Wednesday, December 16, 2015
"Invite" is a hard word for me just now, particularly in a church context.
Here in Houston, an equal rights ordinance, which would have given individuals a local mechanism to fight discrimination in employment, housing, and other services (rather than, literally, making a federal case of it) was defeated on a ballot in large part due to some churches running a scare tactic campaign specifically against the trans community.
I can tell you that people on my Facebook feed who are non-religious do not see your church as different from the churches that did this. There were clergy who made public statements in favor of the ordinance, but they're not seen as representative, particularly since they didn't have the power (authority or money) behind them to turn people to vote in favor of the ordinance.
A few years ago, I sat in a church meeting trying to explain to a group of white, middle class, heterosexual people why making a public statement of welcome to the LGBT community was important. They weren't officially against LGBT people, but to make a statement of welcome made them squirm a little. "We already say we welcome everyone." I said, "So does the church that fights to block gay rights." One said, "I don't see why we have make changes because some others are acting badly. Why do we have to make changes because the LGBT community won't give us a try?" I said, "You can sit there and feel defensive and like its up to the people beaten up by the church to try one more, but you're still not getting it. People who are not religious don't get that we're going to be any different from their past experience if we don't say something different up front."
I recently followed a thread on Facebook, about a non-Christian friend who went to a funeral, expecting to memorialize their friend who was also not a Christian. Someone in the deceased's family had taken over the funeral, made it a Christian service, and the preacher used it as an excuse to talk about hell. I don't even know if that's literally true, but that was the received message. The thread was full of people who had been through similar experiences. They were all furious at the church and who could blame them? The death of their friends were used as a recruitment tool. The came to remember a friend and grieve in community and were told they were outside the right community. I cannot believe any of these people will ever find a church anyplace but a manipulative, fear-mongering place, using religion for all the worst reasons.
A Christian friend of non-European descent recently had a thread about a local, liberal, "welcoming" congregation who had advertised a program that made it sound like they were using non-European traditions as something exotic. It was very "othering." My friend rightfully felt as if his faith and spirituality was made "not-normal" and the new cool thing to try as a path to God. (We Americans excel at this.) Something that was designed to bring in new people quickly was seen as designed to bring in white people who found other culture's ways "cool" or "exotic" or perhaps the key to opening up this whole spirituality closet. His traditions were seen as something that could be adapted to the dominant paradigm. His traditions were not something to be entered into on their own terms, but colonized again by people who see themselves as the norm.
These are the sorts of things Jesus was talking about when he railed at the religious authorities of his day: You make your converts and then you make them more damnable than you are yourself!
And frankly, I'm part of the problem and I don't know what to do about it.
But invitation is more than "come into our place so we can make you like us."
And for an invitation to have any sincerity behind it, it has to sound different from all the other places issuing the same invitation but have a bait-and-switch plan behind it.
So, Christians, please be aware of what invitation you're making. Have a real assessment of what you're inviting people into. Be real about where your community is going to fail in meeting people who did not grow up in your tradition.
I hate to sound cynical, but to pull in another advent theme, your invitation better have some preparation behind it.
Because your church doesn't appear any different from the ones in the media, scaring people, decrying whole communities, damning everyone outside their walls.
You don't look any different.
I can't say that enough.
We don't look any different.
And our invitations often look like an invitation to be beaten up. Our invitations look like invitations to be ridiculed and frightened. Our invitations look like an invitation to beat your head against a brick wall.
Christians, we have to do better if we really believe we offer the Reign of God among us.