letting God’s love so fill us that there is no room for hatred and judgment.
We’re working on it.
But, as much as I love the church, as much as I love being a Lutheran Christian, we are not saved by religion. We are saved by Jesus. We are saved by the Cross and the Empty Tomb.
So my answer to this question is to acknowledge that yes, there is hatred and judgment in churches. But that is not a reflection of God, but of the messed up nature of the people who are the church.
The church was never meant to be a haven for saints. It is a hospital for sinners. Sometimes we lose sight of that, and of the fact that we are saved not because we are better than anybody else but because the Cross and the Empty Tomb happened even when we were too messed up to save ourselves. We have received God’s grace – God’s undeserved, unconditional love – and we have failed to share it.
I’m sorry, please forgive me.
These are the five questions answered in the full sermon:
- How do I know Jesus was a real, historical person?
- Why should I be convinced a man really rose from the dead?
- If Jesus going to the cross was all about love, why do I see so much hatred and judgment in churches?
- How do you think this story could change my life after I leave the doors of your church?
- Is it ok for me to question what you’re saying?
You can hear the full sermon here.
I encourged those in the congregation to keep asking questions. If you have questions to which you’d like me to respond, you can ask them in the comments below or by using the “Contact Me” link above.