Thursday, December 1, 2016

What's Church for Again? A Tale of Two Churches

What's church for? I've been asking this question repeatedly on this blog during the lead-up to the U.S. presidential election. What's church for when its members — the people who brand themselves with the name of Jesus Christ — are the source of some of the most egregious slights to the humanity of people on the margins of society to be witnessed in the world today? 

What's church for when 8 in 10 white evangelicals, 6 in 10 white Catholics, and 3 in 5 Mormons put Donald Trump into the White House — claiming "pro-life" motivation?

Here are two snapshots of church from a single culture — American culture — in the past few days, which in my view raise this question again, with urgency:

Church A. Robert Shine:

When Connor Hakes' grandmother died, he wanted to honor her with a song at the funeral. But because he is a gay man, the parish priest denied Hakes' request to sing, adding more pain to an already painful time. 
Hakes' family are longtime parishioners at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Decatur, Indiana. Generations of the family, including his grandmother, were part of the community there, and Hakes had even sung at the church before, reported WANE
But Fr. Bob Lengerich, pastor, banned Hakes from singing at the parish until the "present situation" was resolved, though he did not, in the letter explain what the "present situation" is.  One of the issues mentioned in the letter that would ban people from liturgical roles was "openly participating in unchaste same-sex relationships." 
Father Lengerich made his thoughts known in a letter to the grieving grandson. The letter also said that scandal is caused by someone "openly advocating" for same-gender relationships. He claimed there were "several LGTB parishioners who have openly declared their intentions to embrace a homosexual lifestyle" and therefore do no receive communion at Mass, nor serve in any parish liturgical ministries. 
The priest told Hakes that he could sing to honor his grandmother "as long as it is outside of the Mass and outside of the Church," even suggesting the post-burial luncheon as a possible moment. He concluded the letter saying the parish did want Hakes present and did "want to enter into a real dialogue and conversation."

Church A is not for Conner Hakes or people like him. Nor, apparently, is it for the likes of those who love Conner Hakes and people like him, including families of such people.

Conner is welcome to sing outside the church if he wishes. But there is to be no inside for Conner Hakes and his like: church A wants it made clear that it is not and does not intend to be a welcoming and inclusive family, but something else, something altogether different  — if the human being in question happens to belong to the LGBTQ community and not to the 90%+ of heterosexual married Catholics who contravene magisterial teaching about sexuality by using contraceptives.

Church B. Gary Noble Willis, a Facebook friend of mine who has set this Facebook posting as public — and so I'm able to share it with you: 

From our pastor at St Philip Presbyterian Church in Houston ... 
"We became aware today of a situation of concern in our own neighborhood. A flier posted in a nearby apartment complex brandished a swastika and used hateful language threatening 'Mexicans, Arabs, and non-American "people."'
[We] visited the apartment complex this afternoon and shared with the management a letter to all the residents extending our compassion and support as the community of St. Philip: 'We want you to know whoever you are, wherever you were born, whatever language you speak, and whatever is happening in your life, we love you and we are proud to be your neighbors. We think being a good neighbor means taking care of each other. So if you need a friend, a place where you can be yourself, and a community that will support you, we are here and we welcome you.' The people we spoke with seemed very grateful for our visit and our concern." 
Yes. A thousand times yes!

Church B announces that "whoever you are, wherever you are born, whatever language you speak, and whatever is happening in your life, we love you." And "if you need a friend, a place where you can be yourself, and a community that will support you, we are here and we welcome you."

Church A or Church B? Is church unambiguously for welcome, or is it simply not for unambiguous welcome — for total, unqualified welcome when some kinds of human beings are the ones reading the welcome signs? Is church for loving and affirming, or is it for judging? Is it a place for all wounded, broken sinners, or a place in which some sinners are to be told they are second-class members, second-class human beings, as their sins are singled out while the sins of other members are conspicuously ignored?

Church A or Church B: does a pro-life ethic not include Conner Hakes and his like? If so — since one must presume on the basis of abundant polling evidence that most of the white Christian voters who just elected Mr. Trump simultaneously vote anti-LGBTQ — then what good does a "pro-life" ethic do?

And what good do "pro-life" churches do at this point in history?

Or is the question we should be asking this one: are "pro-life" churches and the people they nurture really a significant threat to respect for the value of human life in the world today — a significant threat to respect for the value of some human lives — so that the question we now need to ask is, What is church for? What good does church do? 

When 8 in 10 white evangelicals, 6 in 10 white Catholics, and 3 in 5 Mormons elect Donald Trump to the presidency . . . .

What's church for? Is it the path set before us by Church A or the one followed by Church B? If Christian churches are to have any effective (as opposed to the role many of them now play) role to play in the dark world we are now entering globally, this question really has to be dealt with, doesn't it?

The photo of the cloisters of Gloucester cathedral is by Michael D. Beckwith, who has generously placed it in the public domain in his Flickr photostream.

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