Friday, August 28, 2020

August 28 Friday Update: Just All the Church Thoughts

This month has been... oof. So much depression. Has made it hard to get any words out. But I'm working on it.

I observed a conversation this week with a group of evangelicals who are, maybe some of them for the first time in earnest, processing and working through how the Christian church can/should be working on anti-racism. I disagree with a lot of members' beliefs on it right now (definitely a few "if we stop talking about it it'll go away" folks which, well, turns out it doesn't work like that) but I think everybody's learning and the conversations are good and hopefully challenging to all of us, including me as I continue to work out how my faith should inform my passion for social justice.

This week, though, a hot-button topic was how churches can be more inclusive. And every suggestion that was made, someone else had a reason that wouldn't be a good idea. And as I'm processing what to say to that, these are the two points I keep coming back to:
  • Inclusivity does not happen without intent. You can't just carry on the same as always and expect that magically, somehow, you'll draw in a more diverse crowd. It hasn't worked before, why would it abruptly work now? That's that "definition of insanity" business, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Choosing to do nothing has the same functional outcome as choosing exclusivity.
  • There will always be non-race-related reasons to avoid making changes. We live in a country (and frankly a world) built on segregation and have really only recently begun to change that. So when we take steps to make a change, we are working against hundreds of years of established systems and, yes, it will be difficult. If we wait until it is easy or until there is nothing we need to sacrifice to make way for diversity and equity, we will never do anything. If we prioritize diversity, yes, it is very likely we will need to listen to other people's experiences or change our hiring practices or repaint sanctuaries or sing songs we don't know or like. Some of those are more difficult than others, but all of them are things I've heard named as "too difficult" or "not important" and thus a reason to not try and diversify. And those aren't good enough reasons, at least not for me.
I had not expected, incidentally, that sitting through a discussion of why churches should not change anything about themselves to appeal to minorities would be as triggering as it was. And then I cried for like an hour that afternoon. But that issue taps into a similar thing as my own struggles with church. Both carry the message, You do not matter, your struggles do not matter, you will fit in to us, we will never adapt to you, and if you think we should, you are the problem. And it just hurts, and I hurt for anyone else who is getting this same message from their white evangelical churches, and I'm sorry I was ever a part of that for anyone else.

I ended up having a good conversation with my dad this week about some of my struggles with those "beauty of church" sermons I stopped listening to. And then we chatted a bit about what we might say if tasked with sharing a sermon on the beauty of church. Like, why do we think it's important that someone finds the beauty of church? And what is it?

I think it is important to find beauty in church, but then again I'm an artist, I think it's important to find beauty everywhere. For me it's about vision casting, inspiration, and fighting disillusionment. It also means that it can be possible to find value in it even in its imperfection (which I think is what my old church is trying to do, we just see very different imperfections and get frustrated by each other's definitions). Like, you'd think a sermons series on the beauty of church would be exactly what I needed. It's probably easier to convince me church is beautiful than it is to convince me it's necessary -- and it's probably a better way of framing it for me, since it shifts my point of view from church as a vegetable I begrudgingly eat to church as a work of art that I just need to find the right way to frame.

The problem is that to believe the church is beautiful, you have to on some level believe its members that make up its pieces are beautiful, and I'm not sure the leadership in that particular church believes that. If they do, I'm not sure they would say it.

A friend the other day shared a post about how we cannot rely on our own feelings, sense, reason, or self, we can only rely on the Bible. And while I know what they're saying, it leaves out two truly important things. First off, we rely on our (and others') feelings, sense, reason and self to interpret the Bible in the first place, so even if you believe in the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture, you have to be willing to question your understanding of it, which for many people equates to questioning it itself.

But secondly... these "we can only trust the Bible" posts always seem to have a conspicuous absence of the Holy Spirit in them. What role does the Spirit play for the people writing and reposting this? And how do they think he/she/it speaks to us if not through a combination of our selves and the Scripture?

The evangelical tradition I grew up with definitely doesn't know what to do with the Holy Spirit. They don't really teach on it, they get real nervous about denominations that do emphasize it. The Spirit is usually only active as either as a conscience to convict you of sin or a guide to bring you to the Scripture you need to hear. So, weirdly, the emphasis becomes not "look to the Bible to find God" but is instead "look to God to find the Bible."

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